Sally Butcher 

Archival Photograph (egg, ink & hand gel) 30 x 30cm (framed)



This piece is symbolic of those potential mothers-to-be who had their assisted conception procedures halted during the early stages of the pandemic, when clinics were ordered to close. These fabricated images mimic days 1-5 of cell development as shown through a time lapse recording, an increasingly common add-on in these procedures. Such a technique uses a computer, rather than the human eye, to closely monitor the growth of the embryo by photographing every few minutes, aiming to give a more accurate prediction of survival, before it is returned to the mother’s uterus. But here, during this unprecedented time, the highly controlled laboratory environment has transferred to an artist’s studio: the incubator is now open to changes of light and temperature, the petri dishes contain (unfertilised) hen eggs and an inky sperm like substance, with the whole process recorded by a snapping mobile phone. And rather than a suitable nurturing uterine-type culture, the cells sit within a solution of hand gel, ubiquitous with the pandemic, which acts as a repellent, preventing any bond between the two components and, hence, the fertilisation process gets stopped before it can even start.

In the fertility treatment process, time is absolutely integral: many wait years to get to this point and every month can count, especially for those women who are past “natural” conceiving age (labelled as “geriatric”). With a “body clock ticking”, some women’s chances of becoming a mother were exhausted, and ultimately ended with the pandemic. For others, time stood still whilst they waited, and the embodiment of the prolonged stress (a recognisable factor affecting fertility) caused by not knowing when their procedure would be reinstated, then joining a long waiting list when it was, left many feeling depleted again, with potentially long-lasting detrimental effects on their chances of success on becoming a mother.



Sally Butcher is an artist, lecturer and researcher based in Birmingham, UK. Her work engages with feminist discourse on female subjectivity across intersections of identity, spaces, body and image. She explores these as "gendered surfaces", between binaries of natural/cultural, desired/desiring and inside/outside, working mostly through the mediums of drawing, printmaking and photography. Blending her Fine Art (BA) and Cultural Studies (MA) background, her practice is underpinned by an academic framework of female embodiment, used to question conventional representations within spheres of the domestic, maternal and erotic. This focus on the theoretical and critical terrains as the bedrock of Fine Art making also fuels her teaching; working part-time as Course Director for a Foundation Diploma, and Lead Tutor for the upcoming British Arts Show 9.

Her work has been exhibited nationally and internationally and is held in public and private collections. She is currently undertaking her research practice project, awarded DYCP funding from the Arts Council England, ‘Re.conceive: Investigating the Invisibility of Infertility in the Visual Arts’, which seeks to challenge naturalised reproduction and reframe the narrative of normative motherhood with representations of the sub-maternal. Through this project, she has been featured in Elephant Magazine, Maternal Art, Mothers Who Make, Artist Mother Podcast, Female Photographers and M.A.M.A. with Procreate Project (forthcoming). Her essay ‘Ma - Reframing the Representation of the Maternal Subject in the (Negative) Space of (M)otherhood’ is due to be published in the anthology ‘An Artist and A Mother’ next year.

Sub-maternal Exhaustion during a Pandemic