Ellen McMahon ~ Arizona

Flash Card bookworks by Ellen McMahon  
Ellen McMahon: "My work is about the politics of intimacy in the mother-child relationship and the conflict between the desire to merge and the struggle to separate, which has always been central to my life as a mother and as a daughter. My work is informed by my daily experience of mothering in relation to the social category of mother, constructed as natural and thus simultaneously romanticized and undervalued. I am interested in expressing the pleasure, the humor, the ambivalence, and the resentment that are mixed up in my sense of powerless responsibility and are bonded to the prevailing discourse of maternal sacrifice."

Alice's Idea
By Ellen McMahon
2004. Edition of 15.

14.5 x 10" hardbound folio. Letterpress printed in Mrs Eaves Roman on Rive BFK, Cranes Cover & Fabriano Ingres. Platinum/Palladium printing by Keith Schreiber. Book construction by Todd Christensen. Photography and design by Ellen McMahon.

A single photograph and a short text capture that poignant time in the relationship between every mother and daughter. The daughter, here named Alice, trying to become her own person; Mom dealing with the push-pull of conflicted emotions. Alice: I need your help, Mom, but “you can't tell me that I can't do anything or ask a lot of questions." An afternoon of body writing begins. The photograph catches a moment near the end in the reflection of a looking glass: Alice admiring the words on her back, Mom’s stare hard and telling.

Ellen McMahon: “Over the past several years I have focused on the contradictions between my experience of mothering and my expectations of that role. Through drawing, photography, found and fabricated objects and text, I am addressing, among other things, the politics of intimacy in the mother-child relationship and the conflict between the desire for closeness and the struggle for autonomy that have always been central to my experience as a daughter and as a mother.”

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A Is for Autonomy:
26 psychovisceral alphabet cards

By Ellen McMahon
2001. Edition of 20.

3.25 x 5", 28 pages. Printed in three colors plus embossing on Rives BFK using Mrs Eaves plus miscellaneous wood type. A collaboration with Chax Press of Tucson, Arizona. Housed in matching white wraparound case tied with red grosgrain ribbon.

“Psychovisceral” was coined by the artist to deal with the mind-body dilemma. On each card the word printed in black is the intellectualization of feeling, while the blind embossed word is the irrational, visceral sensation.

Ellen McMahon: “The body is inevitable. No matter how much our emotions are intellectualized, theorized, and rationalized they still persist as physical experience and expression. A Is for Autonomy pokes fun at my efforts to achieve control and order through my intellect in the realm of love; out of control and completely disorderly.

The formal aspects of the work reflect the tension between things culturally constructed and socially reinforced as opposites: adulthood and childhood, love and hate, thinking and feeling, mechanical and handmade, and intimacy and autonomy. Things that actually blend and fuse and overlap and need each other to even exist.”

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Flash Card Series

Ellen McMahon: "I am interested in the multiple ways that form embodies and communicates content."


baby talk
Flash Cards

By Ellen McMahon,
Tucson, Arizona: Ellen McMahon, 1998. Second edition.

3 x 5"; 12 double-sided inkjet printed cards housed in illustrated paper card box.

Ellen McMahon: "This set features 12 full-color cards each with a scan-o-gram and descriptive baby talk word on the front and English translation on the flip side."

Card box blurb: "Your baby is making the same demanding sound over and over again, getting more upset by the minute. Each request gets louder and more shrill as you frantically try to determine what baby wants. You end up rushing around the house offering everything you can think of – drinks, toys, food, bedding, and clothes – all to no avail.

"Now with the help of baby talk Flash Cards you can learn baby's language, figure out what she's asking for, and talk back too."


Flash Card Series

By Ellen McMahon,
1998. Edition of 100.

3 x 5"; 8 cards. Color inkjet printed. Housed in illustrated paper card box.

Ellen McMahon: "Pre-verbal Flash Cards introduces the adult to the world of the pre-speaking infant. This set features 8 full-color cards each with a scan-o-gram of common baby care objects on the front and a corresponding non-verbal alphabetic symbol on the flip side. Each device pictured extends the reach of the caretaker into the baby's body. They block to clear, hurt to help, and stifle to protect."

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Page last update: 04.14.13


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