My new work comes directly from my experience as a mother – I have been deliberately looking at ways of mirroring the evolving and turbulent time as the teenage child and parent struggle to be together and be apart, and to establish and resolve their new identities. Focus on the female body, separation, connection, balance and dependance. 

“Suspended and Stitched- Mother and Child” is a large piece, hanging with chains from a beam. The stone is split in two, drilled with holes and stitched back together, the wire like black, spidery sutures, pulling the two bits of stone back together, straining under the weight. The poured white rubber shape underneath reflects on spilt, leaking milk and connects strongly to the nipple flowers (cast in latex from my nipples) that grow out of the stone, towards the light. I want this piece to evoke tension and pain, but also optimism and a sense of life……

“From Stone, We Spread” is a large floor based piece of stone, mountain shaped, visibly bolted to the wall, the two bolts resembling nipples. “growing” out of the stone is a series of latex, vine- like protrusions with nipple flowers at the ends. Raw, and smelly, sheep wool, is stuffed down the gap between the stone and the wall.

Another piece has a small white rubber cast of a heart, nestling on a piece of stone, stitched onto hanging stone, the heart is engulfed with a swarm of wire,  which echoes the wall based image next to it. Here,  two “bodies” of barbed wire, stand surrounded by a raging battle of the brightly coloured stuff, which has partly exited the macabre and painful looking slits in the bark of a tree trunk. The whole image is a careful balance of reality and fiction.

I am looking at the connections between the physicality of our bodies and the landscape. This work is tactile and sensual. The nipples, cast in fine detail, bring the female body straight in to our field of vision. Exposed, proud, and beautiful , they identify with the material of the land. They grow, winding across the surface, upwards, outwards, towards the light. The barbed wire brings an element of conflict, restraint, and potential pain, the thinner wire and the delicate grass constructions can knit and  pull together, heal, protect, create intricate skeletal structures and also allow linear drawing in space, adding detail and focus.


About Sally Barker

I now live in Hebden Bridge with my partner and 2 children(15 and 11), having just moved back from London where I lived for 22 years. My work explores relationships between us and our environment, particularly the landscape: the mutual shaping, nurturing, destructive and creative forces. I use as…Read more


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10 Responses to “Nipple flowers, stitching stone”

  1. Helen Sargeant

    Stone as a metaphor of the body of the mother, the mother earth, the splitting, the spilling, the tearing apart, and the binding together, the joining of one to another. I identify with your work and its meanings, the struggle between holding on, protecting, nurturing and letting go, pushing away, striving for independence. The teenage child growing rapidly in body, and in mind, moving away from the mother. Hormones that take over the self. Selfhood, becoming. I see my son growing up, and I see myself growing down, feeling lost and left, struggling to find ways to help him, sometimes feeling helpless. I want to be as solid as stone but I feel the sand slipping away underneath my feet, formlessness, falling apart and away.

  2. sally barker

    I wonder about incorporating a level of action in the work- this is all about movement and interaction between people and growth both internal and external. The performative element, tightening, letting go, stitching , unpicking stitches, saving the stitches- I always particularly love the use of verbs when writing about my work, action or suggestion of action is extremely important. Shifting sands, yes, we are slipping, sliding, sinking, pulling ourselves and our children out of swamps, the weight of our stone being strong, being “a rock” but conversely being heavy enough to risk us sinking quickly.
    I am also reminded of rocks in the landscape that at some point fall away from the parent rock, through the constant presence of ice freezing, melting, creating fissures, cracking and splitting open the seemingly impenetrable rock, creating new rocks, exposing new surfaces, the inside now becoming visible.

  3. Helen Sargeant

    The unravelling, and exposure of the self, the vulnerability of the earth, the rocks, the movement of water and ice. A mothers insecurity, how we cling to each other for comfort, for reassurance and recognition. To make connections, find a new way forward. To try and understand our collective experience.
    There is action in the work that you make, within the way that you have manipulated the materials, changed and transformed them. The fleshy nipple flowers grow out of the rock, they move forward and up and onwards.

