Dust and Bone (2018). Photographic study, exploring domestic labour.


This research thrives on the contribution of family. Prioritising the family member as artist and their experiences of making the work are key and as such Sarah and Andy exercised their position and closeness to family to co-construct the work. This elaborates the ethical and intimate relations between family members, which can make this kind of performance practice possible. In their own ways Sarah and Andy argue that ethics and care are important considerations in artistic work which operates in the home. Working in this way underscores the ways they explore curating as an extension of care.


This piece of practice was the result of a particular methodology which was also made possible by our close relationships within our family. The significance of the piece can be found in the ways that Sarah and Andy worked intimately with family members and their memories. Sarah, developed a series of provocative questions, drawing upon Kuhn’s (2002) notion of memory work. This process presented a collection of memory scores which were later explored to generate performance, films, soundscapes and live elements. A particular feature was keeping and honouring the original intention of the spoken memories to retain a ‘feel’ of the telling, guided by Langellier and Peterson’s (2004) approach, wherein they focus on the speaker’s original expression of the narration.


Andy drew upon his work as a composer and adapted his field work recording processes to capture anecdotal text, interviews and architectural sounds in the home to develop sound scores and compositions. Together they worked on a sensitive process of collecting memories and developing original performance work with family members. 


31 Days Old explored explicit and intimate content from personal and family narratives, exploiting a particular relationship between Sarah and Andy and the family participants, and heightening ethical considerations when using this content in an artistic work – whether that be sensitive material revealed orally or a performance from someone who has never performed before. This was done through developing processes that were person-centred and changeable, depending on the needs of the participant. A secure environment was essential. For example, in Barbara’s Story, the process of developing this work was not only creative, but also a personal, reflective journey on her recovery from illness.


Isabel's Feet (2012). Documentation of performance making in the home.

Andy editing Isabel's song for Isabel's Feet(2012) 

[1] Kelly’s work refers to Julia Kristeva’s (1977) extensive exploration of the child’s mediated relationship to the mother as a separate or separated subject: “[a] mother is a continual separation, a division of the very flesh. And consequently, a division of language-and it has always been so” (1977: 178). I am researching this discourse in my own work, but it is an important theme in Post-Partum Document (1973-1979). 

[2] It is worth noting here that Baraitser comes from a tradition of “psychoanalysis that articulates the maternal transformation as a working through of infantile issues prompted by the psychic crisis that motherhood represents” (Baraitser 2009: 217). However, I am not attempting to address my psychic relations with my children through this practice. I also don’t extend the line of enquiry proposed by Sara Ruddick who, in the later section of Maternal Thinking: Towards Politics of Peace (1989), unites the themes of women’s peace work and mothering.

Family Day Photographic Series (2011) 

Documentation from research in the home  

Photography: Wesley Storey 

Isabel's Shoes (2015) 

Documentation of practice 

Trace (2014) 

Documentation of practice 


This (my) research-practice was born out of motherhood, and as such I seek to make motherhood visible without embarrassment and without the anxiety of sharing personal and family experiences through a considered and ethical artistic practice. Through my mother-art practice I have revealed my own personal journey, my ever-changing and sometimes ailing body and the immediacy of my children. I have been driven by the smaller daily occurrences, interruptions, frustrations, boredom and observations which otherwise would not find a voice. 


I have dealt with my transient states of being a mother, at home with children, through tracking my ongoing, growing and shifting relationships. The parameters of this research-practice ultimately echo the complexity of these (mothering/art making/researching), a process shaped by the messiness of daily life. I have created a platform and through this I choose to explore my own experiences, desires and questions as a mother and dancer, in this found place of motherhood, family and home. 


I position myself as the instigator, facilitator and curator of a research-practice that honours my own voice and the voices of family, that contribute to a shared knowledge of family and art making. Working from such a position and with multifaceted voices, I argue for a kind of art making which will prioritize the experience of making performance work, and the reception of that work in my family home, over singularised or highly aestheticised outcomes' (Black 2019: 164). I define this work as a family art practice; it features works that range from sited film installations and dance performance through to works by my children, alongside the documentation of everyday activities (as art practice).


I come to my practice as a composer with a background in visual arts including theatre, installation works, dance and site-specific work. I have developed a practice working with electro-acoustic methods combining recorded sounds with live music, and my field recordings have increasingly centred around the human voice which I have found a rich source for musical material. In my theatre scores I have often used snippets of the actors’ voices in the sound design, using sections of scripts recorded in my studio but also on occasion, fragments recorded in rehearsal not always from the script. These might include, for example, an argument about performance style, an actor expressing insecurity about their performance, an actors’ joy at getting a scene ‘right’ or an actor fluffing their lines. These moments can be more compelling and truthful than sections of recited script and the actors themselves are often excited to have these recordings used in a creative way in the sound design.


