mother / me

Date of Award

Spring 5-2018

Embargo Period


Degree Type

Thesis (CMU Access Only)

Degree Name

Master of Fine Arts (MFA)




Angela Washko

Second Advisor

Susanne Slavick

Third Advisor

Kristina Straub

Fourth Advisor

Eric Shiner


mother / me is a visual exploration and analysis of the biological and constructed maternal realms of artist Gray Swartzel’s life. Orienting and navigating childhood influences, Swartzel explains his desire to use Craigslist to seek out surrogates, or mother figures. Interrogating his queer body within the psychological space between himself and his biological and surrogate mothers, he challenges and interrogates conceptions of the nuclear family, critiquing heteronormative assumptions of family. Swartzel tasks himself as an agent to inspect family as a social construct within a larger Lacanian orientation, while seeking out the objet petit a, or cause of desire in such relationships. He details the influences of early twentieth century glamour photography and maternal theory and outlines how they manifest in performances of the self. mother / me is an experiment to investigate the queer relationship between camp and the twenty-first century dandy through the collaboration of a mother and a child to construct visual images.

Media Format


Available for download on Tuesday, December 11, 2018