Through my artistic practice, I am interested in exploring hidden histories and emotional experiences, testing the limits of their un-representability. I am drawn to gestures and the kinaesthetic; actions as interlocution, or the forces and relations that interconnect people with places, space, material objects, ideas, and each other. Treating art events as inherently participatory, my works function as intersubjective spaces that offer multiple conceptual and aesthetic points of entry for the audience. My influences draw from multiple themes and sources, including explorations of gender and sexuality, play, materialism, and the study of place, which I investigate through personal and cultural lenses. In an on-going series of performances and performance-based pieces, I challenge presumptions that regard the maternal as a restrictive role. Instead, I am treating it as a site for creative production that opens up spaces of growth and becoming. In particular, I am interested in how motherhood introduces different means of experiencing interdependence, empathy, affect, and kindness. At the same time, this work emerges from my experiences of becoming a mother while continuing to foster my practices as an artist. In addition to creating works that are rich in cultural and political meaning, I am interested in how aesthetic pleasure can be used as a critical strategy, or as a means of captivating audiences in order to expose them to provocative ideas. I treat my art as a dialogue—an opportunity to express ideas and receive input through aesthetic experiences.  

Ember, 2016

Performance with Wearable Electronics

Technical Support: Joe Timoney and David Stalling
Sound Design: David Stalling
Photographs: Ciara McKeon

Enough Rope, 2016

Performance

“In particular, the State recognises that by her life within the home, woman gives to the State a support without which the common good cannot be achieved. The State shall, therefore, endeavour to ensure that mothers shall not be obliged by economic necessity to engage in labour to the neglect of their duties in the home.”

— Article 41, Section 2 of the Constitution of Ireland

As an American living in Ireland, there is a part of me that always feels foreign — external and excluded. Stepping into this different cultural environment, my sense of familiarity is warped as I am forced to adapt to a new normal. Everything I thought I knew of the mundane is twisted as what I have taken for granted in the daily running and maintenance of my life turns alien. Becoming a mother in a foreign context amplified these sentiments as I am made vulnerable to a medical system and cultural understanding of the maternal that counters my expectations. In particular, the influence of the Catholic Church that has seeped to the core of the nation’s infrastructure during its formation and development remains an ideological spectre. While the culture takes a secular turn, there are elements that linger. I did not anticipate it to affect me so greatly, drawing up memories of discomfort from a faith I left behind long ago. Like a spiritual muscle memory, it remains engrained in my physiology. Caught in this context, with a reflexive bristle whenever I find the need to adjust, I test the limits of my malleability. My emotions simmer as I come to a new, negotiated state of being, all the while ushering a new human into the world (for more about this performance, refer to the relevant post on in:Action).

Whisper Almost Without Sound sits at the intersection of a Byzantine icon painting and The Handmaid’s Tale. Drawing from my experiences of becoming a mother in a foreign context, the work evokes a complex ambiance of strange beauty. Excerpts from Atwood’s dystopian feminist novel, read as whispers, blend with the sounds of a child nursing, playing from miniature speakers placed on the floor that require the audience to get close to the sound source. A single channel video complements the soundtrack, creating an animated allusion to iconic representations of the maternal. In conjunction with the installation, I present a one-hour performance that involves vocal improvisation and sound reactive LED lights. The uncanny atmosphere correlates with the ineffable, multifaceted nature of motherhood, emphasizing its public and private intimacies that are influenced by cultural attitudes and social norms.

*Photographs by Margaret Bellafiore, Melanie Hedlund, and David Stalling.

Landscape, 2015

Performance

In this performance, I wore a white, Grecian style dress in order to match the neo-classical decor of the building. Over the course of the day, I rolled around the extensive lawns of the site, over and over again, evoking a childhood folly. At the same time, this work is meant to resonate with the site’s historic use of landscape as an aesthetic experience. Photographs by David Stalling. Video by Stefan Evans.

Mamädchen, 2015

Durational Performance

Mamädchen is a performance between mother and daughter. Both are dressed in black. As the fabric blends, it is difficult to discern between their bodies. Over the course of two hours, mother and daughter engage in a series of responsive actions as each influences the other. At some points, the mother imitates the actions and vocalizations of her daughter. At other times, the mother gently manipulates the movements of her daughter while encouraging her to make certain noises. This interplay between sound and gesture, mimicry and influence, unfolds over time until it is unclear who is leading whom. *Photographs by David Stalling and Aoife Giles.

More about El Putnam

Dr. EL (Emily Lauren) Putnam is a visual artist, scholar, and writer working predominately in performance art, video, sound, and interactive media. Her work draws from multiple themes and sources, including explorations of gender and sexuality, play, materialism, and the study of place, which she investigates through personal and cultural lenses. Her writing and research focuses on continental aesthetic philosophy, performance studies, digital studies, feminist theory, and examining the influence of neoliberalism on artistic production. She is a member of the Boston-based Mobius Artists Group (mobius.org).

http://www.elputnam.com