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Lise Haller Baggesen's Disco Feminism


Lise creates work that not only address motherhood and its feminist components, but act as a mother through its execution and content. Her practice focuses on staking out a territory for mothering in contemporary discourse, balancing her vibrant, tented environment with the printed text of her piece Mothernism—a disco beat serving as the lyrical and aesthetic inspiration.

I\W: How did you utilize the footnotes of Mothernism to express the personal side of your research?
LHB: Footnotes are such a prevalent thing in academic writing and can sometimes be very heavy-handed, or include a lot of name-dropping. The way I tried to use the format instead was as an internal dialogue. I do not wish to characterize the book as ‘pseudo-academic writing’ because I don’t consider myself a pseudo-academic (or an anti-academic for that matter), but I wanted to engage the academic format to say something very personal. There is a theoretical knowledge, but also a lived and practical knowledge of these things and sometimes they both inform and contradict each other. All the writing in the book started as the audio for the tent installation for Mothernism, and all the audio started with letters. They were my initial thesis writing for SAIC. I was talking a lot with Romi Crawford, who was my third reader, about the letter form historically being this more feminine mode of writing. Before women ever really got published they would have the opportunity to be heard by way of letters to the editor or public announcements. It is this more natural way of writing because it has a direct address. I wanted to give the mother a voice within contemporary discourse instead of just making a work about motherhood. I wanted to make a work that actually acted as a mother.


Although produced for several reasons, was one of the specifics of writing Mothernism a gesture to pass down these feminist ideas to your daughter?
Absolutely, and it is also a reason that I debate in the book. One of the essays I address to my sister starts with an email argument we had where I say that I am writing about a mother-daughter legacy of feminism and she immediately writes back “What about sons? I have two sons, what about them?” And of course, as she points out “Making our sons the losers of the feminist battle would be a sad victory!” But to me (and I am sure to her) the feminist battle is, and always will be a win-win. It is not a zero sum game! I wanted the book and the piece to play so you can make it what you need. The tent also worked in the same way alongside the book. It holds a library so it can be a reading room, but it has also been a kiddie disco, a lactating room, a party room, making out room, a classroom, and sleeping room. This maternal presence provides a space both for the next generation and what we need for it to be now. However, I also feel like curatorial practices and mothering have so many similarities in that way. Etymologically the word “curator” has the same Latin root as the words “cure” and “care”. Ideally, mothers and curators operate in similar ways by providing space and nourishment for those in their care to learn and grow.


What was the symbolism of choosing a tent as the common space for Mothernism?
It was about staking out a territory. Amongst my peers in school there was a lot of push back initially about this mothering subject matter. They thought it was sappy or too well known or didn’t have the ability to be talked about in a feminist or queer discourse. I thought that quite literally I am going to make this space in your space and it will be very present. It also had these flags that had Mothernist slogans on them like “Painters Make Better Mothers.” It was an idea about protest-chic and how often protest is commodified and made chic. I like that things move into that fashion moment. I am very into fashion, I am not opposed to fashion. But that doesn’t mean that I trust Karl Lagerfeld with our feminist legacy. We need to make it what we need—and that is more than a runway show—so you can fly your feminist colors for all occasions, so to speak. So, I also like the idea that scarves are versatile in the way that you can wear them for going out or fly them as a banner. I also had some flags that were like Color Field fan art that were the Mothernist flags and were more associated with the idea of staking out a territory. Those flags played into this idiotic idea that women can’t think abstract and that once you are a mom, all your critical, analytical, or artistic faculties go out the window.


Recently I heard a conversation you had with Assaf Evron explaining your frustration with how it tends to be politically correct to say you hate children in our present society. What are your struggles with this idea?
Going back to that talk with Assaf, that’s a particular thought that had been brooding in my mind for awhile and I had not said it out loud. At that talk I kind of blurted it out because I do feel like that idea of children just being another class of people (and actually should be a protected class of people if you want to talk about it in terms of identity politics) is really forgotten and has been edited out of feminism. Particularly in the art world is where people can say they don’t like children, or don’t care about them. I find that quite aggressive that you are allowed to say it. Not that everything needs to be for children or about children (a lot of art is not accessible to children, nor should it be), but I think they are so often left out of the feminist discussion and I think that is a loss. I don’t see how we can talk about a future feminism without thinking about the kids. In the epilogue of Mothernism, I talk about Lean In feminism and how I have such a big hang up with that. There was a shift in the ‘80s where the idea of feminism wasn’t so much to rally for an inclusiveness, but shifted to a very masculine view of feminism in terms of success. When I grew up in the late ‘70s, which is a moment I keep coming back to in the book, 1979 was the year of the child and we would talk about it a lot amongst ourselves (in our cabin or clubhouse, which I describe in the book), and talk about children’s liberation as a thing. We wanted to be heard as children.

