Beyond the Pale: Contextualizing Supply and Demand [Excerpt]

By Celeste Wackenhut

Sarah Sudhoff seems to exchange looks with the frozen blocks of breast milk, cuddling the pieces like a child. She moves her arms slightly allowing the pooling liquid to run down her body. She shifts her gaze to the distance, reflecting, meditating. As the milk drops onto the ground, a puddle takes shape, sometimes standing still, sometimes moving forward, sometimes swirling back on itself. Aside from the sound of her breathing and the falling drips of milk, it is a quiet moment between mother and mother’s production. Meanwhile, Sudhoff is in pain. She sits still, her arms and chest burning from the freeze.

Perhaps unnoticed by the viewer is not only Sudhoff’s physical endurance as she exposes her body to the cold, but also the emotion involved in shedding light on her insecurities as a mother. Although she had hoped to exclusively breastfeed her first child, Sudhoff’s body slowly stopped producing milk eight and a half months after giving birth. Like most modern mothers grappling with varying perspectives in childcare, she became consumed with guilt as she could not provide for her son in the way she wished. From this experience, Sudhoff develops the performance Surrender, creating a platform from which to illuminate the frustration, insecurities, monotony, and loneliness that intersect with motherhood.

Sudhoff first performs Surrender privately. Staged in an empty home, the video documenting the work evokes warmth with natural light beaming onto Sudhoff’s body and into the space against white and cream colored walls. The hallway door and window frame her. The only visible color comes from the chair that hugs her body and the clean lines of the wood floor.

Sarah Sudhoff seems to exchange looks with the frozen blocks of breast milk, cuddling the pieces like a child. She moves her arms slightly allowing the pooling liquid to run down her body. She shifts her gaze to the distance, reflecting, meditating. As the milk drops onto the ground, a puddle takes shape, sometimes standing still, sometimes moving forward, sometimes swirling back on itself. Aside from the sound of her breathing and the falling drips of milk, it is a quiet moment between mother and mother’s production. Meanwhile, Sudhoff is in pain. She sits still, her arms and chest burning from the freeze.

Perhaps unnoticed by the viewer is not only Sudhoff’s physical endurance as she exposes her body to the cold, but also the emotion involved in shedding light on her insecurities as a mother. Although she had hoped to exclusively breastfeed her first child, Sudhoff’s body slowly stopped producing milk eight and a half months after giving birth. Like most modern mothers grappling with varying perspectives in childcare, she became consumed with guilt as she could not provide for her son in the way she wished. From this experience, Sudhoff develops the performance Surrender, creating a platform from which to illuminate the frustration, insecurities, monotony, and loneliness that intersect with motherhood.

Sudhoff first performs Surrender privately. Staged in an empty home, the video documenting the work evokes warmth with natural light beaming onto Sudhoff’s body and into the space against white and cream colored walls. The hallway door and window frame her. The only visible color comes from the chair that hugs her body and the clean lines of the wood floor.

Following the video, Sudhoff performs live during the opening of a group show entitled Not a Statistical Interstices at Nicole Longnecker Gallery in Houston, Texas, and again for the opening of a solo exhibition at French & Michigan Gallery in San Antonio, Texas. Not surprisingly, the environments of these performances are vastly different from that of a home’s interior, resulting in an adjusted reading of the piece. In Houston, Sudhoff is placed in a back room alone with artificial lighting, which moves her outside of the home and mimics the often uncomfortable situations a mother can find herself in while trying to breastfeed in public. Starkly different is the steel backdrop in San Antonio, placing Sudhoff in an industrial setting, with natural light, stripping the stereotypes involved in breastfeeding and juxtaposing the motherly image with one more immediately read as masculine.

While Surrender can be seen as a political statement on the taboo of breastfeeding in public, it more specifically discusses challenges that can arise during the early stages of motherhood, and the social stigmas associated with expressing honest feelings in reaction to those challenges. Mothers tend to feel uncomfortable recognizing emotions of inadequacy or disappointment, which in turn provokes feelings of shame and denial, making it more difficult to learn from and overcome such obstacles.

Sudhoff’s work consistently reflects personal experiences that center on themes of gender and the body within science and contemporary culture. However, in addition, her photography presents seemingly commonplace events including sickness, loss, sex, and motherhood, in a way that exposes how seldom these subjects are publicly discussed. Socially constructed inhibitions result in certain situations being dealt with more privately, or within groups enduring similar circumstances. Sudhoff, instead, explores her internal issues and addresses them through performance and photography in an unmitigated way. ...

To finish the essay "Beyond the Pale: Contextualizing Supply and Demand," purchase the catalogue Sarah Sudhoff: Supply and Demand. For more information or to schedule a private viewing of the artwork, e-mail gallery@frenchandmichigan.com.

Top image: Sarah Sudhoff, Surrender, 2013. Video still.
Bottom image: Sarah Sudhoff, Path of Least Resistance, 2014. Archival Pigment Print.