Artist: Anni Puolakka
Curated by: Christina Gigliotti
Screening: April 18 – May 9, 2019
Consider the act of suckling.
All of us are likely to have an experience of it. We drink and eat milk, or we have drunk and eaten it. Sometimes it is with our mouth against a nipple. At other times a milking robot does the labour of suckling for us, while bacteria and enzymes process the milk into foods. Usually we just want the fluid and do not want intimacy with the cow’s body.
There are also other kinds of suckling situations that we need to talk about. Situations that may have milk or not, or situations where the milk is invisible. Consider animals feeding on human milk that was more common in herstory. And consider the sucking of nipples between lovers.
What happens in situations of suckling? They can be banal, caring, greedy, painful, erotic, or transgressive. There are different intentions and mental experiences involved. Often we can only try to understand what it means for other beings to be suckled. What exactly is, for example, a cow’s experience when a human or a robot works its genetically engineered udders? And how do I create a meaningful suckling situation with a lover – is my role to be a dominator, a baby, a cow, a machine? What are the power positions and ethics in situations of suckling?
Attending to what takes place in singular situations of sucking nipples, we might be able to gain insight into wider cultures of suckling. What do we make of the humankind’s giant lust for cheap milk when it comes to animal lives and global warming? Or the human population increase in relation to the cultural norm that everyone should reproduce and care for their biological offspring. In my thirty-something-year-old person’s speculations on whether or not try to have a child, climate change anxiety mixes with deep curiosity towards the potential of my body to build another being through procreation and feeding. In our era, it seems important to challenge the normative ways when it comes to, for example, using our nipples, eating, reproducing and co-existing with other species.
Furthermore, could attending to what takes place in the dynamic of suckling and expanding it to include more figurative forms of nourishing offer a different way of thinking about how we give and take in different contexts? What would it do if we considered the entanglement between an audience and an artwork, a reader and a text, or human and the earth as situations of suckling?
In suckling, the nipple is the apparatus.
Consider the nipple as a literal and metaphorical interface between beings; a sensual, witchy joint.
When my nipple has been petted, licked, sucked or bitten by another being I have experienced and observed it as an interface that produces different sensations for both parties. It is an intimate junction and a charged connecting-point. It can function as an opening out onto the other, an offering that has potential to lead into a joint satisfaction when desires meet. What seems crucial for an ethics of suckling, however, is that attention is paid to the singular experiences of the fleshy beings that the nipple connects. This is violently missing in the animal-industrial complex where bio-productivity, not the ability to experience the complex pleasures of having a body, is the core reason for the bovine wet nurses to exist.
Stretching it even further: is it not possible to consider any situation of exchange in our lives as a situation of suckling?
In these situations one’s mission would be to not to suck the other – the cow, the lover, the text, the earth, the artwork – dry or too hard. Or, if the roles change, not to allow oneself to be exhausted. The name of the game would be to stay alert to the responses, whether pleasurable or painful, of the other and oneself as nourishing energy flows in between beings and things.
Anni Puolakka (born in Oulu, Finland) is based in Helsinki and Rotterdam and makes performances, videos, installations, drawings and texts in which situation-specific or documentary materials are incorporated into fictional worlds. The works play with the boundaries and potential of human animals as they seek meaningful and vibrant – sometimes drowsy or dirty – involvement with other beings, objects and surroundings. They experiment with theatrical and cinematic traditions as well contemporary methods. Her works have recently been shown at Bunkier Sztuki (Krakow), BOZAR (Brussels), PLATO Ostrava, Kiasma Museum of Modern Art (Helsinki), Finnish National Theater (Helsinki) and Performance Space (Sydney).