As a father working in the domestic sphere, I recognise we are not actors with a script, but a family going about our daily business around the house. I record the text from my children, songs they have song, conversations with family and friends which were uttered spontaneously and captured. The music or soundscapes I develop are not here to support another form (the play, for example) but exist within visual images and performance, as part of a whole.


In the domestic space these recordings are charged with intimacy, not just recordings of our interactions vocally, but a dripping tap, the chug of the washing machine, the footfall on the stairs.


I approach the term curator as it derives from the Latin word 'cura', meaning care. I am developing a curatorial sense of caring and responsibility for my children, family and art practice. I am exploring an ethical concept of caring within a curatorial practice, of which the overarching imperative is the delivery of the whole project. Within the context of this research I adopt some qualities of curation, for example: A curator usually brings together different domains of knowledge, disciplines and artistic work, setting up a framework where dialogues can arise – for example the dialogue between curating, ethics and performance (Black, 2019). In this way, I choose to adopt some of the traditional elements of curatorial practice, as defined by curator Hans Ulrich Obrist, who writes: “In curating there is a need for flexible strategies. Every show is a unique situation, and ideally it gets as close as possible to the artist” (2008: 17).


My practice echoes some of the characteristics of artist/scholar Lena Simic’s series of work in Maternal Matters (2009) and Mary Kelly’s archival project Post-Partum Document (1973-1979). At the same time it investigates and conceptualizes curatorial practices, which I consider as an extended projection of care through the preparation and sharing of materials in performance. This is developed as an act of curating a sited practice within the home.


My recording process varies from devices placed in the corner of rooms gently listening and capturing, to the careful recording of interviews and personal narratives on location or in my home studio. Different approaches to recording will yield different kinds of material; some are processed in various ways and may end up sounding nothing like the original sound and others are analysed as a source for pitch and rhythmic material. The original sound files are kept intact including the many hours that do not end up being used for performance and installation work, that document our sound world over many years.


During the early stages of this practice, when focusing on the children in my art works, it was difficult to seek their consent as they were young and not able to speak. I worked on a composition Isabel's Feet (2012) which for me, as her father, raised ethical questions. I argue that the same care is taken as with any aspect of parenthood, carefully protecting the recordings and presenting them only under very specific conditions. Taken from a recording I made of her as a baby, this piece centres around a snippet of Isabel’s vocalising, to which I added my own voice and instrumentation to create our first father/daughter collaboration. This was married to Sarah’s visual of Isabel's feet which remains a very subjective and personal piece. Isabel is now older and she is becoming more aware of her presence in our family art works.


Some of my explorations into curatorial practices reflect the strategic and aesthetic qualities found in Kelly’s and Simic’s work. Kelly’s work is an example of the way that mothers have documented and curated intimate materials and displayed the mother’s labour. Kelly’s work exhibits the intersubjective relationship between mother and child, which establishes the mother as anything but passive (Liss 2009).[1] However, the way Kelly shared the work in developmental stages over the course of six years, displaying the time and energy invested in the creation of the work and highlighting the continuous care and attention of the mother, resonate with my own practice (Liss 2009). Kelly states that the heart of her work concerns her lived experience as a mother and her analysis of that experience (Iverson 1997)


When approaching this kind of performance making within the particular frame I have created, I work to a set of recurring principles, which I term ‘mother ethics’. The characteristics of mother ethics are drawn from critical and ethical engagements with Sara Ruddick’s Maternal Thinking: Towards a Politics of Peace (1989), and Lisa Baraitser’s Maternal EncountersThe Ethics of Interruption (2008).[2] I engage with mother ethics throughout all performance making and this has led to a way of working which extends to working with family and the development of person-centred processes. This engagement highlights the approach taken and experience of making performance work, rather than focusing solely on artistic outcomes. Mother ethics are revealed through this article as a way of working and encountering ethical issues when working with such intimate materials.

31 Days Old (2016), a performance installation situated in Sarah Black and Andy Frizell’s family home, features the female line through Sarah Black’s family.

There are two voices running through this exposition - the mother who examines her role as choreographer and the complex ethical and creative processes of working with intimate family memories, and the father who identifies and reveals the sensitive and involved process of developing soundscapes and music from recorded memory scores. They focus on two narratives, Sarah’s Story and Barbara’s Story, and write separate passages of text to highlight their approaches, coming together to discuss decision making, ethics and the implications of creating this kind of work.


The film and audio presented is a result of working together, and with their family. The performance work submitted in this exposition contributes to the wider fields of dance and installation practices and music composition featuring recorded sounds, particularly the human voice.