1

DEC

FROM MADONNA TO TRANSFORMELLA THE BURDEN OF (RE)PRODUCTION

POSTED IN: '74 GAZETTE

In the heart of the so-called hip(ster) neighborhood Neukölln, a mother – certainly coping with high levels of stress – almost threw her son to me to hold him for an instant, unanticipated… The mother was pushing herself to multi-function in the minutiae of everyday life, despite the load she had to carry.

Seeing all those young and attractive parents on the streets of Berlin, glittering in the sun’s light, their beautiful little creature happily running around makes me ponder from time to time… Is motherhood/the will to be a mother learned as a result of society’s expectations or is it really a dream? Julie Kristeva in her essay Motherhood Today, mentions “the desire of not to have a child”. I wonder, how many mothers out there were eager to be one. Eventually, hormones direct the inclination. Once ovulation occurs the body triggers its magic and inevitably that woman’s body metamorphoses to welcome the new existence. Since my childhood, there wasn’t any affection for motherhood on my side. On occasion, whilst chatting with three newly- met-friends about a fetus in a body, the word scary came out of my mouth. Their eyes opened wide… As a human being with the appearance of a female I was expected to reproduce without reluctance. Essentially, my female experience was reduced to biology.

Sadly, not only in personal lives, but also in the films or in the media women face certain societal expectations. For MoMA’s Connection series, lecturer Jean Sorabella talks about motherhood, meanwhile perfect mothers in the history of art are shown via a slide show. Recalling all those ideal mothers – Bellini’s and Titians’ Madonna and Child (late 1480s and ca. 1510), Mary Cassats’ Mother and Child (1889) etc. – the lecturer “finds inspiration in the idealized depictions of mothers”. Their pure, silent posture adorned with soft skin is a destined representation.

The burden of becoming a superwoman – good career, unpaid labor in the domestic space, a loving mother, strong personality, sexy as well – puts pressure on women. “I began to notice the increased images of mothers in celebrity culture and with this what seemed like a subliminal message that becoming a mother was the ‘right thing to do’ as opposed to having a career… Parallel to that much of the literature I read seemed to place impossible demands on a mother in pursuit of perfection.” says Susan Bright, Director of the Photography Department at Sotheby’s Institute. Bodies are controlled, normalized; expected to be in a certain form. Due to othering leading to societal repression, the experiences are censored – the bodies are codified.

Sold Wombs, Migrating Baby-Bodies

Generating bodies, the focus on fertility and reproduction is evocative of a sci- fi movie. The market of IVF (in vitro fertilization), egg and sperm donation; the problems of surrogated mothers are as complicated as modern warfare. On the one hand, deprived of criticism, some see the new technologies as a revolution for reproduction – as Carl Djerassi in his text The Divorce of Coitus from Reproduction in The New York Review of Books (October, 2014) on IVF. On the other hand, the economy of reproduction raises many questions. In this manner, reproductive labor is a topic performance artist Johannes Paul Raether concentrates on. Created by the artist, Transformella – Queen of Debris, is a futuristic character giving a lecture on “the complex issue around industrial human reproduction, the self-replication of machines, liberal eugenics and the collective imaginations framing transhuman capitalism” with –pink skin, latex costume and a cape with cute elephant illustrations .On a stage made up in its main supportive structure of baby strollers, Transformella – “the surrogate mother of potential futures” – is dwelling on surrogacy, industrialization of human reproduction as a commodity without regarding bioethics. Transformella is the knowledge provider, the professor in the class.

The lecture performance is supported by several videos and acts: a video from Oprah Winfrey Show on surrogacy, the interview of Transformella with Dr. Patel (the protagonist of the mentioned video); the futuristic character’s offer of milk to the audience from a breast like object; a passage read from Donna Harraway’s Cyborg Manifesto (1985) and a video of Lee Silver’s (Molecular Biology Professor of Princeton University) predictions on “a separation of the homo sapiens species into genetically modified and upgraded people and non-upgraded ones such as the disadvantaged”. In one of the videos two mothers are in the ultrasound room. The-mother-to-be with her strong US accent, cries out her enthusiasm, lets her husband know that the baby is healthy. Meanwhile, during this performance, surrogate mothers lays down in a pure silence with a big belly. Inevitable question: How could she feel such enthusiasm without being biologically attached? In between the videos, the pink Transformella demonstrates the economy of human reproduction, the globalization of fetuses. S/he utters: “The manufacturer of 19th century comes back again in the Utero Factory of 21st century. On the global fertility markets pregnancy, time and physical labor that the production of a child requires transform into an economic category.”

Wombs are on sale! Dollars and euros are migrating as well as babies. Conservative persecution, predetermined roles; hidden, trapped, silent beings… Sorrowful, yet frequently encountered narrations. What is to be done, asks Transformella, by recalling Lenin’s question as a “futuristic-again- communist”. Her/his solution is to confiscate this emerging machinery and research new models of reproduction; forming “multi sexual, multi-gendered, technologically assisted parenting” communes by putting aside romantic relationships and the notion of the nuclear family. Raether’s lecture performance is not only appealing in terms of the discussed topic – criticizing the heteronormative approaches of (neo)capitalism − but also for generating a new terminology by using idiosyncratic combination of words: “repro- technological avant-garde, repro-revolutionary, techno-dystopian desire, repro-communal tribal structures…”

The whisper: Reproduce

According to the November 2006 Federal Statistical Report of Germany, the population is shrinking – “in 2003 the population started to decrease” – and there will be fewer births, however more deaths in the future. In 2008, as a result of Germany’s low fertility rates, the government made certain regulations concerning “parents pay” and eased the situation of women with careers. Because of the concerns on the economy in the future, can the parliament be whispering? “Reproduce!” According to the 2009 Federal Statistical Report, “fertility will remain in a low level”. The latest bombing of the conservative party was in 2012: Herdpraemie – a new regulation in order to give more money to whoever will quit their jobs and stay in the domestic space to take care of their children, cook and clean. Literal translation of the word is “stove/cooker – bonus”… Guess, who will stay at home? If one is naïve enough to say that men and women are equal in our times or there is no pressure for women to stay in the domestic space – say, because of the fact that men also started to change diapers – one should merely take a glance at some ‘advice literature’: food and maternity magazines such as Lady’s Home Journal. The Gender-Pay-Gap should be mentioned as well. Besides that, the term rabenmutter in German, meaning raven mother, that is used for a bad mother who doesn’t spend enough time with her children depicts a certain pressure of society on mothers who would like to go further with their careers.

As a woman from Turkey, naturally, I will give an example from President Tayyip Erdogan’s declarations. The wise politician (!) suggests a country more than 85 million (18th country in the list in terms of population) to have three kids, to keep reproducing. Expectations in a society are strongly bound with politics. If the country has a certain plan, without recognizing, one may find herself/himself in the vortex – baaamm! Micro-politics is in the everyday hello of our neighbor, in the magazine we read, in our girlfriend’s/boyfriend’s expectations, in our relatives’ laughers, in the car we buy, in the house we live… The list goes on.

In the front for boys and lower down for girls

The problem is not whether or not to have a baby; it is the attitudes, the language and the whole market behind shaping the female and male bodies; human reproduction as a commodity value; predetermination of an essential role for a woman as the reproduction machine; (re)producing the-blues-and- the-pinks-and-GIJOEs-and-Barbies. Please check the website World Population Clock. Almost every second, a new baby is born. Today 224,369… (the number increases constantly and quickly) were born and 92,618 the number increases slowly) died. Population growth in the world this year was 60,977,938. Whilst writing this sentence the numbers have already increased.

Text by Göksu Kunak