Postpartum proves good exhibitions can happen anywhere

Postpartum proves good exhibitions can happen anywhere

IN EL DORADO, REALLY: The Lactation Station Breast Milk Bar is a video of performance artist Jess Dobkin’s interviews with people offered samples of human breast milk.

The group exhibition Postpartum is hosted by the Erman B. White Gallery on the El Dorado campus of Butler Community College. The exhibition contends with a range of issues surrounding parenthood in the time following childbirth.

Curator Rachel Epp Buller argues that the postpartum time period is not a short one, as commonly believed. She submits that emotional and physical changes following the birth of a child have long-term effects that can last a lifetime.

Postpartum displays a variety of work engaged with the personal and societal aspects of birth and motherhood. Exhibitions of this nature are always great opportunities to spur dialog about gender roles, parenthood, social “norms” and engage with art on a personal level.

Buller begins the show with a small work by Monica Bock titled Postpartum Miniature (1999). The wall-mounted sculpture consists of a small oak shelf with a miniature oval picture frame resting on top. The gold-plated frame holds a color picture of the placenta kept frozen since her son’s birth in 1995.

In this small gesture, Bock offers a deeply personal memory while creating an wonderful sense of unease as the viewer leans-in to inspect the cosmic interlacing of visceral colors. The diminutive size of this sculpture closes the physical distance with the viewer for a discrete, yet powerful connection.

The work of Jess Dobkin offers viewer’s a completely different experience. A video documentary of her 2006 performance The Lactation Station Breast Milk Bar plays in a small alcove in the corner of the gallery.

For The Lactation Station Breast Milk Bar, Dobkin pasteurized the breast milk of six lactating mothers and provided samples to visitors. She interviewed these six women about their breast feeding before offering their breast milk to the public so that she could discuss the differences in taste.

The ambition of the project is to explore the social unease that comes with sampling women’s breast milk and complex issues that surround breastfeeding. As Dobkin states in the video, the actual performance is the conversation that is created rather than whether or not someone samples the breast milk.

While both of these works illustrate the range of artistic practices displayed in Postpartum, there is a quiet nature to the overall show. While Dobkin’s work is provocative and worth a good discussion, the video keeps the performance at a safe distance. Imagine if The Lactation Station Breast Milk Bar took place in the White Gallery!

Perhaps that is beyond the scope of feasibility, but the exhibition is hard-pressed to generate the much needed discussion essential to these artworks without something daring that will push it to the forefront of our awareness. The show’s small town location also proves to be a challenge in garnering audience attention.

I applaud Butler Community College for hosting this exhibition. The skill and thoughtfulness Buller demonstrates in navigating the issues in Postpartum is admirable no matter where the exhibition takes place. Unfortunately, Postpartum may not get the attention — or attendance — it fully deserves.