Critical Distance

Omne Ex Ovum/Spiralling to Fill and Emptiness: Jillian MacDonald
January 12 – February 10, 1996

a response to the exhibition by Louise May


Prologue

Quilts keep warmth in, next to the body. They represent a collective memory – they tell a story, sometimes many stories in their deep, sensual textures. They meticulously collect information and contain lifetimes of research. The are gifted from generation to generation. When they are made from the scraps, the discarded, unwearable clothes, they also acquire a certain domesticity of the maker. In this way quilts can be seen as the humblest of creative work. And yet they have been taken to great heights of craft and are often created for display as a wall hanging and not at all for their intended function. Quilts, whether they are hung on the bedroom wall or cover the master bed, are witness to a great many conversations.

Contraception Quilt:

(note: though it may be obvious to some readers, not all will make the connection between the importance of contraception in sexual engagement and its implication of a heterocentric world.)

he: I wish that you would just take care of it yourself, you always wanted to be so independent.
she: I am independent, but this is a joint project, you know that. You’re an enlightened male. I had higher hopes for you.
he: Yes and because I am enlightened I happen to know at least two dozen ways to avoid pregnancy. (he jokes) However, I never did lead you to believe that I would be responsible with that knowledge, did I?
she: You fool! You could offend the Goddess with talk like that! You should ask for forgiveness and mend your ways, stitch by bumbling stitch.
he: Alright, I’ll apologize and atone. Now can I touch you…
she: Yes, as soon as you have put your own condom on.
(he struggles to put it on, it slips out of his nervous fingers, it gets cat hair all over it, they debate the cat hair, he takes a second one out of the package and finally succeeds in putting it on)
he: There…
she: Now you can thank me for buying them – your share comes to $3.95 but I’ll let you pay me back in favours.
(they have sex, he adequately returns the favours, he falls asleep.)
she: (whispers) Somehow, I don’t think that it worked.

Abortion Blanket

(several months later)

she: No, I will not radically transform my life plans in order to have this child. I can’t believe you would even consider asking it of me. It’s out of the question. However, maybe it could be moved from my body and be surgically implanted in your body. Yeah, now there’s an idea; then we’d finally make the Letterman show.
he: Do you think it would hurt? I mean giving birth.
she: Oh never mind, anyway, I don’t want anyone to find out so I’m going to start with herbs and if that doesn’t work, I’ll slowly make my way up the chain of abortificants. Hopefully I can avoid medical intervention. You might try some chanting in the mean time. It can’t hurt.
he: Well, actually, I’m late for work so I’ve gotta run. Love ‘ya babe.
(he leaves without his briefcase.)
she: This is solitary work anyhow. No room for soft hearts and weak stomachs. Certainly no time for tears girl, where’s the pennyroyal…Yet another reason why I’m glad I’m not catholic. I hate feeling guilty.

Menstruation (Red Flower) Cover

(several years later – random samples of a survey conducted at a womyn’s gathering that she attended.)

she: Each time I menstruate, I think of the child that I didn’t have. I can’t get rid of this feeling of loss. It marks my time, my life in a way that makes me uncomfortable.
she 1: I want to live life like a myth, I want to have secrets and mysteries and magic. I want to be naked during my menses and bleed straight into the earth. I want symbols and not objects.
she 2: I like it when my partner smears my blood all over me while we have sex. She likes it when I do the same to her. She is more creative than I though – she draws images with her fingers, whereas I tend more toward the abstract expressionism and use my whole hand. When our moons are synchronized, and it only happens every couple of years, we have the most amazing lovemaking.
she 3: Blood Rules!
she 4: I feel dirty and ugly when I get my period. I wish I could just curl up in bed each month. I often call in sick to work. I don’t want my boyfriend to touch me.
she 5: My vagina is the centre of my universe. It is the vortex.

Infertility Quilt

(again several years later. She is now with he 2. They are married and are trying to conceive. After several months, they decide to see a doctor.)

she: I know that I was fertile… I was pregnant once many years ago but had an abortion.
Doctor: Well, many things can cause sterility in women: unchecked vaginal infections, ovulation problems, structural abnormalities in the female reproductive organs, endometriosis, diet, vitamin and mineral deficiencies, stress, smoking and there is always the genetic factor.
he 2: But what about for men?
Doctor: Some of the same factors: infections, diet, genetic factors, plus autoimune factors, psychological syndromes, toxins, even too much heat can inhibit the sperm from maturing.
she: Well, what can we do?
Doctor: We’ll do a few tests, but I must warn you that it is most likely that you’ll just have to keep on trying. (Doctor winks at he 2)

Fertility – Millions of Sperm and Only One Egg. (many years later. she and he 2 lie in bed after having sex. They have been trying to conceive for 2 years. They have a baby room decorated in their house.)

he 2: You radiate, you know that don’t you. I can feel the heat waves coming from your body. I think that tonight was the night. Don’t you?
she: Well, it still feels like your sperm are wandering around in the dark. I don’t feel a strong connection the way I did the last time.
he 2: Maybe you will later tonight. Let me read you a poem or how about a massage. (He does both. The massage leads to another session of lovemaking, still with thoughts of a potential baby yet to come.)
she: I think that I feel different. It feels more like a gust of wind through an open doorway. I’m not sure. Do you believe in angels?
he 2: Don’t tell me we were just having a threesome with Gabriel? I’m just ribbing you. I don’t know if I believe in angels or not.

Sterility – Flight from Fancy Quilt

(from a diary found hundreds of years later)

Thursday, November 8th.

I sat by the waters edge and threw rocks at the newly formed ice lining my little river. I made a wish for each girl-child born today, that she be of herself and no one else.

My life is not menacing, it is not harmful to anyone, but still when I go into town, which I must say is becoming most rare, they scorn me. The young boys make bets, I know it is true, to see who will come the closest to me and utter some profanity. The women in town, especially those who proudly push their babies in prams down the sidewalks, avert their eyes. The ladies of my age frown upon me, and speak of me in voices not subdued, while they sip their tea and carefully nibble their dainties. The children stare.

I continue to write my life back into existence. With no offspring to carry on my voice, I have no choice but to recreate myself in words. Twice, I was fertile, and twice I failed to contain the growing child; the first by choice, the second by accident. I will never know what my life could have been.

Epilogue

What is hidden in the made-up bed? Clean sheets and pillowcases, several woolen blankets if it is wintertime, a loveletter, worn from multiple readings, tucked beneath the feather pillow. The quilt contains all this and more. The hidden sex is not prudishness, per se but rather, it is silence. It is the assumption that despite all the barrage of information, an innocence is preserved: nothing could be going on under here. Whether by folk tales, traditions, myths or medicine, the hidden sex persists.


Louise May is a cultural worker and artist living in Winnipeg.