Serena Lee | ECONOMIES OF CARE

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I vaguely remember the only time I recognized my mum, a single mother, accepting help from someone in our home: her youngest sister was in the kitchen washing our dishes. In 2017, I began the project Doing the Dishes as a way to have conversations with single moms and daughters of single moms in their homes, listening and talking while I washed their dishes.

Between 2013 - 2015, while living in London, UK, I would meet with women from the self-organized migrant domestic worker group, The Voice of Domestic Workers, for English literacy and IT tutorials. Every Sunday, a group of sometimes fifteen to thirty women would gather in a classroom at a union building with old laptops and a potluck buffet.

In Spring 2019, I returned to London and revisited the group to facilitate two English literacy workshops that focused, instead of utilitarian integration, on their personal genealogies through language, weaving stories of their families of origin, with their connections with employers, friends, allies, media, and adopted geographies. We told stories, sang, ate, and chose phrases to sculpt into salt dough fridge magnet ornaments. Alongside these workshops, I met with two women who do domestic work in Toronto; I did their dishes and we conversed about caring for children, cleaning homes, and maintaining creative practices.

Here, the stories coalesce:
I vaguely remember the only time I recognized my mum, a single mother, accepting help from someone in our home: her youngest sister was in the kitchen washing our dishes. In 2017, I began the project Doing the Dishes as a way to have conversations with single moms and daughters of single moms in their homes, listening and talking while I washed their dishes.

Between 2013 - 2015, while living in London, UK, I would meet with women from the self-organized migrant domestic worker group, The Voice of Domestic Workers, for English literacy and IT tutorials. Every Sunday, a group of sometimes fifteen to thirty women would gather in a classroom at a union building with old laptops and a potluck buffet.

In Spring 2019, I returned to London and revisited the group to facilitate two English literacy workshops that focused, instead of utilitarian integration, on their personal genealogies through language, weaving stories of their families of origin, with their connections with employers, friends, allies, media, and adopted geographies. We told stories, sang, ate, and chose phrases to sculpt into salt dough fridge magnet ornaments. Alongside these workshops, I met with two women who do domestic work in Toronto; I did their dishes and we conversed about caring for children, cleaning homes, and maintaining creative practices.

Here, the stories coalesce:
I vaguely remember the only time I recognized my mum, a single mother, accepting help from someone in our home: her youngest sister was in the kitchen washing our dishes. In 2017, I began the project Doing the Dishes as a way to have conversations with single moms and daughters of single moms in their homes, listening and talking while I washed their dishes.

Between 2013 - 2015, while living in London, UK, I would meet with women from the self-organized migrant domestic worker group, The Voice of Domestic Workers, for English literacy and IT tutorials. Every Sunday, a group of sometimes fifteen to thirty women would gather in a classroom at a union building with old laptops and a potluck buffet.

In Spring 2019, I returned to London and revisited the group to facilitate two English literacy workshops that focused, instead of utilitarian integration, on their personal genealogies through language, weaving stories of their families of origin, with their connections with employers, friends, allies, media, and adopted geographies. We told stories, sang, ate, and chose phrases to sculpt into salt dough fridge magnet ornaments. Alongside these workshops, I met with two women who do domestic work in Toronto; I did their dishes and we conversed about caring for children, cleaning homes, and maintaining creative practices.

Here, the stories coalesce:



You say that you need to know the order in which to do things. That’s important, otherwise you’re just cleaning the same spot over and over.



You say, the ease with which I was able to go into this had a lot to do with my upbringing.



You tell me how you named your daughter with your mother's name and his mother's name and you say, “They probably didn't realize who was blood related and who wasn't, everyone was extended family."

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You tell me that you’ve taken for granted how much you learned from your mom and grandmother and family, in general, because they prided themselves on caring for their homes.



You studied biochemistry and now tend to change jobs every five years; you don’t consider this a job. There are about ten to fifteen kids you still care for regularly; they’re like family. You’ve watched them grow up.


You say that you need to know the order in which to do things. That’s important, otherwise you’re just cleaning the same spot over and over.

You say, the ease with which I was able to go into this had a lot to do with my upbringing.

You tell me how you named your daughter with your mother's name and his mother's name and you say, “They probably didn't realize who was blood related and who wasn't, everyone was extended family."

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You tell me that you’ve taken for granted how much you learned from your mom and grandmother and family, in general, because they prided themselves on caring for their homes.

You studied biochemistry and now tend to change jobs every five years; you don’t consider this a job. There are about ten to fifteen kids you still care for regularly; they’re like family. You’ve watched them grow up.


