Maeve Jackson and women’s labor through movement and landscape

Text by Rachel Hausmann Schall

I often find satisfaction in the completion of daily to-dos: mowing the lawn, watering plants, doing the dishes, or folding laundry. And this satisfaction generally extends beyond the normal sense of accomplishment. While these may sound like common household chores, I find that the labor required to finish an everyday task can prompt a meditative state. A daydream pops into my head while I am scrubbing and rinsing a bowl, a moment of solace washes over me as I match the last pair of socks from my basket of clean laundry. I recognize the fleeting instance of stillness as the water seeps into the soil of my favorite spider plant. 

These necessary and sometimes annoying chores are mundane, daily meditations that allow my thoughts to drift, and bring about a sense of calmness. Maybe it’s the repetition, or perhaps it’s just the simple gratification of closing the chapter on something, being finished with it. Whatever it is, I know I’m not the only one that finds appreciation in these everyday moments. Maeve Jackson, a Milwaukee-based artist, considers such daily instances in her studio practice as a photographer and filmmaker, allowing them to fuel her work. Maeve’s recent exhibition, To Find the Stillness in Movement, existed as an archive and appreciation of these everyday moments. But Maeve’s work also possesses a deeper, more profound power that unveils itself beyond simply just a photograph or a film.

To Find the Stillness in Movement, 2020, Installation view, Wriston Art Galleries, Lawrence University

To profess that feminist artists explore themes of daily labor in order to challenge societal gender roles and question the female identity is predictable and tiring. The stereotypical role of the female as the cook, the housekeeper, the stay-at-home mom, or the seductress – while not an exhaustive list – are a few common tropes we too often see as representations of women across cultural platforms. Of course, these stereotypes that sound all too familiar, are by no means the definitive identity that parallels one woman’s complex individuality. Ever-changing are the viable pathways that contemporary artists take to contribute to the conversation around feminism and gender norms. And it’s a conversation that’s been prominent, pervasive, and provocative since the 1960s, and even earlier, when women’s suffrage was put into law in the 1920s. 

Contemporary makers and artists across history have communicated their views on a female’s role in the world through every media and outlet possible. They, or rather, we, continue to challenge and transform the role of the woman, the role of the artist, the role of the creative. Tracey Emin displayed her bed in a gallery; Adrian Piper dressed as a man and walked through the city; Judy Chicago created a massive dinner table with place settings based on vulvar forms that honored over 1,000 women–not to mention the countless other powerful works that have deeply influenced this conversation over the decades. It’s certain, however, that this heavy and complicated discussion also exists as a microcosm within our quiet, everyday moments, during those repetitive, laborious tasks that give us space to reflect, daydream, or meditate.

In Maeve Jackson’s work, hanging laundry on a clothesline does not employ the stereotypical inference of the “woman’s job,” but rather it is the indicator of a more complex relationship between a woman, the landscape and a moment in time.

When the Bee Leaves the Hive, 2016-2019, Series of digital photographs & digital photographs scanned from 35mm film, 14 x 20 in. each

The theme of landscape in artwork has also transformed over the years, gathering an array of variable connotations. From Renaissance paintings to the Hudson River School, Ansel Adams photographs, and Georgia O’Keeffe’s renderings of the American Southwest, landscape representations in art are revered by diverse audiences. Mid-nineteenth century works often depicted farmers or laborers tending to the land, others pictured beautiful sunsets or bright blue skies broken up by fluffy, intricately painted clouds. As a child, I remember the painting that hung above the couch in my parent’s living room, a picturesque scene of a river with dramatic lighting and a large oak tree. Thinking through the impact of a feminist conversation in the art world made me consider the connection between women and landscape and the presence of Maeve’s work situated within all of it. 

What is the role of the female in any given space? What defines a landscape? How have we challenged these notions throughout history? Dorthea Lange’s notable 1936 image of the “Migrant Mother” is at the forefront of my mind as I contemplate women in landscape. The unsettling, exhausted, desperate expression on the mother’s face is universally memorable, as she braved the conditions of the Dust Bowl with her children clinging to her side.

Gerlind from Vienna, Austria at South Grant Park Beach, 2019, Framed digital photograph scanned from 35mm film, 20 x 24.5 in.

