Documenting Domesticity and the Material Potential of a Place – Geraldine Sundstrom

When I was suddenly thrust back into full time domesticity after losing my full-time job in late February and then school closures in mid-March, I decided to start an Artist Residency in Motherhood as a way to restructure this time, this change into something productive, something I had control over. Art has always served this purpose in my life, providing a way to funnel my experiences and regain control over my perception of them.

In Residence I have funneled the stress of domestic labor into several projects all of which are not yet complete. Under the working title, Body of Work, I knit a cloth of mud-dyed wool then felt the image of my hands into it by scrubbing the floor of my home. I see the finished shroud-like form as documentation of my performance- the adding and removing of dirt, the rhythm of home maintenance.

Before the pandemic the fiber used in this project was dyed with acorns and soil from my yard as part of my research and exploration of the material potentials of my home. This research morphed seamlessly into the projects I am working on while sheltering in place.

I started making maps of my morning movements in 2016 when my daughter, Aeon, was three. I was her primary caregiver as well as that to four other children who came to my home for childcare. I mapped my movements from waking up until children started arriving. This was prime domestic labor time- dishes, meal prep, cleaning, getting child ready, etc. This practice served the same purpose then as it does now; to document, examine, change and regain control.

In Residence I first revisited the maps as a daily performance. I would map my morning movements, then in the afternoon Aeon and I would overlay this continuous line onto a map of our neighborhood and follow the path, expanding our world. Though we still do this from time to time, as a daily practice it began to feel like too much. This is when I transitioned to a stitch journal. Again my prior research materials were called into action. The cloth is dyed with acorns and mud while each color of embroidery thread is a different plant available in my yard. As the endless days at home keep coming, my stich journal of movement maps tells a story. The story shows a constant presence defined by the invisible borders of the  but also a gentle letting go of domestic labor, a slight slowing down and loosening of movement.

Geraldine Sundstrom wearing Stitch Journal in her garden, Photograph by her son Aeon

As this work progresses I feel myself drawn to participate in community, to move beyond documenting my own experiences and reach out to you. I invite you to submit your own movement map and participate in a communal domestic document. I have named this project MOTHERWORKS MAPS. Each map collected from the community will be stitched onto individual quilt bocks and pieced together as a collective documentation, bearing witness to our labor during this time.

For more details & information about how you can participate in the MOTHERWORK MAPS please visit Geraldine’s artists website www.geraldinesundstrom.com/motherworkmaps

By Geraldine Sundstrom