Disco is something that is easily ridiculed, but also has a moment now in a big way because it is a free space that is not as militant as punk. It’s a space that can be inhabited by a lot of different sensibilities, and it looks great.

Why are you so influenced by disco and what are the comparisons from the genre you draw to motherhood?
The intro to the book when I am driving down the Autobahn relates to a personal anecdote, a profound moment in my life when I was 11-years-old and I was riding down the Autobahn to visit my friend in Brussels. Her family was neighbors with an Afro-American couple and my friend and I would hang out with them and crash on their enormous white sofa and read Mad magazines and drink Coca-Cola and listen to Donna Summer. I knew this was the life. It was so glamorous. That moment in time had an empathy and that was the disco beat. Disco was the first kind of music that I listened to that my parents weren’t into. I was not ready for punk yet. I just felt that punk is so overused as a trope for protest. It has become a kind of a shorthand. It is a cool aesthetic, but it becomes an empty signifier and I wanted Mothernism to have a beat and a feel that was in a way more questionable. What happened since the ‘80s, ‘90s, and ‘00s was this irony about popping everyone else’s balloons. Suddenly all of this ridicule was used to deflate any argument, and not to make a counterargument. Disco is something that is easily ridiculed, but also has a moment now in a big way because it is a free space that is not as militant as punk. It’s a space that can be inhabited by a lot of different sensibilities, and it looks great. I love the color saturation and the glam and glitter. I wanted to make a super pleasurable space, a throbbing space. I also wanted the space to have some kind of therapeutic (another word that is a big no-no in at discourse and often used to deflate or ridicule a work of art) property or effect and of course to resemble some kind of womb-room. So it just couldn’t be dark and dank. I use the analogy in the book “if punk is dad […] disco is the eternal mother, into whose pulsating bosom you can always return.” It sound corny, but I find great solace in disco. Like Donna Summer says: “I feel love.”


You make a reference to the difference between archiving and composting within Mothernism. What is the difference both socially and within your practice?
It has everything to do with everything. I was taking a class at SAIC called “The Archive” where you read a lot of heavy theory: Adorno, Foucault, etc., but the idea of the archive started bothering me, in that it is about compartmentalizing and labeling things. We are in an explosive moment now with the Internet and a time horizon that is so expansive. It feels like we are entering a historyless moment, and at the same time everything is happening at once. The 20th century is a grandiose pileup of political ideologies, some good ones and some very, very bad ones. Many of them ended up on the “landfill of history,” which I refer to in the Thatcher epilogue to the book, after being ridiculed by the neo-liberals. But that doesn’t mean they are not still out there; I think it is useful to revisit the landfill of history from time to time, to see what’s brewing—if anything to make sure they are not coming back to bite us in the butt (as is the case with neo-fascism for example). You can rewrite the cannon and question it. Ideas bleed and merge with each other. It needs to be thought about in terms of a fertile moment. The way I wanted to go with the compost is that it is very hard to compartmentalize ideas, or genres, or we are influenced and we are influencing as well. Similarly, I like to compare my creative practice to a sourdough, where you have all these confluences of influences mixed together—visual tropes, fashion moments, music lyrics, art history, political axioms and so forth—they need to brew together, to ferment, before something new can emerge from it. Sometimes you take a clump of it out and you bake a loaf—something with a fixed form, like an exhibition or a book in my case—while the “mother” remains, but not unchanged.


Where is your work heading post-Mothernism?
I need to start thinking about the next show. Mothernism will still keep me busy for a while, because I am planning on taking it to Europe. I will be presenting it at a conference in London in June and then will take it on the road to the Netherlands and Belgium and hopefully a couple more places from there, and then I will be teaching it as a class in VCS at SAIC in the fall. Given the reception of the book and the feeling I get that people really want to talk about these things, I also want to make myself available to keep talking about them. As long as people want to talk about it, I’m down! But I still need to think about the next show. I just moved into my new studio and I have cleaned up enough of a mess that I can start making work again. Right now I feel like I am speed dating with ideas, there is this “Fuck, Marry, Kill” thing going on. I have not found anything yet that I really want to marry. This project has been going on for two years for me now, so at this point I feel a little bit post-Mothern.

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