  4. Frances Earnshaw

    For some reason, the old story “Stone Soup” comes to mind. A woman brings a stone to the door of a house, and asks if they want it, because it will make the most marvellous soup. They don’t believe her, so she offers to demonstrate. “Just bring an onion, this will make the soup even better” She asks. Then, just bring a carrot… so it goes on, and the stone does indeed make a marvellous soup, which they all share and enjoy!

    The stone is like a mother’s body. It gives, and it forces participation. My daughter’s father did not want to be a dad, did not want to come to the feast. But the intractable stone was already formed. That is how it is.

    Otherwise, the work makes me think of… hair. The whole thing about exfolliation, removing hair in order to look ok… funny thing really! I fussed over my legs being hairy when I went to the hospital to give birth. I used to go to a community camp. The young girls, just in teens, would go down to the stream and shave their legs in the freezing water…! (The only bathing facilities).

    I worry about being a bearded lady now. And should I still bother with lipstick now I have a moustache? The beauty magazines never tell you stuff like that, do they?!

    • sally barker

      hair, yes, I definately want the wire to talk about hair. I wanted to bring in the shaving of hair because it’s something that my teenage daughter has just started doing and it reminds me of my own internal dilemma of whether to shave or not, which bits etc.The fluorescent acrylic stubs that protrude from the stone are reminders of our stubble, it will always grow back, at least for a good few years anyway , and we will really worry and desire our hair when it stops growing. The beautiful black rusty thin wire that serves as sutures , also grow out of the stone like hair (you can see this more in other pieces not posted). I’m interested in hair suggesting the wild and untamed. Several friends talk of hair falling out, through illness, oldness,stress. I comb the wire hair with my fingers,I draw with it, as it’s wire I can shape it , tweak it, preen it and sculpt it in ways that I cant do with my own thinner less responsive hair. I also am dealing with demons here as I have a horror of loose , disembodied hair, and hair shafts when you can just see that blob of flesh on the root when you pull it out. My dad was a butcher and I remember him curing some ham in the garage, it had thick, black stubble, visible on the pink soft skin, every hair or bristle very, very visible, just poking through – even now it evokes a powerful , physical response. My wire and flashes of electric yellow compete for a more positive place. Hair connects girls and mothers, it is common currency. It also connects us to our animal nature and really we are very beautiful and intelligent animals, with hair!

  5. Helen Sargeant

    Hair. Ive been collecting Syd’s hair for a few years now. I love his hair it is think and strong and dark and wavy. I cannot bear to leave it to be thrown in the bin at the hairdressers. So I have bags of hair tucked away in draws at the studio that one day will become a piece of work. I started collecting Naoise hair too, his is quite the opposite, fine, fair and straight. A few strands of his lie in a matchbox.
    I remember shaving my legs and body for the first time around the age of 12, it was a horrid, bloodied affair with cheap razors and hand soap. I wish I had never started. There was no beauty in its removal.
    Earlier this year I made a film of myself scrubbing rocks on the moor with cows milk. It felt very primordial. The milk dribbled down the rock in sticky rivers, it was cold hard work, and in the March sunshine my hands hurt. I need to revisit this work, re-film and re-investigate this process. Perhaps there is something of hair that I can combine. Washing the rocks with milk drenched hair comes to mind. The hair becoming a paintbrush, I am thinking of Janine Antoni work Loving Care (1992).
    My grannie used to keep a platt of one of her child’s hair in a draw in her house. I loved to look at it, beautiful red and rapunzel-esque, tied with a pale blue ribbon……..

  6. Sally Barker

    I love the thought of you scrubbing the rocks with milk, how beautiful. Did you have this in your exhibition at Ebor? I glimpsed it but didn’t manage to watch it properly- it must have influenced my combination of stone and white poured milky rubber- so thankyou, I find it fascinating that we can have these influences under our skin, under our noses, breathing them in without a thought and one day , out they come, in the form of a piece of work or a poem…
    I too had my long hair chopped off when I was maybe about eight, Mine was kept very unceremoniously in a plastic bag (very possibly a bread bag) in a drawer, it had a rubber band holding the ponytail . I thought it was creepy, even though it was mine and I invested some anticipation of the horror movie when peeling back the plastic, as if a severed hand or finger was going to be there – yet I still loved to look at it. Janine Antoni- very, very good. The image of the cow drinking her bath water- or licking her breast- disturbing- I grew up with cows on a beef cattle farm, I love cows

