Matrix Report

Matrix began at the poolside, with a sumptuous spread of tea and cakes. Guests were then invited to relax in the pool. The basin that held them once received water recycled down from the First Class Males’ Pool, through the Second Class Males’ Pool, arriving there, third hand, for women to enjoy themselves in. At  Matrix, mothers, fathers, artists, midwives, young women, obstetricians, anaesthetists, GPs, doulas and more perched on canvas chairs, sipping Assam tea from bone china. The still and waterless pool was glitzed up for the occasion, and in it the audience stared at the silver screen ahead of them, listening to 7 very different stories of how childbirth might relate to art.










All photographs are taken by Alessandra D'Onofrio.













Phoebe Mortimer, Head of Public Programmes, welcoming guests to `Matrix.



You can see the guests are sitting where local women, whose terraced houses had no bathrooms, once came to scrub themselves in bathtubs that ran the length of the balconies. Behind the pool building was an enormous washhouse, a forerunner of the launderettes that later settled on street corners, where the family washing was done each week. The building holds an analogy of birth, in the sense that the place was an everyday one, where the needs of local families were daily met, yet it’s lofty architecture and stained glass windows hinted that there was some underlying importance to it; that it pulled local people out of their normal surroundings to spend time somewhere that was impressive and beautiful and proud.


Curator, Helen Knowles, spoke to the audience first from the perspective of a mother. She described the differences in her state of mind following an emergency caesarean section with her first child and when she had given birth to her second child at home. She  explained how her reflections on this spurred her to explore the subject further through setting up Birth Rites.

She went on to speak as a curator, pointing out the need for contemporary art about childbirth in a culture which is blind to imagery of it. She used images of work made by children at St. Anne's Primary School in Ancoats in Birth Rites workshops as evidence that in our culture we keep the reality of birth at a distance.




 The first collaborators to speak were painter Suzanne Holtom and obstetrican Sarah Vause.


 Next were installation artist Juan Delgado with Cath Walker, a midwife on the South Manchester

Community Team.




Installation artist Ping Qiu describes the enlightening month she spent with midwife and writer, Ina May Gaskin, at The Farm birthing centre, in Tennessee.



Sarah Vause and guests grab a hasty cup of hot tea, hoping to warm themselves up a little.  





 Installation photographer, Hermione Wiltshire and Gail Werkmeister, President of the National Childbirth Trust, actively challenge evasion of imagery of childbirth.



 Audio-visual artist, Jaygo Bloom, grips the audience with a talk about his conversations with the charismatic Jim Dornan, obstetrican at The Royal Maternity Hospital in Belfast. He discussed the effect they have had on on his ideas about the relationship art  has with science.







 And then filmaker, Andy Lawrence and independent midwife, Judith Kuratac, speak about how they met and built the relationship which is pivotal to the creation of their film, With Woman.


Meanwhile Set Designer, Kara Ramsey, was leading a crack team to create a beautiful setting for the banquet. This amazingly effcient and industrious group were all working out of their own kindness - Birth Rites is incredibly grateful to them.









The banquet was hidden behind red silk curtains and was only revealed when the guests were ushered through a gap in the drapes.






 Middle eastern food was accompanied by installments of an erotic short story in three parts. Each place setting had a print showing a cross section of two people engaged in the sex act, covered by a fig leaf on which sat individual starters of figs with marscapone and lemon. Pudding was simply grapes and bars of dark chocolate. Hidden in a one chocolate wrapper was a voucher for a Bassine pool made by Made In Water, Birth Rites' only private sponsor.

Eaves-dropping on conversations around the table it had far departed from the formality of the presentations, to focus on more on subjects such as personal experience and the intimacy of sex and birth.