Milk’ is a political intervention performance which has taken place in a range of public arenas across the UK. ‘Milk’ is an investigation into the othering of mothers, with a focus on the milking body.
MILK AT HAZARD FESTIVAL
Nicola Hunter's MILK garnered a lot of attention not only because it subverted the commercial space of St. Anne’s Square, but also because it raised a political question through the physical display of a woman expressing breast milk in a disused shop window. Questions surrounding the act of breast feeding in public have been circulating the UK’s collective public consciousness recently, with reports that women have been asked to refrain from feeding their babies in restaurants and other public places, alongside a general feeling that breasts are seen to be more publicly acceptable when they are presented in a sexual context (Page 3, men’s magazines, etc.) rather than when women are feeding babies.
I wanted to look at the response from some members of the public to have a selfie taken in front of Hunter. There were only a couple of occasions when this happened, and both times that I witnessed it, it was adolescent boys who posed for a selfie during the first half of the piece whilst Hunter’s face was covered. There is something very interesting in this act; it comes across as a performance of bravado, since both people taking selfies were posed in front of a fairly large crowd of people. It is an attempt to take control of the space, to re-orient our attention onto the person making the selfie and to detract from the work (look at me). It is also an attempt to make a ‘souvenir’ from what is clearly a very thoughtful and carefully constructed piece; to designate this performance as strange spectacle and object (here I am in front of ‘art’). -by Dani Abulhawa
MILK AT LIVE ART BISTRO LEEDS
‘Milk was presented around dusk in the shop window of the old Oxfam shop across from one of Leeds most iconic landmarks, The Corn Exchange. Passers by stopped, often creating a bottle neck in the narrow footpath that curved with the building. The spectrum of public reaction ranged in the extreme, from the inquisitive yet supportive through to out and out disgusted. A noteworthy positive reaction came from a group of teenage boys who after having the reasons for the work explained to them, they then took it upon themselves to become advocates of the work and to explain it to other members of the public who had similar questions. “it’s just natural” was a comment from one of the boys that sticks in my mind. Many people who stopped understood the significance of breastfeeding as a contested space in society. Of the audience I witnessed it is fair to say that young children’s reactions were the least provoked, (they found it quite normal, if beautiful and other worldly). Woman, and I assume mothers in the age range of late 40’s and above were those who seemed most dismissive of the performance. They audibly, physically showed their repulsion. In one case a woman was so appalled by the image created that she decided to call the police. She launched a tirade of accusations at those of us who were present to witness the work. We became demonised. “this is abusive” she declared. She was angry and unwilling to discuss with us what it was about the performance, the image that invoked such rage… hate even. Four times she came and went, each time she called the police. Each time she hurled more abuse at those of us present. Finally the police arrived. The line the police took with us was the most worrying. They requested that we end the performance. We held our ground and pressed the police on what law was being broken. They told us that it was a public disorder offence and we were at risk of criminal charges. Nicola’s baby was implicated as being at risk of being referred to social services. Things escalated very quickly and still we held our ground. What law was being broken? The performance ended and the police left after things calmed down. I realised how out of my depth I had been as a facilitator to the work. I did not seek permission for the performance. I hadn’t thought I’d need to. It’s not exactly a licensable activity, to express milk. ‘ – Adam Young, LAB
MILK AT MANCHESTER ART GALLERY
Leviticus 12.2 ‘If a woman has conceived, and borne a male child, then she shall be unclean seven days; as in the days of her customary impurity she shall be unclean.’
MILK AT BUZZCUT FESTIVAL GLASGOW
‘The eroticism was a really powerful and key part of it, for me. You showed a powerful, womanly sexuality, which I loved so much. It was sexy on your terms, under your control. I found that so strong, especially as it was shown alongside this act of mothering. You were showing something that we as a society seem to prefer to pretend doesn't exist - not just a woman taking pleasure but a MOTHER taking pleasure. You showed woman as so much more than just an object for men's desire or woman as vessel for her child.
I am always looking for images of femininity that don't rely on weakness, passivity, objectification, and that's exactly what you created. Feminine and womanly and powerful. The way you took off your dress was stunning. Giving your milk to K. Canavan (ex husband) was both nurturing and abject.
I realised from the people around me and the questions that were being asked of us as an audience, we knew nothing about lactation. It occurred to me how odd it was that it’s something that’s not spoken about. I have never seen anyone use a breast pump before and I doubt I was the only one in the crowd in that position, with that curiosity.
On the rare occasion that you do see a woman breastfeeding in public you look away, she tries to cover herself, it’s never discussed. The public conversation around breastfeeding is a perfect example of the conflicting messages woman are given all the time – to be a good mum you should breastfeed, but don’t let anyone ever see you doing it because it’s ‘gross’. We (women, mothers) can’t win.
Bringing lactation to centre stage, creating a space where people could comfortably watch without embarrassment and you performing this natural act without shame, was beautiful and I hope, eye opening for many. Why do we know so little about what a woman goes through when lactating, why isn’t it appropriate to ask questions about it? It made me quite angry that this is still such a controversial subject.
You were unashamed and unapologetic, you were owning your body, your milk, your desires with absolute agency.’ - Hellen Borough