S.A.H.M by Chloë Marsden

In November 2019 I started a role working at a community gallery. It was my way back into work after being a ‘stay-at-home-mum’. My son was doing a few more kindy days and I set myself hours for art making with a self-directed Artists Residency in Motherhood. I had a plan. Then the Covid-19 global pandemic stuck.

Chloë Marsden, Utensils clutter kitchen ceiling, 2020

New Zealand went into lockdown to prevent the spread of the virus, and to protect our most vulnerable people and services. I wasn’t entirely surprised by this course of action as we had already seen family in China and Italy going into strict lockdown. My partner and I also have family and friends in the U.K, Australia and Canada. It has been unbelievable watching it all unfold on this global scale with so many different responses and it is heart breaking to see and hear of so many preventable deaths. New Zealanders have been incredibly lucky to have had the leadership of our current Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern. I honestly believe that one of the reasons why the response was so people-centric and compassionate is because she is a woman and a new mother.

Our lockdown process has been announced with a four-level alert system. At midnight on March 25th 2020 the country goes into ‘level 4’. A strict nationwide lockdown begins. Everyone must ‘stay at home and stay safe’ – life grinds to halt. My partner is considered an essential worker so continues to work throughout the lockdown. So for the majority of the time it is me and my four year old son at home in our ‘bubble’.

Chloë Marsden, Scorpion hanging in the hallway, 2020

Being in ‘social isolation’ reminds me of that strange unsettling time after my son was born. When I fully realised life would never be the same again, when I became aware of how little control I had or ever had, I started ‘letting go’ of preconceived notions I held- accepting that this was my ‘new normal’. I became unstuck in time but also obsessed with time. Longing for past freedoms and anxious about what the future held, yet inescapably tethered to my present with the daily domestic rituals of ‘house work’.

Constantly being together is intense, I find myself examining my relationship with my son, which in turn leads me to re-examine my own relationship with my mother. This heady time-travelling is overwhelming, there is movement with no destination, introspection without resolution and happiness with dread.

Chloë Marsden, Battle in the loo, 2020

My son has always been an early riser and in normal circumstances this isn’t too bad, we have gotten used to it. During the lockdown I have had insomnia. Waking at around 3am, worried, anxious and sad about what is happening around world. Sometimes unable to fall back to sleep before my son wakes at 5am. This tiredness just adds to my distorted sense of reality, also reminiscent of early motherhood. So now, just like before, I started noticing my surroundings, making art in response to my experience, keeping me focused and re-learning to sit comfortably within this liminal space.

So our Play/Practice was born out necessity, both our need to explore and experiment. I can’t make or draw or paint as I usually would and I am unable to focus on anything for longer than 30 mins without being interrupted or needed. So I start taking photos and videos while we play, or I clean, cook or wash – and the small things take on a new meaning.

Chloë Marsden, Lizard Attack, 2020

I find patience and let go of desire and expectation, and focus on the present. The insignificant becomes monumental. There are rainbows in the kitchen projected when the sun comes in the window at certain times of day that I never noticed before. We have massive rainstorms and the roof leaks. The rain water get into the light fittings in the bathroom so I can’t turn them on until they dry out. I set up the overhead projector so my son would have light while he had his bath. On the projector were his toy spiders, snakes and scorpions I had been using to make a series of drawings before the lockdown. The results are something quite eerie but my son loves them.

Chloë Marsden, Spider’s, Snakes & Scorpions on kitchen ceiling, 2020

The projections make the house look completely different, the rooms become epic and exciting- a frenzy of sharks circle the kitchen ceiling, soldier’s battle in the loo and my son is attacked by lizards. Claustrophobic kitchen utensils clutter the hallway and spinning game parts become portals to parallel universes. The whole house feels alive; it is the mother- I am the child; it is a playground, a studio, an undersea adventure, a forest of creepy crawlies and a journey to the centre of the earth.

Chloë Marsden, Utensils clutter the front door, 2020

After 57 days in lockdown New Zealand is moving to Level 2, many restriction are being lifted and schools and day-care centres are re-opening so that people can return to work. My son hasn’t played with another child in that whole time. He is so excited to be going back to kindy. On the morning I drop him off for his first day back, I kiss him goodbye but as I walk through the gate to leave I have a strange feeling that I’ll be back here very soon. I get home and it’s the first time I have been alone in the house since before the lockdown. I sit at my laptop and attempt to work on a proposal I have been writing. But I can’t concentrate so I make a coffee. Before the jug has finished boiling my phone rings and it is the kindy. My son has had an accident and hurt his arm. I know before I even get there that it is broken. 2 hours after dropping him off we are sitting in the hospital waiting for him to go into surgery. The next morning, we are home his arm in a huge cast and I realise we are back in isolation again.

To find out more about Chloë’s arts practice see her instagram @chloemarsden.nz