Cradle Resistance – Wintering Songs

Eirini Vlavianou’s essay and supporting artistic contributions center on ideas of human rest and natural cycles, specifically the act of singing lullabies, as a revival of ancient knowledge. She is committed to recognizing ancestral practices and undertakings that are elusive or intangible. Challenging the perception of nature as a site of resource extraction and rather seeing it as a sacred living organism that humans are intrinsically not separate from, Vlavianou reminds us that we are bound to nature. In the age of planetary destruction and apathy, Vlavianou writes that we »need to explore how our understanding of the self, universe, and the communal can change through the creation of new mythologies, speculative histories, and unfamiliar embodiments, all influenced by the intra-actions we can observe taking place in micro and macro levels.«

Eirini Vlavianou — Nov 30, 2022

The suppressing character of time, as a mechanism for productivity, growth, and profit within capitalist times, has created a deep chasm between human and nonhuman agencies. The interpretation of growth in terms of efficiency and financial value rather than maturation of the collective has glorified grind culture, assigning guilt to resting, and bestowing value to those who work to the point of exhaustion. But this perception conflicts with the natural rhythms that request both periods of intense blooming and periods of rest and retreat. Hibernating and wintering times1 that foster a sense of lingering and resetting are essential to seasons of fallow that ultimately contribute to cycles of rebirth and renewal.

Dismantling ideas around calculated time and productivity means redefining growth as a collective effort, entangled with care, while creating a space in which rest is possible and where adjourning as an operative mode is an option. Spaces of suspension, where everything becomes liquified and clocks cease to exist, seem to be an urgent requirement of our collective terrestrial body, while worldwide debris, waste, and noise are gaining more space. In order to reclaim rest, we have to remove ourselves from the Protestant, Calvinist, or Puritan ethics of work throughout the West and reimagine a space that has historically been applied to the few. In my effort to relieve myself from the guilt that accompanied retreating and unproductivity, I came to rethink the practice of singing lullabies. This ubiquitous act and performance is an elusive practice which, if observed closely, can be reintroduced as a reproductive labor song. The imaginary cradle that appears through its use could function as a protective spell, allowing the performers to request their own rest and cast out the legacy of noise, to seek silence, and relieve themselves from hyperproductivity.

In order to provide the right context, one must first recognize those who have performed those cradle songs throughout the years: the caregivers. Usually romanticized as the mother, a caregiver is a person who nurses, heals, and cares while intensively constructing the ecology of a home. But caregivers, such as mothers, sisters, maidservants, nannies, or wet nurses, have been abused and suppressed as colonized bodies who have encrypted upon their acts and practices the politics of labor and capitalized care. Their role is to perform care and provide, without any boundaries or requests. As Maria Puig de la Bellacasa writes in her work Matters of Care, »To care can feel good; it can also feel awful. It can do good; it can oppress. Its essential character to humans and countless living beings makes it all the most susceptible to convey control. But what is care? Is it an affection? A moral obligation? Work? A burden? A joy? Something we can learn or practice? Something we just do?«2

Similar to how care embraces the ambivalent grounds Matters of Care addresses, lullabies as a practice of care are located in the precarious position between affection and labor, rest and unrest, work and nonwork. In this complex system, lullabies can act as a cry for those performing, mourning everything they were stripped of. The motion that accompanies those songs – swinging the child in a cradle or embrace – complements the act with material effort. The scenarios vary across realities but even though the subjects differ, they all share the common ground of the person who wants to put the sleepless to sleep in order to complete tasks that cannot happen while they are awake. By creating a surreal imaginary landscape through storytelling and fable, the caregiver not only puts the child to sleep, but also demands their own rest. If the child remains sleepless, the lullaby becomes darker and closer to a curse. The lullaby becomes a subversive spell.