  7. Helen Sargeant

    Yes Sally it was in my exhibition at Ebor see :, the idea needs further thought and development, like much of my work it is created intuitively, hastily in-between the mothering. There was something else that I wanted to explore in this, it was the fact that I had asked the children to hide behind a rock whilst I made the film. Why did I feel the need to hide them ? I wished that I had filmed them hiding. They are a part of my practice, they are integral, I need to consider them, in connection to my body.
    I have just got back from an extra school run, I forgot Naoise lunch box. The weather is awful, dark cold damp and wet. This morning in the shower I watched as a spider spun her web. There are webs everywhere in the autumn, the wrinkling, shrivelling, dying back time. The reflective time, the year closing in.
    As I was walking back I thought about the opening scene from The Princes Quest, a film by Michael Ocelot. Nanny sits breast feeding two children on her lap, Azur on one side, Asmar on the other. One is fair haired and blue eyed, the other is dark haired and brown eyed. When I think of this image I think of myself with my two sons, an Azur and an Asmar, both fed from the same breasts, both so diverse in appearance, both so strong, independent and wild. A brotherhood.
    Can you remember the discussion we had on the mobile last night, as I was walking to the station after the Lynne Segal talk ? The moon was full to a brim and bright. We talked about breastfeeding children and how it interrupts the sleeping pattern. Waking in the night, even now with growing children that are far away from the breast, they wake us in the night, they shake us from our sleep. As if we meet them in their dreams ? Perhaps mothers meet each other in their dreams. On Tuesday night I awoke to the image of red riding hood in the woods, I think that it came from reading your writing Frances. Ideas conscious and unconscious, shared, distilled, mixed together.
    Frances your stone soup story is wonderfully evocative. I am stirring the soup as we speak. I may have to make some, and invite you to the feast.

  8. sally barker

    our children are absolutely present in the bed just as they are present during the day, even when we don’t feel, hear, smell, touch or see them they are there. How can they not be? we formed them inside ourselves and so that connection will always flow, actually ebb and flow, tidal in and out, present and receding.
    I think as women we are pretty much all the time ready to care- whether we choose to or not is another matter.
    Back to the stone- and I am loving these dialogues, they are helping to form new work- I think i need to recognise the part that intervention, and even destruction, plays in my work. The importance of my physical action, as I drill in and down, partly to embed and partly to stitch back together- but I am taking control over these big, heavy, “important” pieces of natural , ancient, beautiful and sometimes monolithic pieces of stone or rock. The drilling takes effort, it takes commitment, I have to take deep breaths, psyche myself up , be strong, be committed, not be distracted. I love this physicality, the connection to the power tool (its a cliche I know!), the difficulty involved and the fact that it sometimes scares me. Some of the holes I drill are as big as possible, as big as the drill bit available and I want them to be bigger but I have a limit with the length of the drill bit ( I’m aware this all sounds very Freudian). Anyway , I wanted to talk about the potential, generally in work, for the aggressive , destructive, damaging force which may then (but not neccessarily) be mended, pulled back, repaired , re-united? I know Christine Borland shoots at things, Cornelia Parker blows things up or steam rollers pieces of silver. This is like that but, very importantly, with more connection, more physicality, more mark making, more of me in the process. In some way I’m not sure of yet,and it’s not therapy or catharsis I’m talking about, but it is looking at the real feelings of anger and breakdown we have been discussing recently here.

  9. Helen Sargeant

    The physicality that you talk about in a sense then is about endurance ? Mothers are strong, they make, they give birth, they endure sleepless nights, they are care givers. Drilling into stone, boring through, altering the material is maybe a way in which you transmute your feelings ? The process of making is as much as creating meaning as the finished form of the object. I agree that this is not catharsis or therapy, its maybe about understanding where ideas are forged, how they form, how they become a piece of art. These words perhaps help to find a way in. Ideas for me are found in the making process, by making gestures, marks, actions I make sense of me and the world. Anger and destruction are so much apart of what makes us human. Anger can be a catalyst for making, it can lead to production. Drilling through anger forming a hole inside or around it ?


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