Mary Kelly is an American conceptual artist, educator and writer. She has made an extensive contribution to the feminist discourse through her narrative installations and theoretical writings. During the 1970’s her work was dedicated to her experiences of pregnancy and child raising as Antepartum (1973) and Post-Partum Document (1973-79). Her works have been exhibited all around the world and nowadays she is considered one of the most influential contemporary artists. Kelly works at the USC School of Art and Design of the University of Southern California.
It’s a six-part project which uses personal and theoretical elements in order to document the mother-child relationship. It started in the same year of the artist’s previous work, Antepartum.
It was shown for the first time at the ICA in London (1976), divided in six sections and 135 smaller units consisting of different objects from her new born son, which were accompanied by a number of essays and footnotes. It’s a very detailed work since it tracked every little thing her son did.
Post-Partum Document was conceived as an ongoing project of analysis and visualization of the relationship between mother and child. It inserted the voice of feminine subjectivity into the language of Conceptual art, while refuting naturalization of the discourse of women’s practice. The artist represented the ‘transitional objects’ of the mother as well as the child, not as surrogates but as emblems of desire, drawing attention to the fetishistic nature of representation itself.
The work collected used liners from the inside of baby’s cloth diapers, feeding charts as well as the speech events documented by the artist. Each documentation is made out of different and carefully thought-out materials, for instance, Documentation III included a transcription of conversations with her son, her internal speech as a mother, and locating the conversation within a specific time interval. In this series we can observe as the artists adapts over time as a mother along with her new born child.
Post-Partum Document can be considered historical as it recorded the first encounters of the artist with her own maternity. The work emphasised the importance of interpretation a mediation as the key to transforming the Symbolic and she did it framed by the Lacanian theory, especially the concept of the mirror phase. With this work, Kelly underlined how rich the familial field is.
According to Helena Reckitt in the book Art and Feminism “Post-Partum Document made a bid to shift feminist art making conversation with Lacanian (and therefore necessarily Freudian) theories of sexual difference. Using her son’s diapers as visual traces of the continuity and discontinuity between mother/creator and child/object, Kelly’s installation created a space for a radical and intellectually rigorous interpretation of motherhood”.