Jacqueline van Rhyn
During my tenure as curator at The Print Center, we commissioned new works from renowned artist, Ann Hamilton for the exhibition, Taken with Time: a camera obscura project. By coincidence, the first stages of Taken with Time began shortly before I got engaged, and the exhibition opened days before the birth of my first child in September 2006. My personal life was quickly changing and at the same time I was experiencing an unprecedented project in my professional life.
As a curator, I see myself as the facilitator, the go-for and the aide to help the artists actualize their ideas. The hours, days and weeks I spent with Ann went beyond the standard exchange of a curator working with an artist. She became a mentor and a friend. She not only taught me about art and gave me a new awareness of Philadelphia’s history, culture, and communities, but she also prepared me for my pending role as a mother.
The camera obscura, or pinhole camera is the oldest photographic device. Ann set up her cameras at various sites throughout Philadelphia to record over periods of time, the activity in them. Her project involved running to and from the darkrooms and cameras that where on location, and rushing from The Print Center to sites, lectures, interviews, hotels and the airport. And yet, despite the rushing around there was an odd amount of time that was spent waiting. It was during those in between moments that I got to know Ann the artist and Ann the working, married mom. In between long discussions about this or that art topic, Ann would share tidbits of advice about the conflicts and dilemmas of parenting, as well as describe the first time experience of undeniable, unconditional love for your child. Ann talked about the trials and tribulations of installing her exhibition at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Philadelphia while her infant son was on site with her, how she took him to faculty meetings, lectures and her studio among other places in his first years. Even now when she is not traveling, she plans studio time during his school hours.
One day, in the final weeks before the exhibition opened, Ann and I walked across town from Old City to The Print Center (Ann always preferred to walk when possible). It was the end of a lovely, hot, muggy day in the city and our bags were full and heavy of cameras, paper, books, etc. We persevered, letting dusk ease over us. I was pooped from the long day and did not have the appropriate shoes to be walking briskly with a big, pregnant belly. Once again, I was easily distracted by Ann’s enthusiasm and excitement over her project. And again, she changed the topic, this time to labor; to the anxiety, pain, fear, disembodiment, pure excitement and so much more that comes with it. Without going into details, she once again eased my mind about what was to come upon me. To end she noted, above all expect the unexpected (how true was that!). There, I, the naïve curator and she, the profound savant, became just two women chatting, one with a 11 year old son and one about to have her first child.
It is so easily forgotten that even Ann Hamilton, a highly successful artist, is not excused from the constant scheduling, unquestionable guilt, or self-criticism of a working mom. Not knowing how much my life was going to be different (although everyone said it would be so) it was calming to me to know regardless of how much success you have in your career, the challenges of being a parent are the same for all of us.
Sophia was born two weeks after the opening of Taken with Time. I remembered Ann’s words when I returned to work after my maternity leave. I dearly wanted to be home with my baby, yet enjoyed every minute of being in the land of adults and art. The struggle became more pronounced while working on another project in Australia. I spent three weeks researching for an exhibition with my one-year-old daughter along on the trip. Every morning I would race off to an appointment before she was dressed, and return from my days work just in time to tuck her into bed. As I agonized about my two lives, I would remind myself of Ann’s advice, be 100% at work and 200% at home.
My daughter is now three years old and has a baby sister of seven months. In the past three years, as I learn every day how to be a good parent and juggle my (albeit slow moving) career, those wonderful experiences with Ann resonate deeply with me. I knew then that those moments we spent together were unique, but similar to the photographs she worked on, they changed with time.