Rachel Andrews is a writer, lecturer and journalist. Her essays and criticism have appeared or are forthcoming in outlets including the London Review of Books, n+1, Brick literary journal, the Stinging Fly, Longreads, Gorse, Banshee, the Irish Times and the Dublin Review. In 2018, she was runner up in the inaugural Hubert Butler Essay Prize and in 2017 was shortlisted for the Fitzcarraldo Essay Prize and the Notting Hill Essay Prize. She won the CDS Documentary Essay Prize in 2013. She is a PhD candidate at NUI Galway, where her creative-with-research project is focused on the implications of unmarked burial sites in the Irish memory and culture.
From Smooth Spaces, Fuzzy Lives [extract]
First published in Brick 101 (June 2019)
In her photographic series Kinderwunsch, Ana Casas Broda depicts her body in thrall to those of her children, an artist willing to lose herself in conversation with flux, with change, with overwhelm. The photos are intimate and direct. Casas Broda often stares unsmilingly at the camera: a candid, life-worn Olympia, her pregnant body naked and big, uncomfortable-looking with her second child, or scarred and slack following fertility treatment and birth. In one of the images, her children have marked her face and torso with crayon; she both encouraged this and passively accepted the results. ‘I am their canvas: they play with me and change me,’ she said in an interview. Kinderwunsch means ‘desire to have children,’ and Casas Broda submits, it appears to me, to the terror and the unknown of that primal desire. She tumbles downwards, inwards. In the photographs, her children clothe her in tissue paper, they cover her in Play-Doh. ‘I see their scribbles on my body as a symbol of how motherhood has changed me,’ she said. What she is really depicting is dissolution (of a former self), symbiosis—and something else. In some of the images, she and her children appear as one, interwoven, but there are others where she is alone, or they are indifferent to her: a son plays a video game as she lies naked on a couch, in between mother and person, neither here nor there, her body nonetheless relaxed, strangely at ease in the moment.
Around the time I began my Maze project, I was experiencing the greatest disintegration of self I had ever felt. Crossing the border from North to South represented moments of enormous exhilaration and giddy freedom: dazed as I was, when I lay in a border hotel without the baby, who had just turned seven months, I thought that I could see a way back to myself, that the place where I ended and the child began would somehow become obvious again, clearly defined. I was wrong about that: there was no going backward. There was no going forward either, at least not in the way I wanted or imagined. Since the birth of my daughter, I remain in limbo land, the borders of a self so carefully constructed over nearly four decades now shifting. She arrived and I disappeared, something like that anyway. The categories I had thought surrounded me have dissipated into confusion and nothingness, and that, if I think about it too much, can be terrifying. Did I turn into you, I used to ask her when she was a baby, or have you become me?