Caroline Kelley : Member Q & A

From the ‘Arctic Circle’ project. Image from a two-person exhibition at les territoires in Montreal, QC

From the ‘Arctic Circle’ project. Image from a two-person exhibition at les territoires in Montreal, QC


Firstly, tell us about yourself! Where do you live, what sort of art do you make and how many children do you have?

I live in Versailles, France about 45 minutes west of Paris with my husband and son.  My work is mainly research-based and includes photographs, drawings, objects/artefacts, text and video.

How do you continue to engage with your art practice alongside raising children? Do you have a dedicated studio space and routine, or do you work from home in between other things? 

I’ve never had a studio.  Before my son was born I used to do all my research beforehand and then complete projects during artist residencies.  Since 2013 I’ve worked entirely from home – often from my kitchen – as well as in the surrounding outdoor spaces – and motherhood, “imagining,” and “home-making” have become central themes in my practice.

What does a typical day look like for you and how much time do you manage to carve out for your own work?

I teach as an adjunct professor in the Faculté des Lettres at the Institut Catholique de Paris as well as at two other schools in the Paris area.  I try to balance my time between my work as a professor, an artist and, of course, as a mom.  I’d say I spend about one or two days a week on my art practice now.  Before this year, when my son started our equivalent of kindergarten and my teaching schedule changed, it was a lot less, perhaps a few hours a week tops.

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Have you come up against specific challenges as an artist and mother? What were they and how have you navigated these challenges?

I’ve found it especially challenging to focus and to finish projects I started since becoming a mother.  As my practice has been based on research it’s more difficult to do this sort of work now.  I’ve tried to embrace new approaches to art-making as a result.  I found Sara Ruddick’s Maternal Thinking to be helpful in this effort, the conceptualisation of motherhood as a practice.  Time management is also, of course, a challenge that I think I’m still struggling with.

What is the best piece of advice you have been given?

I’m not sure I can single out one piece of advice as the best one. I’ve been fortunate to receive a great deal of support from family and friends over the years – at different times of my life.  I remember, though, when my son was still a baby, asking friends for advice about co-sleeping and someone suggested we should simply do what feels right for us; there’s no one “correct” way.  I found this to be particularly reassuring at the time and can probably be extended to other areas of our lives as well.

From the ‘Arctic Circle’ project. Image from a two-person exhibition at les territoires in Montreal, QC.

From the ‘Arctic Circle’ project. Image from a two-person exhibition at les territoires in Montreal, QC.


Who are your role models? Who or what inspires and encourages you?

As a multidisciplinary artist, I’ve drawn a great deal of inspiration from Adrian Piper.  And I was honored to receive a fellowship from her foundation – the Adrian Piper Research Archive Foundation (APRAF) in Berlin – in 2013.  I’m also especially inspired by Lucy Lippard and her pivotal writing on women artists and conceptual art.  Her record of the trip she took to the Canadian Arctic in 1969 with Lawrence Weiner, Harry Savage and Iain and Ingrid Baxter of N.E. Thing Company formed the basis of my Arctic Circle Project – a project I’ve been working on (on and off) since 2009 when I first traveled to the Swedish Arctic.  But there are many others and it would difficult to list them all here.  It goes without saying that I draw inspiration from the people who are close to me – my mother in particular is a role model.  Other artists – most of them women – who’ve inspired me are Minerva Cuevas, Mary Kelly, Renée Green, Moyra Davey, Anu Tuominen, Anne Marie Jugnet…  as well as post-structural and feminist theorists like Luce Irigaray, Julia Kristeva, Monique Wittig, Deleuze and Guattari to name a few.

How has the experience of motherhood impacted your practice on an emotional/intellectual level? Has it made you view yourself/your work differently? Are there things that influence your work now that you didn't think about pre-kids?

I’m much more settled now than I was before having my son.  Traveling, journeying, was a function of my art practice as well as my work as an “itinerant” postdoctoral fellow-cum-visiting professor.  My base of operations, so to speak, is much more geographically confined now.  So becoming a mother has perhaps made me re-conceptualise this part of my practice.  It’s also opened up avenues of artistic exploration that I hadn’t thought about much before.  Despite being a languages professor I wasn’t especially interested in bilingual or multilingual theory much before having my son.  Since he’s fully bilingual – a simultaneous bilingual – his father is French – and we’ve spoken to him in both French and English since he was born – I’ve become fascinated with code-switching and language acquisition among children. This is something I want to begin to explore more in my work.  Of course, on a more practical level money is something I think about – and worry about – a lot more!

From the ‘Tree Theory’ series.

From the ‘Tree Theory’ series.


If your child(ren) were asked “Tell me about your mother” what do you hope they would say? Are there particular things you are trying to show/teach them as an artist, a mother, a woman? 

I want to encourage my child’s creativity – his joyful imagination – and a deep appreciation for the arts.  I hope he’ll hold onto this as well as his sense of creativity as he gets older.  I also hope I will be a role model for him.  I feel strongly that he grows up to respect women – and other people, animals and the environment.

What drives you to continue to create work?

I guess like a lot of artists I can’t imagine not making work.  Most of the work I do I don’t publish or share with anyone – especially over the last six years.  I don’t do it for money or recognition.  Since 2017, I’ve been part of a network – the Arts Territory Exchange (aTE) – founded by Gudrun Filipska – and have corresponded and shared work through the postal service with Icelandic artist Kristin Scheving.  This collaboration has been incredibly rewarding and raises the question – for me at least – of viewership or audience.  In this instance, we are one another’s main (or only?) viewer or audience for the work.  Just having one person to share ideas and work with is in some cases enough.

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CAROLINE KELLEY is a multidisciplinary artist living in France. She is especially interested in the subject of nature in literature and the visual arts, studies of tourism and travel narratives, and women’s life-writing and autobiography.

For more information about Caroline’s practice, check out her artist page and for more information about how to become an artist member of Spilt Milk, full details can be found HERE.