You say that you need to know the order in which to do things. That’s important, otherwise you’re just cleaning the same spot over and over.

You say, the ease with which I was able to go into this had a lot to do with my upbringing.

You tell me how you named your daughter with your mother's name and his mother's name and you say, “They probably didn't realize who was blood related and who wasn't, everyone was extended family."

Image


You tell me that you’ve taken for granted how much you learned from your mom and grandmother and family, in general, because they prided themselves on caring for their homes.

You studied biochemistry and now tend to change jobs every five years; you don’t consider this a job. There are about ten to fifteen kids you still care for regularly; they’re like family. You’ve watched them grow up.
accessing resources

admitting you need help

afford

alone

anxiety

appreciation

avoidance

behavioural patterns

being capable

buying stuff

'by choice'

care

chance

change

choices

chores


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You show us what you’ve written: Bana <3 Asawa: “Husband <3 Wife” and Bawal Sabit sa Taong May Sabit: “Keep off the grass” and everyone laughs.

You tell me about one client who said the keys would be at the front when you arrived. You let yourself into his house to start cleaning, opened the door to the bedroom and discovered that he was in the bedroom.



Your mom is your hero, she raised you like an athlete, even if you fall down you stand back up.

When you were one you got pneumonia and ever since then, your mom has thought of you as being weaker, but then underlying guilt that your weakness was her fault.

You show us what you’ve written: Bana <3 Asawa: “Husband <3 Wife” and Bawal Sabit sa Taong May Sabit: “Keep off the grass” and everyone laughs.

You tell me about one client who said the keys would be at the front when you arrived. You let yourself into his house to start cleaning, opened the door to the bedroom and discovered that he was in the bedroom.


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Your mom is your hero, she raised you like an athlete, even if you fall down you stand back up.

When you were one you got pneumonia and ever since then, your mom has thought of you as being weaker, but then underlying guilt that your weakness was her fault.

You show us what you’ve written: Bana <3 Asawa: “Husband <3 Wife” and Bawal Sabit sa Taong May Sabit: “Keep off the grass” and everyone laughs.

You tell me about one client who said the keys would be at the front when you arrived. You let yourself into his house to start cleaning, opened the door to the bedroom and discovered that he was in the bedroom.


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Your mom is your hero, she raised you like an athlete, even if you fall down you stand back up.

When you were one you got pneumonia and ever since then, your mom has thought of you as being weaker, but then underlying guilt that your weakness was her fault.
clear price sheet

collective

compartmentalising

compassion

control

de-centre-ing yourself

dedication

dependability

dependence

disappointment

discipline

distance

“Do it properly.”

energy

every other weekend


You tell me that you really want to have a child but can’t for whatever reason, but in caring for other people’s children, you’ve been able to experience something like it.



But now that you're pregnant and your stepmom's never been able to have kids, how is it going to be between you?

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You tell me that after piano lessons on Sundays there would always be, written on the back of the envelope of a credit card bill, a list of chores for you and your sister to do.

Laundry and dusting.

You tell me that you really want to have a child but can’t for whatever reason, but in caring for other people’s children, you’ve been able to experience something like it.

But now that you're pregnant and your stepmom's never been able to have kids, how is it going to be between you?

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You tell me that after piano lessons on Sundays there would always be, written on the back of the envelope of a credit card bill, a list of chores for you and your sister to do.

Laundry and dusting.


You tell me that you really want to have a child but can’t for whatever reason, but in caring for other people’s children, you’ve been able to experience something like it.

But now that you're pregnant and your stepmom's never been able to have kids, how is it going to be between you?

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You tell me that after piano lessons on Sundays there would always be, written on the back of the envelope of a credit card bill, a list of chores for you and your sister to do.

Laundry and dusting.

every two weeks

every week

every year

expression

forgiveness

fragility

gestural teaching

happiness

hard touch

having an example

having the right words

healing

home

honesty


You tell me that your mom was a very gestural teacher, which you appreciate. When it comes to cleaning, it’s important to show someone the gesture you’re using.



You show me an album of the stuffed toys you’ve hand-sewn for some of the kids and how the animal matches their personality:









dog
bear
spider (after his favourite song)
turtle
tiger (muai thai)
frog
bunny (for your mom)
polar bear (for your dad)
octopus
horse
phoenix (eponymous)
panda
Elliotsaurus (eponymous)

Image

You tell me that your mom was a very gestural teacher, which you appreciate. When it comes to cleaning, it’s important to show someone the gesture you’re using.

