Elizabeth MacKenzie


Elizabeth MacKenzie


British Columbia

Artist Statement

I’ve always been interested in exploring the tension between the role of the (female) artist and the demands of the everyday. My identity as an artist mother has informed my work for many years.

Even before I had a child of my own I considered how it might be possible to combine these roles within my 1984 installation, Taking Care.

Four years later, in 1988, I gave birth to my first child. When she was eight months old I installed Baby Food in Mothers of Invention, a group exhibition about mothers and daughters curated by Jo-Anna Isaak. This piece describes my anxiety about my ability to nourish my daughter, as I struggled with both breast-feeding and art making.

The installation With Child, produced in 1991 for The Embodied Viewer, a group show curated by Vera Lemecha for the Glenbow Museum in Calgary, portrays some of the conflicts of over-identification and self‑immolation that were raised for me within the dyads of pregnancy and maternity. I was fearful that my child had become, even before birth, an autonomous creature I would never be able to encompass and keep safe. This combination of images on a long wall produced an impossible representation that had become increasingly normalized: we were able to see a pregnant body as well as what is inside the body. Although I was thrilled to become a mother, I was horrified by the loss of boundaries I experienced. Both my body and my psychic space were invaded.

In 1991 I also began graduate studies at the University of Saskatchewan. I wanted to review my 10-year practice as an artist as well as continue to investigate representations of pregnancy. The thesis I developed, Spacemen and Invisible Women, examined popular representations of pregnancy that obliterated the pregnant woman, and represented the fetus (or embryo) as a tiny self‑sufficient space traveler, floating in a black void. My 1993 graduating exhibition, Invisible/Stranger/Mine, examined maternal erasure and the cult of fetal personhood within a number of related works.

The installation Radiant Monster, completed in 1996, was shown in a number of different contexts. Once again, this work represented the ambivalent feelings I experienced in response to real and imagined pregnancies and children. I wanted to express a continuum between the desire and the anxiety that the contemplation and experience of maternity evokes. Not surprisingly, reproductive technologies that offer new choices to infertile women, and increase the opportunity for interventions during pregnancy and birth, extend and exaggerate our relationship to our reproductive capacities.

From 1997 to 1999 I co-wrote a series of bimonthly columns with Martha Townsend for the Mentoring Artists for Women’s Art (MAWA) newsletter (here’s a sample column from March 1998).

I produced a number of videos about maternity during this period, including Up and Down She Goes (1998) and Me First (1999).

In 2000 Martha and I co-produced a conference for artist-mothers, First Person Plural for MAWA at the Winnipeg Art Gallery in Winnipeg. I co-curated an program of videos for the conference, Looking for Trouble: Tapes by Unruly Mothers with Laurel Swenson, that was also shown at Video Out (Vancouver) in 2000. I also produced a video document, Delivery: Artist Mothers on Tapein which 30 conference participants speak candidly about their mothering and art-making practices.

Essays where I consider my identity as an artist mother have been included in Mothering Canada: Interdisciplinary Voices (2010) and Reconciling Art and Mothering (2012).

A collection of resources (articles, books, websites) specifically about artist-mothers can be found here.

Here’s a post about a presentation I developed for a conference in 2015 (Embody/In My Body), as well as a video of the presentation itself (“Exquisite Tension”) available here.

Although I haven’t made work specifically about maternity for some time, my current projects continue to be deeply affected by these investigations and what I discovered about inter-subjectivity within my role as an artist mother.




“Elizabeth MacKenzie,” Artist Parent Index , accessed July 19, 2024, https://www.artistparentindex.com/items/show/204.

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