Sleep, my child,
I have things to do:
Wash your clothes and sew.3

Night-night little mama,*
Night-night little mama,
If you don’t sleep, the crab will eat you
If you don’t sleep, the crab will eat you.
Your mama isn’t here, she went to the market,
Your papa isn’t here, he went to the river,
If you don’t sleep, the crab will eat you
If you don’t sleep, the crab will eat you.4

Sleep, little one
The cuca’s going to get you
Daddy went to the fields
And Mommy went to work
Come down, little cat
From the roof
To see if the child
Is sleeping peacefully.5

Even though the lullaby, according to Lorca’s research on examples coming from the Hispanic region6, is never sung to a newborn child but to a spectator who can understand its plot and the space formed by the caregiver, there is no actual need for the listener to understand the unfolding narratives or even comprehend the need for their sleep. Instead, it seems imperative that the performer voices their own anxieties, frustrations, fears, and dreams. The space of narration concealed with the veil of imagination and fables is the only safe space for the performer to reveal disregarded needs and distress, but also bless or curse the social and economic construct of the family.

All the work
Falls to the poor women
Who wait in the night
For their men to come
Some arrive drunk
Some a little tipsy
Others say, »boys,
Let’s kill our wives!«
They ask for dinner,
The women have nothing to give them
»But what did you do with the change?
Woman, what a house you keep!«7

However, the comfort of lullabies sometimes spreads beyond the cradling and hushing tones of the voice and into the comfort of the social factory in which everyone is where they should be.

Fathers gone a-hunting,
Mother’s gone a-milking
Sister’s gone a-silking
Brother’s gone to buy a skin.8

While those two examples are different directions of the use of lullabies, the divisions of labor are met in both, and the order and command of production become a melodically soothing tale. The caregiver is cursing those unjust constructs, even while reproducing them, and finally, the outcome is always the same; a state of inactivity and a slumbering child. The dualism between affection and labor and work and non-work is endorsed through the struggle of two bodies; the working one that endeavors its rest, and another one that denies it. The battle between those completely unequal and opposite bodies creates a dynamic of a resisting body that becomes still and an unrested counterpart that is responsible for this state of relaxation. Vigorous bodies exercising their right to rest is the inspiration for reclaiming the practice of lullabies while harnessing its power into a protective spell. Can we use the lullaby to sing out an economy of care that is outside of what we already know and exorcize the systems that colonize human and nonhuman bodies but also use sound to control and determine the psychosomatic situations of those bodies?

This work is a meditation around the concepts of care and rest in regard to more than human agencies, processes, and rhythms. Contemporary understandings idealize the ecosystem as a single-entity caregiver, a mother, who offers care without requesting anything in return. Failing to recall our own entanglements with the rest of the ecosystem, human perceptions have created an ontological divide between human and other-than-human processes while exempting humans from basic physical properties and laws as well as grounding a dangerous faith in human exceptionalism. This work is an effort to imagine a space where this romanticized caring body can request its rest. Using the practice of lullabies as a resistance mechanism, this work speculates on a lullaby produced for and by the ecosystem, exorcizing the noise and violence that is placed upon it.

Taking inspiration from nonhuman organisms and communities, Eirini Vlavianou endeavors to re-establish the human experience into a beyond-species or multispecies openness and care. By employing the principles of intake, transformation, and exchange, Vlavianou’s practice is a search for the self within an ambiguity in which languages, symbols, and practices of the past are reintroduced in order to uncover a more intuitive and sensorial comprehension of the world.


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  1. K. May, Wintering: The Power of Rest & Retreat in Dif-
    ficult Times. London 2020.

  2. María Puig De La Bellacasa: Matters of Care: Speculative Ethics in More than Human Worlds. Minneapolis 2017, p. 1.

  3. An example deriving from the book Deep Song and Other Prose by Federico Garcia Lorca, a lullaby from the Tamames region in Spain.

  4. Dodo Titit, a Haitian lullaby.


  5. The cuca referenced in this lullaby, originates from the Portuguese coca, a dragon legend brought in Brazil during colonial times. The cuca is an ugly old woman who appears in the form of a crocodile and robs disobedient children. She only sleeps once every seven years and sometimes caregivers use this element of the tale to scare children into sleep, threatening the cuca, who will get them if they remain awake.

  6. Federico Lorca García & C. Maurer: Deep Song and Other Prose, New York 1980.

  7. Another example deriving from Garcia Lorca’s book and the Asturias region.

  8. Holly Pester: »Songs of Rest: An Intervention in the Complex Genre of the Lullaby,« in: The Restless Compendium. New York 2016.