Image
You show me an album of the stuffed toys you’ve hand-sewn for some of the kids and how the animal matches their personality:
dog
bear
spider (after his favourite song)
turtle
tiger (muai thai)
frog
bunny (for your mom)
polar bear (for your dad)
octopus
horse
phoenix (eponymous)
panda
Elliotsaurus (eponymous)

You tell me that your mom was a very gestural teacher, which you appreciate. When it comes to cleaning, it’s important to show someone the gesture you’re using.

Image
You show me an album of the stuffed toys you’ve hand-sewn for some of the kids and how the animal matches their personality:
dog
bear
spider (after his favourite song)
turtle
tiger (muai thai)
frog
bunny (for your mom)
polar bear (for your dad)
octopus
horse
phoenix (eponymous)
panda
Elliotsaurus (eponymous)
immaturity

inheritance

isolation

“Keep off the grass!”

keys

loss

lullabye

making it visible

manipulation

mess

messiness

missing

mortality

mother tongue

names

no one bothering to ask

(not) having family close


Someone hands you the bird you sculpted and you say, maybe it’s like all the problems we encounter, we’re like a duck, we just pass it.



You’ve had to learn how to take your time; to respect your time.

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You realized that if you’re in such a hurry to get a job done and then don’t have energy to prepare yourself food or shower afterwards, that’s not good. You say you felt like this for the first few months - you couldn’t even take care of yourself, you were so tired.

Someone hands you the bird you sculpted and you say, maybe it’s like all the problems we encounter, we’re like a duck, we just pass it.

You’ve had to learn how to take your time; to respect your time.

Image


You realized that if you’re in such a hurry to get a job done and then don’t have energy to prepare yourself food or shower afterwards, that’s not good. You say you felt like this for the first few months - you couldn’t even take care of yourself, you were so tired.

Someone hands you the bird you sculpted and you say, maybe it’s like all the problems we encounter, we’re like a duck, we just pass it.

You’ve had to learn how to take your time; to respect your time.

Image


You realized that if you’re in such a hurry to get a job done and then don’t have energy to prepare yourself food or shower afterwards, that’s not good. You say you felt like this for the first few months - you couldn’t even take care of yourself, you were so tired.
(not) having friends close

not my style

not sure what to call her

nothing fitting

obliviousness

on the same plane

our narratives

patience

permission

personal space

praise

private home


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You tell me that where you're from, most people work in construction, something to do with wood, taking bark off logs, the mill, and factories making furniture and butterball chicken - you tell me that your mom is your rock, that she's the one your friends go to for advice, that even when she left him, she made sure you went to see him, to take care of him, and even now, you're still sort of taking care of him.
You tell us, you only have one mother, everything could change. Money is money, in Filippines back home, money is important because we couldn’t afford medical expenses there, so I spoke to my sister, we had to raise money. Now she’s at home, and my kids are with her. The flower is for mother’s day because I don’t have any present I can give her, in this flower I can share, that this is for her.



You tell me that cleaning helps you stay present; it was the only time your ex had respect for your time. He would interrupt you if you were doing anything else.



You tell us that three weeks ago, your mom was in the hospital, and your son messaged that you should go home on emergency leave.

You tell me that where you're from, most people work in construction, something to do with wood, taking bark off logs, the mill, and factories making furniture and butterball chicken - you tell me that your mom is your rock, that she's the one your friends go to for advice, that even when she left him, she made sure you went to see him, to take care of him, and even now, you're still sort of taking care of him.

Image


You tell me that cleaning helps you stay present; it was the only time your ex had respect for your time. He would interrupt you if you were doing anything else.

You tell us that three weeks ago, your mom was in the hospital, and your son messaged that you should go home on emergency leave.

You tell us, you only have one mother, everything could change. Money is money, in Filippines back home, money is important because we couldn’t afford medical expenses there, so I spoke to my sister, we had to raise money. Now she’s at home, and my kids are with her. The flower is for mother’s day because I don’t have any present I can give her, in this flower I can share, that this is for her.

You tell me that where you're from, most people work in construction, something to do with wood, taking bark off logs, the mill, and factories making furniture and butterball chicken - you tell me that your mom is your rock, that she's the one your friends go to for advice, that even when she left him, she made sure you went to see him, to take care of him, and even now, you're still sort of taking care of him.

Image


You tell me that cleaning helps you stay present; it was the only time your ex had respect for your time. He would interrupt you if you were doing anything else.

You tell us that three weeks ago, your mom was in the hospital, and your son messaged that you should go home on emergency leave.

