(re)valuing the labour it takes to breath, be, perform together

Melissandre Varin reflects on her Work From Home Nest Residency:

This text and selected moving and still images are an autoethnographic account of my first art residency with Eole, 16 months old. I would not have the pretention to speak for Eole, thus I wish to highlight that articulations are mine.

I discovered about home-based Nest Residencies offered by Talking Birds during the first F13 Zoom meeting following COVID-19 lockdown. I was immersed in the image of feeling/being underwater at that time. I was partly feeling this way because I thought that I will be incapable of managing my multiple roles. I was not wrong.

Making nearby Eole
(melissandre varin and Eole Varin Vincent April- May 2020)

I self-define as a Black queer artist-researcher PhD student doing Practice As Research while mothering 16 months old Eole. There is no strict order nor hierarchies to my roles, except that I am always other than a mother while caring 24/7 for Eole. COVID-19 lockdown forced me/us to act upon burning issues from the inside.

I re(-)member how it felt growing up both as a witness and a recipient of domestic violence – behind closed doors. Being/Feeling under the water I had to work around traumatic memories challenging the reasons why I would spend money I do not have in day care to maintain a distance between Eole and I or as I used to disguise it “to make sure that they have social interactions with other little ones”. I had to unpack the limitations of Eole’s and I’s mothering relationship, we played, with it during our residency. I ended up having a significant transformation of what I consider work, and how I perform, and I value it.

The experience of making nearby Eole was intense for the least. Eole and I were, in our own ways, challenging and articulating counter-hegemonic ways of holding conversations in Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak’s terms (2012). In doing so we were also (re)valuing the labour it takes to breath, be, perform, together, as I distanced myself from reading (except children’s stories) and writing (ethnograffiti-interruption) – weaving embodied dialogues instead.


In this experimental approach to making nearby Eole, I facilitated ways for us to archive our work beyond our embodied memories. I took still and moving images alternatively with a smartphone or an old home digital camera as they were both sitting there, part of our home.

image3-34Jarring (melissandre varin and Eole Varin Vincent, 2020 + LaRi witnessing)

Early afternoon with Eole or late at night with Jb, my partner, we collected the remaining of our everyday performances at home gathered in ritualistic balayage (sweeping) followed by a jarring-process. We used a broom, a stainless dustpan and empty jars that were part of our home. This process brought me back to a master’s dissertation I wrote using a vibrant materialist approach when I was being trained in Environment and Sustainable Development. I have never undertaken paid work in this field but always felt that this baggage followed me in many ways. Here is another manifestation of it as Eole was leading the way in allowing me to lay down and critically observe the details of our living space and by extension of our relationships in/to the space.

Home was not the ultimate location of domesticity. I reduced its potential, as I (ab)used of this space attempting to domesticate it in order to construct a place where I finally belong. Divides between being with Eole in private and working in public were the heritage of a colonial/ capitalist/ white/ heteronormative/ patriarchal delimitations of my (im)possibilities. One of the roots of my complicity in partaking in this divide was my attempt to escape from what happened behind closed door during my childhood and still reproduce itself when I close my eyes.

My biggest challenge has been to have proper time to read and write. However, the fact that Eole have repeatedly negated me time to read academic books and articles gave us the opportunity to be attentive and focus on senses that I had underestimated in my artistic research. We sat together apparently doing nothing as we deepened our listening practice, listening to birds as spring unveiled, and we looked at each other. It can be framed as a political intervention into my PhD research journey as Jane Bacon write about her sitting practice (2010).

I noted that we share stories some of which have not yet been told but make us the different beings that we are. After Jenny Odell’s How to do nothing (2019), another book which I did not manage to read during the residency, but an online audio-visual presentation that Eole and I listened to, my practice is not so much embedded in a modernist idea of making but of finding. During this precious time, making nearby Eole, I found ways to take time and make space for us to be.

“I collect words from others’ mouth, fingers, and bodily performances. I re-call my present from observing my body and contemplating the most beautiful creation of mine/theirs be their own assemblages of us/them/its. I lay my body down and occupy space that I have had the privilege to imagine, to walk in, and I interrogate those who created them against marginalised others/us I ask – what if life did not have to be so complicated – for us too?

I thank you Eole for reminding me that there is more to life than throwing ‘garbage’ away by picking up, being amazed, paying your respect to the smallest, putting ‘dirt’ into your mouth, and protesting in front of me. What if I/They was/were wrong to forbid you/us to be, what if I had to learn from you to reconnect to our story, to the environment?” (nap time autoethnographic note, time: 11.23 date: 16/04/2020 location: CV56GQ)

Closely collaborating with Eole we worked around practice/notions of maintenance after performance artist Mierle Laderman Ukeles, in-betweenness both from Homi Bhabha and from Fleur Summers, and Angela Clark (2015) and deviant (Charles Esche 2011) mothering. My practice has been politically strengthened, gradually gained in gentleness and cracked into fluidity. Eole and I have started to pave routes for us to challenge gender norms as I walked/ran shirtless as a local urban intervention inside and outside during our daily physical exercises. We have contested monolithic discourse around figures of mother and on children inspired by Haircuts by children by Toronto-based Mammalian Diving Reflex. I have devised performances making visible gendered-racialised labours to which Eole added an extra layer of complexity https://vimeo.com/408973998.

We have immersed ourselves in flour and earth, queering conventional use of these materials to interrogate what life happening within four walls is ultimately about, drawing on racial, gendered, classist charges for a Black femme mothering a mixed-race being.

image4-36image5-38Documentation of “Of flour and Earth” (melissandre varin and Eole Varin Vincent, 2020)

We have performed for smartphone and cameras and for one another impatient to open the doors of this space to others when it is safe to do so. Eole and I spent a certain amount of time singing/screaming, laughing/crying, being as never before, and it seems appropriate to add that none of us have been hurt in the process.

I am extremely grateful for Talking Birds for supporting this deepening in my/our practice at the fictious interstices of public/private divides. Eole and I lived fully every moment of our first collaborative art-residency.

Sharing the love (chronologically):

Spivak, G. 2012, “Who Claims Alterity”, An Aesthetic Education in the Era of Globalization, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, p. 57.

Bacon, J . (2010) Sitting/Walking/Practice: Reflections on a Woman’s creative process, Gender forum, an internet journal for gender studies, Gender and performance. Theatre/ Dance/ Technology, Edited by Prof. Dr. Beate Neumeier

Jenny Odell. 2019. How to do nothing: resisting the attention economy
2017. How to do nothing, online talk (57.29min) : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mNRqswoCVcM

Mierle Laderman Ukeles https://hyperallergic.com/355255/how-mierle-laderman-ukeles-turned-maintenance-work-into-art/

Bhabha, Homi K. 1994. The Location of Culture. New York and London: Routledge.
Summers, Fleur and Angela Clarke. 2015. “In-Betweenness: Being Mother, Academic and Artist.” Journal of Family Studies 21(3):235–47.

Esche, C. 2011, “The Deviant Art Institution”, in C. Esche et al. (eds), Performing The Institution, vol. 1, Kunsthalle Lissabon, ATLAS Projectos, Lisbon.

Mammalian Diving Reflex https://mammalian.ca/projects/haircuts-by-children/


If you are interested in applying for a Work From Home Nest Residency, you can find more details here.

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