70: In Balance With – a conversation between Artist Courtney Kessel and her daughter Chloe

I’m thrilled to share this conversation with Courtney Kessel, an artist/mother, maternal artist, academic, and arts administrator based out of Athens, Ohio. She currently oversees the Ohio University art galleries in addition to maintaining her own multimedia practice.

Though Courtney moved often and wore many different hats in the ten years between completing her BFA and her MFA, art was a constant undercurrent. After leaving Brooklyn for Kentucky, she traveled again to Ohio to pursue a full-residency MFA as a single mother. We discuss developing a rigorous studio practice as well as the trials, tribulations, and ultimate treasures of being an artist/mother while navigating graduate school, finances, and life in general. 

Courtney’s practice is deeply influenced by her engagements with critical theory and often documents the presence of domestic objects, sounds, and actions as “portraits” or indices of having a child. The child also emerges as a collaborator and agent in her own right, participating in performances and providing the raw material for many of Courtney’s conceptual projects. By bringing the “private” into the “public” space of the gallery, Courtney hopes to focus on the importance of doing things “maternally,” which is to say with care and empathy for the other. Like the Artist/Mother project at large, Courtney hopes that increasing the visibility of these dialogues will help our community and its infrastructure continue to flourish. As she says in our talk, “knowledge” and “acknowledgment” are essential, powerful tools of connection.

Today’s episode features another Artist/Mother first: in the second half, we hear from Courtney’s own “other,” her now-fifteen-year-old daughter Chloe! Chloe shares what it’s like to grow up with an artist/mother who makes work about their child, describing the certain creative liberties, travel opportunities, and resources available to her while also giving us a first-person perspective into the evolving dialogues around consent and participation that she and Courtney have. 

See more of Courtney’s work on her website or on IG @courtneykesselart

The Artist/Mother podcast is created and hosted by Kaylan Buteyn. You can see more of Kaylan’s work on her website or connect with her on Instagram @kaylanbuteyn

Courtney working in her studio with daughter Chloe

In Balance With, 2010-ongoing. In an ongoing performance, this piece is a portrait of my life with my daughter.  We have performed this about once per year in many different venues and locations.  Things from our lives are stacked onto her side of the seesaw.  Once I find a balance, we remain there until she is ready to come down.  This is a metaphor for our lives together, as I can only make my work if she is content and occupied.  

In Balance With, 2014, Museum of Contemporary Art, Santiago, Chile.  Invited to perform in an exhibition, New Maternalisms Chile, this iteration of the work reflects our international journey to Chile together.

Without Chloe, 2017, handcut digital prints, 18” x 24” in shadow box frame. 

With this project, I decided to work with photographs of my home and remove anything that had to do with my daughter, Chloé. I hand cut out things that were by her, of her, about her or because of her to visually depict the lack of her presence or the amount of my life that is taken up by her being in my life.

In the frames and mounted to the wall, each cut out creates a shadow on the wall in a constant play of presence and absences. Because of these subtle plays of light and shadow, they are extremely difficult to document.

Each of these is printed at 24″ x 18″ in a 2″ deep museum frame sandwiched between two pieces of plexi-glass. There are 6 hand cut prints in the series.

Outside look at Courtney’s studio
Inside Courtney’s studio
Motherlode I, 2014, my childhood dollhouse,laundry baskets, games, records, electric organ, kids chairs and desk, stuffed animals, TV, DVD player and movies, lava lamp, disco lamp, assorted toys and child’s gear, 5’ x 6’ x 10’.
Motherlode I detail

Motherlode is a series of floor to ceiling sculptures that have also seen multiple renditions. First version was a series of 3 sculptures installed at the solo exhibition titled Motherlode in 2014 at the Fairmont State University. The sculptures then took on the title from that exhibition and have been installed two more times since then each with different materials as my daughter sloughed off more of her childhood things. Here I have included Motherlode from the latest installation in 2019. 
Three floor to ceiling sculptures are part of this exhibition.  By placing the objects together to create a gigantic sculpture, I emphasize the material excess involved in parenting versus life without children.”

Carewinner Breadgiver – 2014, steel, 120” x 14”
Courtney and daughter Chloe
Cut From the Same – 2012, birch plywood, pink enamel, 10’ x 4’ x ½”.

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