I performed Human Milk Bar in May 2016. The setting was a tasting station - a bar - set with small tasting cups and a glass jug of human breast milk. On the wall hung a ‘certificate’ confirming the safety of the substance being offered and a TV screen. I invited the group of 23 audience members/participants to gather around the bar and explained that I would be offering them human milk to sample. However, before sampling the milk they were required to watch a short informational video. Dutifully, they watched (and giggled). Essentially a parody, but not without factual information, the video echoed an inflight safety demonstration. I was the presenter; hair tied back in a bun and dressed in a business style shirt. The video explained,
… Interestingly, human milk is considered both a biohazard and food, depending on the circumstances it is found. When breast milk is suckled by an infant from its mother, it’s deemed to be a food. However, a bottle of expressed milk in, say, a hospital is considered a biohazard. In order to offer human milk to you today, and for the milk to be given the status of food, the milk has been screened, pasteurized and tested, and is being offered by Mothers Milk Bank – a donor human milk agency …
After the video I asked the group if they had any questions and if anybody had tasted human milk as an adult. I also provided some facts about human milk and its benefits and information about the history of adult consumption of human milk. It was a friendly conversation, but the intention was to ‘sell’ the product. Additionally, in my role as ‘tasting consultant’, I was a conduit sanctioning the safety of the substance on offer. After the discussion, the group was invited to taste a sample. 90% of the people took the sample and stood around sipping from their little paper cups, chatting, as people might do at a wine tasting, discussing the flavour and asking questions.
The work had the aim of generating conversation about detachment from the human and the implications of bureaucratic control and power. As a lactating woman I could have just as easily offered milk fresh from my breast. Even Scientific Information Officer, Liz McGuire at the Australian Breastfeeding Association, attested in an email that the level of risk to participants consuming unpasteurised milk from me was minuscule,
…While there is likely to be little risk involved in drinking a small amount of someone else’s breast milk on a single occasion, I imagine the college’s insurers might regard it as an unnecessary risk…
However, because human milk is considered a biohazard in a university I had to offer milk from a certified food agency.
Human Milk Bar is an exploration of the human condition in today’s society. I wanted to highlight the absurdities of corporate veneer and the promotional tactics used by big business, which tend to operate with a parallel motive that plays on our fears and our desires simultaneously. The work completely distances itself from all signs of the maternal, by literally ignoring the leaky tit whence it came.
The setting is purposely clinical; the video presenter is intentionally fake, verging on robotic, inhuman in fact. She delivers factual information about the substance in ‘news-presenter-like’ tone confirming its safety: validating it. The tasting consultant engages the participants in a similar way: informative and friendly, but distant in the way typified by sales people or employees – the obedient cogs of the bureaucratic machine that our society values. It seems absurd, but the truth is the offering would not be possible in its absence. It begs the question, would you drink human milk without the government’s ‘stamp of approval’? Do you trust corporations or do you trust people?
I am interested in highlighting how we have become strangers to ourselves, disconnected from our nature and completely at the behest of the government and the corporate structures that control our existence. We are told that we are free, but free from what? Western oppression operates in a subtle way and uses charisma and surface, fear and facts, to ensure subordination of its citizens.
Everything one wishes to do in today’s society requires a form to be filled out, a certificate, a test, a document, a stamp. We are told not to trust, but to fear. Our society regulates and polices everything we do; even the food created by our human selves is not safe. It is a biohazard. We are a biohazard.