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Wah-wah, shh, chomp, munch, nom, burp, poot, slurp, yum, toot, mwah. But who's holding the baby?

Who's Holding the Baby?   (1978)  Image: copyright and courtesy of The Hackney Flashers

Who's Holding the Baby? (1978)
Image: copyright and courtesy of The Hackney Flashers

Wah-wah, shh, chomp, munch, nom, burp, poot, slurp, yum, toot, mwah. But who's holding the baby? is an open forum which aims to create a space for exchange where structural questions at the intersection of the art worker, contemporary work conditions, and social reproduction are discussed.                                                                                        

Founded by artists, writers, critics, and museum staff in New York in 1969, the Art Workers' Coalition advocated for a redefinition of the artist as worker. Its principal mandate was to pressure institutions to implement economic and political reforms. While we have a system that ascribes value to waged work performed by workers, the social importance of care work and reproductive labor is often unwaged and obscured. Marginalized strands of the second-wave feminist movement, such as Wages for Housework, advocated for salaried domestic labour. However, their demands were often ostracized by the prevailing brand feminism in the 1970s, which was preoccupied with gaining equal opportunity in the labor market and gaining equal status with men. As observed by Nancy Fraser, "second-wave feminism has wrought an epochal cultural revolution, but the vast change in mentalités has not (yet) translated into structural, institutional change." 

In this open forum, we hope to envision structures for arts institutions and organizations so our needs to alleviate housework would be met and served. Four themes are proposed and led by moderators in smaller conversation groups. Bring your thoughts, ideas, and knowledge to the table, and let's collectively think how domestic and affective labor, such as cooking, childcare, and care work, are integral to our experience.

Who Cares?

Formed in London in 1974, the Hackney Flashers was a women's photography collective concerned with childcare provision for all women. They used agitprop (the tools of photography and drawing along with copy) to draw attention to questions of social reproduction and labor for women. The resulting works were exhibited and traveled between women's centers, trade union events, and libraries to provide information to women about the issues which made their lives dire, while equipping them with tools to fight against the foe. Under the pressures of today's neoliberal economy, how can we imagine childcare models that would accommodate art workers who are parents or guardians? This discussion group invites participants to imagine models for childcare adapted to our work conditions, while looking at contemporary and historical examples of childcare.

Jacqueline Hoàng Nguyễn is an artist and her sound work The Wages Due Song is included in this exhibition.

Reimagining Arts Institutions in an Age of Cultural ReProduction

As arts institutions grow increasingly interested in making their spaces and programs accessible to cultural workers raising children, the creative thinking of parent-artists can help shape the art world we want and need. Looking to certification models like LEED (environmental design) and W.A.G.E. (artist compensation) we will propose new standards and utopian visions while considering the practical realities of venues from grassroots artist projects to well-established museums.

Christa Donner is an artist, curator, and founder of Cultural ReProducers, an evolving creative platform and community-based project supporting arts professionals raising children.

Designing for Fair Care  

Without the help of the 2.5 million paid careworkers across the United States and 200,000 in New York City alone, most of us could not go to work or have leisure time. While this growing workforce comprised of predominantly immigrant women of color serve as doctors, teachers, and companions to our loved ones, the majority struggle to put bread on their own tables. At the same time, families across the United States and especially New York City struggle under the staggering cost of care, leaving parents/guardians to make difficult decisions that disproportionately affect women who shoulder the burden of carework. Diversity within cultural and public service sectors are impacted when the rising cost of care means that creative individuals cannot afford to participate. If we recognize that strengthening the rights of women, maintaining artistic diversity, and expanding quality care options is necessarily coterminous with the socio-economic advancement of domestic workers, what specific tools and memes can we design to more efficiently communicate this principle of fair care = quality care? What are the specific touch points within the flows of existing institutions or within the lives of care consumers (domestic employers) where these tools can be deployed?

Marisa Morán Jahn is the founder of the non-profit Studio REV- and lead artist of the CareForce, a public art transmedia project (and mobile vehicle, the “CareForce One) exploring America’s fastest growing workforce — caregivers.

Collective cooking across cultural difference

Cooperative daycares, kitchen-less houses, and rotating dinner clubs were some of the economic and urban design models developed by the late 19th Century material feminist movement, as documented in Dolores Hayden’s architectural history book, The Grand Domestic Revolution (1981). But the failure of the material feminists to connect their struggles beyond their white, middle/upper class realities have striking resonance today, especially in the context of globalized care chains and the struggles for rights by migrant domestic workers, who leave their own families and homes to take care of richer ones. Departing from the blind-spots to such inequalities reproduced through traditional and alternative care economies, this discussion will explore the potential for creating a collective food making and food sharing practice; one that can attend to different bodies, cultures, histories, and ingredients - in all their differing privileges - as connected to local and global economies of care.

Maiko Tanaka is a curator who worked on the Grand Domestic Revolution from 2010-2013 with Casco - Office for Art Design and Theory, in Utrecht and is currently collaborating on Gendai Kitchen in Toronto.


This presentation is made possible in part with public funds from the New York State Council for the Arts' Electronic Media and Film Presentation Funds grant program, administered by The ARTS Council of the Southern Finger Lakes and Women and Performance: a journal of feminist theory.

This event is in conjunction with The Let Down Reflex, on view from January 30 - March 12, 2016 at EFA Project Space.