Wednesday, April 16, 2008

CURDLE JOURNAL 15/04/08

Morning…

Day Six. Pump when I first wake, and get much more than I was anticipating! Yay! Then a big sharp pain under my right nipple when I finish, and so I hand express some more until it stops. Presumably this is a good sign? More tingly, more tenderness, more milk?

So far my days have been filled with visitors, food and reading some of the books I brought in with me, making notes and trying to get some writing done. Today it seems I cannot comprehend or recall what I read. Perhaps I am not up to ‘sensible’ texts about breastfeeding and feminism? Might be time to write again!

Speaking of which, I do believe I promised to write a description of the space, in lieu of the photos I cannot seem to post at the moment:

It is a small gallery, an old photographic studio from what we can gather. You enter through a doorway I have draped with an old baby’s cradle cover, cream netting and lace, and a blue fringing curtain. To your right is a magnificent bay window that is framed by an ornate black wooden archway. I have blacked out the window and pinned up long cream lace curtains. The floor here I covered the floor in white fur, setting up the rocking chair in the centre. White fur wrap sits on one arm, a big black spider on the other (Miss Muffet?). To one side is a blue milk crate, white christening gown and bonnet hanging from it. On top of the crate is the electric pump, also blue. On the nearby white wall I have projected a short film that I did last year with MimInBoots, in which I play a sort of Hera character, pearl-beaded nipple tassels and enormous black wig, chewing up and spitting out lychees and cachous into a bowl, dribbling milk over my breasts, licking rice pudding from the floor… It was supposed to be in colour it seems, but the way she has rendered and filtered it make it simply stunning in black and white. It looks like an old silent film, scratchy and disjointed and a fascinating glimpse at another time and place. I’m very impressed with our work, hers in particular! In the far corner, facing the doorway, I am set up in an old blue armchair, with a lace-covered milk crate to one side, a small TV and piles of books and notepads next to me. A cow mask hangs on another wall, alongside black and white photos of the Hellfire show in which I wore it—my very first lactation show. Next to these pix is an array of breastfeeding art postcards, and instructions on how to interact with the installation. In front of this is a small wooden stand, covered in a lace cloth, with the Milky Memories book and a selection of pens. There is a box of nursing pads on the floor, and above these the finished products are stuck to the wall. To one side is a lightbox, unused as yet (though there are plans for it)and covered with white silky fabric. Next to this the bar, with the outfits I am wearing during the installation hanging in front of it. At the back half of the room I have pinned up silky white fabric, and wrapped blue spotted net around the beams. It is extraordinarily soft and girly overall, and all of my costumes are the same- diamantes, pearls, lace, beige, blue, white, cream, brown fur, sequins, silver glitter… Why? These are the colours I associate with milk, the blue of the Madonna, the pale blue tint and various whites of breast milk, blue and white milk cartons, blue makes white more white… as for the softness and femininity? I really don’t know the reason. I just knew that I didn’t want any sharp edges, wanted it to be soothing and safe and quiet. Maternal? Perhaps. I want bare feet and gowns and rock-a-bye-maybe. I needed to be surrounded by this in order to do this, and I don’t know what will happen when I first pull on a leather harness again or polish my boots. I feel like a marshmallow toasted at the hearth, slowly oozing inside yet crunch enough on the exterior to still require the use of teeth.

So far, this is all that the public see. There is a small room at the back that I am currently using for storing props and costumes, that will be used as part of the final night performance. (More on this later.) Above this room is a mezzanine where I sleep on an air mattress. Its warm and cosy and someone has written poems on the walls and drawn strange creatures on the ceiling. So far I have been the only one up there, which is somewhat annoying as it is the perfect place to snuggle and giggle and act like kids on a camping trip. Any takers?

