Sadie Mallon’s “How to Care for a Limp Thing” – An Interview with Eva Morrison

FEBRUARY 13, 2019

Sadie Mallon–”How to Care for a Limp Thing” video stills.

In an interview with Yiara Online’s lead contributor Eva Morrison, Concordia undergraduate artist Sadie Mallon discusses her recent work “How to Care for a Limp Thing”. The video piece explores acts of care; how we care for others and what we get–or do not get–in return. Mallon considers the politics of nurturing that occur in her own life, as she observes: “beginning in my childhood with the hundreds of interventions held for my father and following me through to romantic relationships, the strong need to nurture another person prevailed.” Combining visceral emotional instinct, thoughtful reminiscence, and a tenderness that is deeply felt, Mallon allows herself to be both vulnerable and self-assured. Invoking maternal imagery, she tests the capacity of benevolent love against the notion of a cold, limp thing. In the interview, Mallon explains the process, ideas, and inspirations behind her work.

EM: “How to Care for a Limp Thing” is presented as a series of video stills. What was your process like for this work?

SM: My best works come from a place of creation that was never meant to be shared – a very emotionally healing and deeply instinctual place. I originally made the video, “How to Care for a Limp Thing,” as a personal response to a wickedly bad date. I had been walking around for a week with this strange bodily feeling like I was one of those frogs that you dissect in a high school science class, you know the ones? Anyways, I wanted to rid this feeling, and my instinct was that I had to buy a dead animal, and dissect it myself! I wanted to dive deep into the feeling and see what I found down there. So I borrowed a friend’s video camera, bought a dead fish, and went home. I set up the camera, unwrapped the fish, it bled on my white shirt. I’m a vegetarian, so the whole thing was really odd, I didn’t even know how I should be holding it – I ended up holding it like how you might hold a newborn baby. It was such a comical scene, I decided to tape it. Before I knew it, I was rocking and singing to this dead fish, and ultimately, unbuttoning my shirt to breastfeed.

EM: Breastfeeding a dead fish explores a non-reciprocal act of care, a futile effort to love and revive something cold, limp, and lifeless. You mentioned that this work reflects your interest in the “politics of nurturing”, can you discuss this further?

SM: When I say the “politics of nurturing,” a lot of things come to my mind. Power-dynamics, the mother, the father, the baby balancing between. The desire, the disgust, the milk, and the lemon. I love emotional labor, my arms are open, please come cry in them! But there have been times that I have opened my arms, supplied the breastmilk, and have been met with a lemon (sourmilk).

I remember going fishing when I was five, they gave me a chunky plastic rod, hook, and worm. I was parched, red and sweating when they said: “Sadie, we love that you’re trying, but you can’t catch a fish with that thing.”

Our monthly interventions kind of felt like that. Once a month, parched, red and pleading – bite, bite, bite, please just bite.

When I think back to my childhood, I understand that the video of me breastfeeding a dead-fish is not comical. I guess it comes down to understanding who deserves your nurturing. There is liberation to be found in saying “No”, and breastfeeding a dead fish looks like saying yes yes yes until all your milk is gone.

EM: How do the themes you explore analyze relationships and/or societal systems? What kind of critique, message, or experience do you aim to communicate with your art?

SM: As I dissect complex familial, romantic and sexual power-dynamics, I am performing an emotional tug of war between my romanticism and reality. The power-dynamics I dissect most often are of a gendered nature. As a (mostly) heterosexual, cis woman, I am continually questioning how my desires can exist and flourish when the subject of my desire has the societal power to oppress me. Having said that, I have nothing but warmth (mostly) towards men as they struggle to unearth and challenge the societal system they have been forced into. My artwork feels like a personal plea for healing and reformation.

EM: What are the inspirations, visual references, or contemporary artists that are most influential to your practice?

SM: I have a list! Get ready!

Carmen Winant – her photo collage “White Woman Look Away,” perfectly demonstrates how to critique your own potential oppressive behaviors.

CA Conrad – his brave poems and full body rituals – most notably, as a means of healing his depression, Conrad routinely swallowed a crystal (gifted to him by his recently deceased boyfriend) passed it, cleaned it, and swallowed again.

Kent Monkman – his re-working of narratives that more accurately reflect history, in a whimsical and queer light.

Kim Woldon – her photographic performance series, “The Do-It-Yourself Cookbook,” where she learned how to slaughter animals and photographed the process, in hopes of demonstrating the profound disconnection that we live with in relationship to food.

Others include; Kiki Smith’s drawings, Miranda July’s books, and Pipilotti Rist’s videos. And the movie Romance by Catherine Breillat will always be ringing in my mind.          

EM: How does intersectional feminism relate to or inform your work?

SM: I am a white, middle class, able-bodied, heterosexual, cis woman with access to University education: I cannot pretend that my work will be important for, or relatable to everyone. With this in mind, I am always trying to become more aware of the spaces I take up with my work, and how to better critique my place of privilege within my work.

Sadie Mallon and her work can be found on Instagram and on her website.

An undergraduate
feminist art & art history