They won't be serving wine at this vernissage: Jess Dobkin's Lactation Station, presented as part of the OFFTA, will offer curious gallery goers free pasteurized human breast milk. Just like at the more conventional wine tasting, different samples will showcase a variety of flavours. Apparently, when it comes to breast milk, “there's such a range of tastes, from quite sweet to more watery, and milk that has other kinds of flavour in it,” says Dobkin.
What Dobkin is most interested in, though, is cultural taste. “Taste is something that is negotiable; it's subjective,” she says. “The performance talks about the sense of taste but I'm also playing on the other definition of taste: what someone finds tasteful or distasteful.”
Expect to get about a sip each of at least two of the seven 'varietals' donated by Montrealers. The milk is from several weeks ago and sits waiting in a lab freezer.
This out-there performance art piece was first presented in Toronto in 2006, shortly after Dobkin, who is queer, had a daughter of her own. Having already used her body as an artistic medium—Mirror Ball, for example, featured Dobkin as a human disco ball—she came up with the idea for Lactation Station with the intention of being one of the milk donors. “I'm just endlessly amazed by the human body and all its wonders,” she says. When she had problems breastfeeding, however, the piece became a kind of therapy. “It was through the performance that I was really able to come out of that experience and also really heal,” she says. “My work is a way to process my own experience, not just as a mom but my own life experience, and make sense of the world around me.”
Dobkin especially wanted to tackle the notion that she should be either “a mom or an artist and not both at the same moment in time” and create a project that involved other new moms, whom she finds often feel isolated. During the tasting, Dobkin “will impart the stories of the women, giving some pertinent information about what their diet was like, among other things.” You can also watch videos of interviews with the donors as part of the exhibit.
Photo credit: David Hawe
Skeptical? Grossed out? It's a provocative performance, and that's the idea. “Even if people's first reaction is 'huh?' or 'eeew' or 'what?' I respect that too, because I'm aware that asking people to taste someone's breast milk is not something that you do everyday. And I don't do it everyday either! I don't mean it as a dare,” she explains. “I think of it as a starting point for a meaningful conversation about issues that I don't think get a lot of attention”—issues as far-ranging as public vs. private, modern motherhood, and even dairy pasteurization. Bottoms up!