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Catherine Elwes
Elwes continued to use her body, as well as that of her child, in videos made upon leaving art school during the 1980s.

The development of video technology enabled the artist to create pieces in the private space of her home. Using her body, along with simple devices and domestic found objects, she acted out various scenarios. In 1983 Elwes made With Child, which featured the artist heavily pregnant. In this work she explored notions of time, ranging from anticipation of the birth to feelings of boredom and destructiveness. It recalls the work of American feminist artists, such as Judy Chicago and Miriam Schapiro's Feminist Art Program at the California Institute of the Arts in the early 1970s. In Britain feminist artists were also exploring issues around their bodies, motherhood and what it means to be a woman artist. For example, Tina Keane and Shirley Cameron, as well as Mary Kelly, an American artist living in London at the time, made works with their children. At the time there were many feminist groups that one could belong to or be associated with, for example the Women's Arts Alliance and the Women's Artists Collective, an offshoot of the Artist's Union. Women art historians such as Roszika Parker, Griselda Pollock and Lisa Tickner were also taking on roles of activity and activism. Elwes was ensconced in these debates, groups and activities.

Myth/There is a Myth (1984) was made after the birth of her child, Bruno Muellbauer, and continues the theme of motherhood in her work. It opens with typed statements telling the story of a woman who creates the world and gives birth to a group of men; she is then killed by them because they fear that if she can give life she can also take it away. This text is intercut with a close-up image of a breast, which slowly leaks drops of milk (strangely resembling tears) as an infant's hand grabs and beats against it. The viewer eventually realizes that the infant is feeding from the other breast, which is causing the one in view to lactate. This is interspersed with images of the artist sucking on her own thumb, suggestively cut against her clamping her teeth together. Text appears intermittently saying 'GIVE LIFE' and then 'TAKE LIFE'. Indeed, it is women's ability to create and nurture life that is juxtaposed against the hint of a darker, violent impulse in the video.

Elwes' fellow artist Susan Hiller described this as her 'Kleinian piece', referring to the work's debt to the psychoanalyst Melanie Klein, who revolutionized psychoanalytic theory by asserting that the child's development was centred around its relationship with the mother's body. Klein's theories contrasted with that of her fellow Austrian Sigmund Freud, whose notions of development were focussed on male sexual organs, especially the presence or lack of the penis. For Klein the breast played an ambivalent role in the child's psyche: providing nourishment and relief from hunger, but containing the power to withhold vital resources. Elwes has said that she wanted to create a positive image of the breast as an object of nourishment. At the time she was taken aback by the taboo against breastfeeding in public, which seemed nonsensical in relation to the number of breasts on view at magazine stands at every newsagent in Oxford, where she lived.

Images of breastfeeding and motherhood were taboo with some left-leaning academics, who feared that reminders of reproductive functions risked biological determinism, and thus, kept women in a subservient status in culture. Elwes objected to the idea that a feminist artist had to avoid depictions of the mother's body in the work of art. The knife-edge of her work exists in trying to reconcile a celebratory approach with an awareness of how such images were used in the past. Finding an angle, a mother's or infant's eye view, was part of Elwes' attempt to undermine established visual language while asserting women's rights to their biology as well as their creativity.

Still from There is a Myth by Catherine Elwes, 1984
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