On July 13, Jess Dobkin, a Toronto performance artist, presented what was called “the Lactation Station” at Toronto’s OCAD art school. The Canada Council for the Arts granted a sum of $9,000 for this exhibit, which allowed participants to “sample” the breast milk of six different women. The mission statement behind this “piece” was to deal with something that is “taboo” and controversial (breast feeding), and show how unique and important this maternal act is.
Dobkin, a single lesbian mother of a one-year-old child, saw this as a liberating expression both for herself and for her community. The “sampling” was not live, as the milk had to be pasteurized and screened before the audience could sign up and sample the milk. The setting evoked the atmosphere of a trendy lounge-style tavern, with dim lighting and a brightly lit bar at one end of the room, where Dobkin herself served as the bar-tender to the curious crowd. On an adjacent wall, interviews with the “donors” and their motivation for participation were displayed on a small projection screen.
The focus seemed to be on the uniqueness of each woman’s milk (taste, colour, etc.) and each woman got to “name” her milk sample. This exhibit was only a part of Fado Performance Inc.’s series “FIVE HOLES: matters of taste series” and the group gave proud thanks to the Canada Council, the Ontario Arts Council and the Department of Canadian Heritage. I initially entered the exhibit expecting a faux-artiste, thick-rimmed black glasses crowd to be marvelling at this “revolutionary” work, but what I found instead was a rather playful atmosphere, and perhaps what bothered me the most was that after chatting with Dobkin herself, discovering that she was actually … nice. I actually considered testing the samples myself, but quickly remembered that anything more than one per cent doesn’t sit well with me. Dobkin’s concept apparently allowed her to “process (her) own experience, and locate herself) within a larger community and culture.”
Already artistically dubious without the single-lesbian-mother twist, this exhibit seems to have its own internal defence mechanism: those who denounce the artistic merit of this work will be labelled “homophobic,” as they will be seen as attacking the artist and not the art. Dobkin asks that her audience approach her work “with a sense of curiosity and without judgement,” but how can we stand idly by as our tax dollars are being used to fund such ridiculous “expressions”? And what does this say about motherhood? The nourishing, intimate and vital act of “giving suck” has been reduced to a trendy “for art’s sake” attack not only on beauty, but on motherhood itself. Even Dobkin’s light-hearted approach itself tells us that nothing this exhibit deals with is to be taken seriously. True art is that which reflects beauty, and beauty is interchangeable with truth What, then, is truth? Should truth not be taken seriously? Is this repugnant display of charlatanism a true representation and expression of motherhood?