You tell us, you only have one mother, everything could change. Money is money, in Filippines back home, money is important because we couldn’t afford medical expenses there, so I spoke to my sister, we had to raise money. Now she’s at home, and my kids are with her. The flower is for mother’s day because I don’t have any present I can give her, in this flower I can share, that this is for her.
projecting

proud cooks

reassurance

recognition

reducing anxiety

remembrance

resentment

respect

risk

safety

self-awareness

setting an example

solitude

spending time

survival

the order of things

tired

trade-off

trauma

trust

turn over


Your kid was in town for the summer and dropped in while you were rehearsing at the venue, and he said,

"Just read it like you used to read books to me,"

and you told me,

"I finally realized, that was the best thing anyone could ever say to me, ever. That's what I needed to hear my whole life."

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You tell us:

The ball is my life, my life is like a rolling pin. It became from really hard, and now a little bit up.

The love in my family is #1 for me.

My work: I work seven days a week. And this one is me - even I am tired, I’m still working, and smiling.

That’s it!

Your kid was in town for the summer and dropped in while you were rehearsing at the venue, and he said, "Just read it like you used to read books to me,"

and you told me, "I finally realized, that was the best thing anyone could ever say to me, ever. That's what I needed to hear my whole life."

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You tell us:

The ball is my life, my life is like a rolling pin. It became from really hard, and now a little bit up.
The love in my family is #1 for me.
My work: I work seven days a week. And this one is me - even I am tired, I’m still working, and smiling.

That’s it!

Your kid was in town for the summer and dropped in while you were rehearsing at the venue, and he said, "Just read it like you used to read books to me,"

and you told me, "I finally realized, that was the best thing anyone could ever say to me, ever. That's what I needed to hear my whole life."

Image




You tell us:

The ball is my life, my life is like a rolling pin. It became from really hard, and now a little bit up.
The love in my family is #1 for me.
My work: I work seven days a week. And this one is me - even I am tired, I’m still working, and smiling.

That’s it!
two types of elevators in the building

unconditional love

under construction

upset

validation

vulnerability

what is 'normal'



THANKS TO | Anjuli, Christina, Foulera, Kelsey, Glenda, Joan, Julia, Lesley, Lheta, Louise, Marissa, May, Precious, Rebecca, Sally, Sandra, Savanah, Zaida, The Voice of Domestic Workers.

SERENA LEE | Serena Lee’s practice stems from a fascination with polyphony and its radical potential. Recent projects have been realized with Cubitt (London), transmediale (Berlin), Whitechapel Gallery (London), and Vtape (Toronto); as part of international feminist collective, Read-in; and in collaboration with Christina Battle as SHATTERED MOON ALLIANCE. Serena holds an MFA from the Piet Zwart Institute in Rotterdam and is a researcher in the PhD-in-Practice Programme at the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna. Serena was born in Toronto and is third generation Chinese-Canadian. | serenalee.com

THANKS TO | Anjuli, Christina, Foulera, Kelsey, Glenda, Joan, Julia, Lesley, Lheta, Louise, Marissa, May, Precious, Rebecca, Sally, Sandra, Savanah, Zaida, The Voice of Domestic Workers.

SERENA LEE | Serena Lee’s practice stems from a fascination with polyphony and its radical potential. Recent projects have been realized with Cubitt (London), transmediale (Berlin), Whitechapel Gallery (London), and Vtape (Toronto); as part of international feminist collective, Read-in; and in collaboration with Christina Battle as SHATTERED MOON ALLIANCE. Serena holds an MFA from the Piet Zwart Institute in Rotterdam and is a researcher in the PhD-in-Practice Programme at the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna. Serena was born in Toronto and is third generation Chinese-Canadian. | serenalee.com

THANKS TO | Anjuli, Christina, Foulera, Kelsey, Glenda, Joan, Julia, Lesley, Lheta, Louise, Marissa, May, Precious, Rebecca, Sally, Sandra, Savanah, Zaida, The Voice of Domestic Workers.

SERENA LEE | Serena Lee’s practice stems from a fascination with polyphony and its radical potential. Recent projects have been realized with Cubitt (London), transmediale (Berlin), Whitechapel Gallery (London), and Vtape (Toronto); as part of international feminist collective, Read-in; and in collaboration with Christina Battle as SHATTERED MOON ALLIANCE. Serena holds an MFA from the Piet Zwart Institute in Rotterdam and is a researcher in the PhD-in-Practice Programme at the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna. Serena was born in Toronto and is third generation Chinese-Canadian. | serenalee.com

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