Not unlike her predecessors, who were pioneers of the evocative and complicated conversation surrounding feminism, labor, and landscape, Maeve Jackson utilizes moving image, photography, and installation as avenues to share stories with her audience. To Find the Stillness in Movement was on view at Lawrence University in Appleton, WI at the start of 2020 prior to the global pandemic surging at full force. It included a two-channel video installation, photographic portraits of women from both the United States and Europe, as well as video works displayed on monitors set atop wheelbarrows. 

To Find the Stillness in Movement, 2020, Installation View, Wriston Art Galleries, Lawrence University

Hedya from Middlebury, VT, in Schrattenberg, Austria, 2016, Framed digital photograph, 20 x 24.5 in.
Katryna from Milwaukee, WI in Town of Troy, 2019, Framed digital photograph, 20 x 24.5 in.

Her video work explores European landscapes and moments discovered at artist residencies in Ireland at Cow House Studios, and in Austria at Hotel Pupik. Maeve also exhibited a series of photographic portraits for this body of work that depicted different women in various landscapes. Each woman holds a strong presence in the frame, much like Dorthea Lange’s famous photograph. Some women appear to be tending to the landscape they inhabit, holding tools, placing an item on a shelf, or peeking out from behind a horse. Others seem to be enjoying a day at the beach or going for a walk on a cold, wintry Wisconsin day. The portraits lined the walls that surrounded two wheelbarrows in the center of the gallery space, each of which held two monitors. A viewer standing in the center of the space could look to either side and see passing landscapes on the monitors from footage that was captured while on a moving train.

The Rails They Traveled, The Mountains They Saw, The Things They Carry (version 2), 2019, Video sculpture: televisions, wheelbarrows, video, dimensions variable

Maeve’s two-channel video installation in the next room of the gallery depicted footage of a woman folding and hanging laundry, raking leaves, and traversing through indoor spaces accompanied by a dramatic musical score. Corrugated metal siding from an old barn flanked the projection screen. The action of bringing physical detritus into the gallery to literally frame the video, Maeve urges the viewer to consider the definition of landscape by her creation of one. She also asked the audience to invest attention into an exploration of mundane daily tasks by inviting them to accompany her on a journey across many dimensions of landscape: physical, emotional, nostalgic, and momentary. While her work carries a different weight than Judy Chicago’s famous “Dinner Party,” Maeve’s focus on everyday meditations is still a valid pathway into the feminist conversation. It is, perhaps, a more impactful one, asking viewers to reckon with their own presence in any given landscape.

“H.E.R”, 2016-2019, Two-channel video installation with metal barn siding, dimensions variable

Since exhibiting an entire body of new work immediately before we all went into quarantine, Maeve has been hard at work on an experimental documentary titled Pass On, which tells the story of a farmer diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease and how his farmland deteriorates as his illness progresses, revealing the anthropomorphic connection we have to the land we take care of. In addition to keeping herself busy through independent art projects, Maeve also collaborates regularly with other artists to document work, produce video projects, and participates actively in the community of artists she is part of. 

To Find the Stillness in Movement asks the viewer to challenge the overt and familiar perceptions of a woman’s role. It is reminiscent of travel, the act of labor, and women in landscape. It encourages us to appreciate moments of stillness, consider and challenge the spaces in which we reside or traverse through, and cherish our time spent in the multitude of landscapes. Maeve leaves her mark on the conversation of women artists as women laborers and contributes to the complicated understanding of the role of the woman and the role of the artist. Revitalizing the tired, common tropes of feminism with the implementation of landscape motivates the viewer to consider the spaces we inhabit, the marks we leave, and how moments of stillness can be revolutionary and worthy of recognition. 

Rachel Hausmann Schall is a born and raised midwestern artist, writer and educator living near Milwaukee, WI. She received her BFA from the Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design in 2015 and has since collaborated on many projects including the artist collective After School Special and the emerging artist grant program The Grilled Cheese Grant. She has exhibited her visual work nationally and currently writes for two arts publications, Artdose Magazine and Sixty Inches From Center. In both her written and visual work, Rachel Hausmann Schall is interested in the various forms of language and the innumerable possibilities of text-based practices which, for her, take shape primarily as collage, painting, and installation. In addition to her work as an artist and writer, Rachel is also a visual arts educator at Pius XI High School in Milwaukee, WI. 

Follow Maeve’s work here.

Follow Rachel’s work here.

“H.E.R”, 2016-2019, video still

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