I have realised that I am avoiding pumping whilst the gallery is open if I do not have a friend with me, which is again against the idea of the project but… there is an old guy from a few shops away who drops in from time to time, and he is slightly sleazy and perves at the video and tells me it (and therefore the actor, me) is sexy and I really don’t want to have to explain what I am doing to him or have him watching me intently whilst I do it. I don’t want to be the talk of the town like that. This is a suburban shopping strip, and it is full of tool shops and therefore men, and I do not feel safe exposing a breast to pump without back-up. I get enough looks when I lift the shutters each morning, enough curious-but-not-in-a-good-way stares from the passing blokes and old women. Is this what it is like to breastfeed? If I was in a place where I could believe people would understand the act*, or at least would accept and comprehend it as some sort of ‘statement’, then I would feel more secure about it. It is much to do with the lack of baby too, there is no justification for this semi-public display. This is not the way I wanted it to be, I feel threatened and uneasy and… well, I knew this would teach me things!

Later…

Seems that I was justified in not wanting to pump whilst here on my own, indeed, am stopping doing it when the gallery is ‘open’ altogether- people can knock on the door if I have closed it to pump and I will decide whether to let them in, or they can request it and I’ll see what I think of them. I don’t feel safe. Hadn’t had anyone in here all day, and around 3pm a man came in. One of those strange sort of guys that looks like he would collect Lost In Space trading cards and live with his mother. Coke-bottle glasses, with really big frames, hair just that bit too long, bad cord pants, speaks slowly in a monotone. He had come to check out the gallery, as he often does it seems, and was looking kind of bewildered so I explained the project to him. Stupid move. Creepy dude: ‘Wow, I didn’t realise anyone could do that’. Me ‘Yeah, well, it’s a form of body modification, endurance piece blah blah blah’. ‘So, does it turn you on?’ ‘No.’ ‘Then its just like going to the toilet’. ‘Well, not quite. Would you like to write something in the visitors’ book?’.

He sits and takes a pen and starts to write. I don’t bother checking what he is written. A little later a dear friend I have not seen in ever so long comes in to sketch me pumping (so that she can paint my pumping portrait later) and I show her around and give her the book to look at. As I flip through it, I notice his first entry- ‘RAD FEMS SUCK.’ Then I come across his other message- ‘I HATE Anything coming out of a woman body. That must mean milk. Thanks for that. No more choc Moves**. W [indecipherable].’ Charming, although maybe being called a FEM was a compliment? Must be all the lace. Interestingly, we decided that the latter comment could be interpreted as deeply entrenched self-loathing, as unless he really was born from a pod, chances are good that he was once something ‘coming out of a woman body.’

Sketching friend leaves, and have a small break until the next crew of artistes arrives. I had no idea what they had planned for me, as often F’s work is piercing-cutting-ropes-and-ouchiness, and her willing accomplice A is of that ilk-- so I was slightly nervous. Of course, most of my mates also have a highly developed silly side and arrived armed with no more than two tubes of paint- one iridescent white and the other a nice medium blue. They paint milk jugs on my torso, and I milk drops into them whilst F takes photos. Hilarious! Then it all turns really silly when we realise that I have my cow mask here, and we could paint me up like a cow and have my pose being milked into a bucket by A the farm-boy. Silly, but rather effective, and as already discovered at the Hellfire gig last year, I do make rather a divine bovine. Much stout and tomfoolery then stumble up to bed. Nice night.

* Funnily enough, one of the friend’s in here last night works at a large public art gallery. Recently there was a big group of parents and children visiting, and a woman sat on one of the benches in the middle of the room to feed. It seems people did not know where to look, and there was much forced smiling in her direction ‘we know we are supposed to support this to be politically correct’ and a sudden burst of intensity in the viewing of the art on the walls ‘oh, I was so busy looking at the ART that I didn’t even notice that child’s mouth on your tit’. I was surprised, but then I thought that even after all of my research and writing I have not much idea of where to look either. I have only ever had one personal friend breastfeed in front of me, and public sightings are rare, and frankly I am not used to being confronted with it. Sure, I don’t squirm or walk away when I am, but there’s still a split second that I stop and think ‘just how am I supposed to look at this?’. Part of this is to do with the fact that I am conscious of looking quite ‘queer’, and aware that my gaze may be interpreted differently to that of a ‘hetero-looking’ person.

**Presumably meaning chocolate Moove, a flavoured milk drink.

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