Good Labour

Second-hand baby clothing, reborn doll kit limbs, canvas and other textiles, vinyl inflatable ball.


Dimensions: Approx 7’ in diameter (height 8’, width 7’, depth 7’)


Good Labour is a large-scale sculpture featuring infant-sized body parts. These hand-painted vinyl arms and legs are from readymade reborn doll kits. Each limb protrudes through baby clothing surrounding a six-foot sphere. This bloated form hovers two feet above the ground and is covered with dozens of articles of “girl” baby clothing quilted together. The visual combination of soft, frilly pink baby attire combined with the body parts creates an uncanny effect that is simultaneously attractive and disconcerting. This work invokes themes of fertility, gender, control, and the future, prompting viewers to consider the global meaning of babies across commercial, cultural, and biological strata.

Formally this work represents excess and crisis due to the multitude of pink hued garments and the reaching, grasping, or kicking gestures expressed by the little limbs. Individually each article of clothing is innocuous, sweet, precious. My hope is that this striking visual composition holds a viewer’s gaze and curiosity long enough to prompt contemplation about how small lives are valued; how non-boy babies are thrust into the world of girl culture to await the fate of non-men; and ultimately confront all that goes along with births and babies—entities much larger than the spaces they are afforded.

The mass of limbs visible in this sculpture gives a crowded impression, as if a hundred bodies were melded together. Faceless bodies lack the agency endowed by an identity. Infant bodies lack agency due to their inadequate level of development. Female bodies lack the agency to operate in a world that disenfranchises non-male bodies. Women are often compared to dolls. Babies are dressed for doll-like perfection particularly when put into ornate dresses that may hinder their already limited movements. Dolls and puppets are brought to life by an operator, any perceived action is prompted only through the power of an external force.

Female bodies can be deemed inadequate even before birth, often denied a live delivery due to gender-based selective termination of pregnancy. Clothing can ready female infants for girlhood, simultaneously priming the little one for certain aesthetic adornments and encouraging a pretty, adorable, and sweet assessment from those who view her. Eventually she will be old enough to deem her own body inadequate. To redeem the imposition of her female body, a woman should become a mother or face being judged inadequate yet again.

 

Images of babies and children are often invoked to represent the future, or to prompt care for the fate of young people through some cause or another. The spherical form of Good Labour resembles a globe. When put in a global context these babies may appear to be battling for resources, seeking to escape, or they may already be submerged under the weight of concerns such as the dangerous journeys and high death toll of thousands of migrants, food shortages and instability or other threats due to climate change. Although the cultural preference for distinguishing the gender of babies through clothing is strongest in the late-capitalist Western world, most of the second-hand clothing used in Good Labour was made in China, evidenced by a selection of tags on display. Similarly, the vinyl limbs for doll-making were produced in China based on prototypes sculpted by artists in the US. Inter-continental trade and overseas production obscure connections between humans as well as the ecological impact of such contracts. Abstracted into a fading (digital) paper trail, a garment of clothing bears little evidence of its origin.

​© 2012 - 2019 by Emilie St-Hilaire

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