As a mother struggling to balance work and family, artist Courtney Kessel finally gave in. Seven years ago, Kessel asked her 5-year-old daughter Chloé Clevenger to literally become part of her artwork. Together, the two now travel the world to realize In Balance With, a performance charged with metaphors about their independence and interdependency as mother and daughter.
How does Chloé, now 12, feel about being a part of her mother’s art work?
“My role in this piece is to be content,” Chloé said. Specifically, she sits on one end of a seesaw, reading, sketching, or studying, while her mom works busily, adding enough weight to her daughter’s end of the seesaw so that their two bodies balance out. The performance ends when Chloé says so. “It’s only usually about 30-40 minutes,” she said, “because it all depends on how long I want to be on the seesaw.”
Once balance is achieved, mother and daughter are suspended in space at either end of the seesaw plank, in an ideal equilibrium that might be harder to achieve in real life.
“That was such a turning point for me,” Kessel said of a charged moment in the first performance of In Balance With seven years ago, while in graduate school. Concerned for Chloé’s comfort and willingness to continue participating, she kept checking in. Her daughter seemed, as she explained, perfectly content. “I realized that’s what it’s all about. I can only do the work as long as she’s happy, and as long as she’s happy, I’m still performing.”
With so much experience behind her, Chloé had particularly salient advice for Blue Star visitors unfamiliar with – or intimidated by – the ins and outs of performance art. “It can be interpreted in different ways, and that goes for really any performance art, because that’s what a performance is about,” she said. “I would say interpret it in your own way.”
Once, while performing in Chile, Chloé explained that kids in the audience felt free to play with her toys that were meant to be included in the piece. Perhaps 5-year-old San Antonians, unaware that they are participating in performance art, might be inspired the way Chloé has been. “It gives me confidence,” Chloé said of her involvement in her mother’s work. “It’s helped me be confident in who I am now.”
In Balance With has been performed in multiple locations, and after San Antonio, the pair will travel to Copenhagen, Denmark. Asked where she wishes her mom’s performance work would take them next, Chloé aimed east. “My mom has been to China. I would like to go somewhere farther that way,” she said.
Kessel’s sculpture Fabric of Life is also present as part of the Home Bodies exhibition, on view Oct. 5 through Jan. 21, 2018, featuring artists Ivonne Acero, Lenka Clayton, Catherine Colangelo, Karina Etcheverry Roberto, Casey Arguelles Gregory, Las Hermanas Iglesias, Kessel, Hillerbrand + Magsamen, and Barry Stone. Admission is free.