Mother Art was formed in 1973 to address the issue of artists as mothers. Over the next thirteen years, eight
women were involved with the group. Suzanne Siegel, one of the members, states, “Although it seems strange
today, at the beginning of the Women’s Movement in the early seventies some feminists at the Woman’s Building
considered being both a serious artist and mother to be in conflict.” To confront this issue, the group began to
work collaboratively, building the Rainbow Playground at the Woman’s Building and curating exhibitions of
work by artists who were mothers.
In 1977, Mother Art created a series of performances in laundromats throughout Los Angeles, from Venice to
Echo Park. Helen Million recalls, “The whole process of water and cleansing is such a spiritual experience in
many cultures. We wanted to elevate the idea of washing from the mundane into the public sphere.” Laundry
Works reached an art audience and regular laundromat patrons as well. Velene Campbell comments that at
some performances there were over a hundred people present. “We climbed on the machines and strung
clothesline between pillars and hung our art work on the lines. Each performance was timed to a wash and
dry cycle.” Laundry Works was funded by a $700 grant from the California Art Council.
“We produced a poster, a brochure, half a dozen performances and documentation for that small amount of
money,” says Suzanne Siegel. However, after the passage of Proposition 13, a tax reduction measure in 1978 in
California, an article in the Los Angeles Times cited Mother Art and Laundry Works as an example of waste in
government spending. The misleading description of as an effort to bring culture to housewives Laundry Works
by staging plays in laundromats was repeated by then ex-Governor Ronald Reagan in a radio broadcast, and
Mother Art’s work continued to be held up as a symbol of waste in government spending. Gloria Hajduk
remembers, “This was an attack on government support of living artists. Mother Art responded by organizing
with other Los Angeles artists to protest cuts to the arts, but the controversy continues today.”
Undeterred, Mother Art continued to produce performance and installation pieces which included photographs,
assemblage, sound, and text.
Putting the values of the home into public space was explored in Mother Art Cleans Up City Hall and
Mother Art Cleans Up the Banks. The buildings were scrubbed and dusted as a metaphor for cleaning up
institutional waste and corruption.
In the eighties, Mother Art focused on social issues such as Central American refugees, homelessness among
women, and abortion. The issues were personalized by incorporating real women’s narratives.In Not Even If
It’s You, stories of illegal abortion were heard in an intimate space filled with household utensils and chemicals,
artifacts of the type used by desperate women to self-abort.
Mother Art formally stopped working together in 1986. However, in their 2000 survey exhibition,
“(Re)Visiting Mother Art,” Deborah Krall, Suzanne Siegel and Laura Silagi again collaborated to create a new
installation titled Running Out Of Time. This piece examined their perceptions and centered around a clock
which said “Mid-life” on its face. High heeled shoes danced on the wall around the clock. The insole of each shoe
contained an adjective describing a physical or emotional state experienced by women in the middle of life.
Laura Silagi says, “Just as we did at the beginning of Mother Art, we are using a crucial stage in our lives as
inspiration for our artwork.”
For the members of Mother Art, collaboration was a unique and meaningful experience. It was an opportunity to
explore new art forms, such as performance and installation, and to benefit from each other’s skills and abilities.
They were able to create things they would not have done individually. Velene Campbell says, “In the seventies,
women found their voices. We found out who we were through collaboration.” “In Mother Art, we tried on different
roles by working together,” adds Jan Cook. Deborah Krall says, “Our collaboration is so profound that we forgot
who had what idea. It’s like a bubbling pot of soup, where you keep throwing in new ideas and they all meld together.”
Christie Krusé sums up, “We were forging new territory and we often didn’t know where we were going,
but we walked through the door anyway.”