PhD Birth was taken in September 2011 shortly after I had finished writing my doctoral thesis in art history. Once all of the hard cerebral toil was over, I felt it necessary to give my PhD a life, to make it into a physical object and release it into the world. After printing three copies of the document, I bound them all lovingly in bright red wool. As intended, two of these copies were cut open by examiners to highlight the ideas discussed within.


One copy remained with me and remained unopened. I have always loved studying and I love my PhD, but how can one communicate love to ideas that have been translated into words? I also wanted my thesis to become contained somehow, and useful, after so many years of being boundless, complex and abstract. So I created an object to love and to use. I carried it around with me, knelt on it in prayer, gave it to my daughter to play with, and even slept with it for a few nights.

The whole process of writing a PhD felt like a very long pregnancy, the preparation for a predicted cataclysmic event that, when it comes, actually does not stop time and does not alter all courses of all lives. What followed the event – in this case the completion of my PhD, but equally after meeting my partner and the birth of our children – was balance, subtle but at once miraculous balance, that finally, and resolutely acknowledged my body to be equally as revealing as my mind.

About Rebecca Baillie

Dr. Rebecca Baillie is an art historian who has always practiced as an artist alongside conducting research and writing. Awarded a PhD in 2012, her academic specialism lies in the study of melancholia, surrealism and its legacies, and the maternal body in visual culture. In her artwork she uses p…Read more


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7 Responses to “PhD Birth”

  1. Eti

    I love this work, wish you practiced more or made more of your practice visible. The work you have created, and that I know, always leaves me wanting to see more. The piece about miscarriage you talked about at the Starts and Ends of life… is it anywhere on online for people to see? Maybe add it in here?

  2. Rebecca Baillie

    Dearest Eti, you are very kind.
    I do want to practice more, and to make my practice more visible. I will, I hope, soon.
    You can see ‘My Son 22.10.11’ here with my thoughts:
    And there are a few more pieces in the MaMSIE visual library:

  3. Rachel Fallon

    This is lovely and something I concur with wholeheartedly! There is a balance when mind and body are attuned that makes life so much more! I think the cutting and the red wool works really well at bringing these birthing ideas across including the anticipation of opening tinged with pain. Very nice indeed!

  4. Frances Earnshaw

    Wool and yarn… yarn as story. I love this.

  5. christina

    I loved what you did with the Phd…. I had this strong sense that I needed to do something physical with mine when I had completed – but I didn’t find a way. I like it that you say you love it, and so you should because it is like giving birth to something. MIne sits on an attic shelf, poorly bound and neglected (unread since the viva), so I shall dust it off and give it a hug. Perhaps it needs to be bound in a shroud so it is protected and cared for in its abandonment.
    And the Durer engraving also sits inside mine, so that makes me wonder how many Durer angels sit caught in melancholia inside Phd Thesis copies.

  6. Helen Sargeant

    I loved the cutting open of the Phd. The use of blood red, the sound of the scissors slicing through the wool. The opening, the revealing of the texts. Reminded me of unwrapping a birthday present.

  7. Rebecca Baillie

    Nice idea Christina, about many Dürer angels being trapped inside PhD theses.


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