Artist Cinemas presents
Liesel Burisch, Gorilla Milk | Here is where we are: Week #1
Saturday, October 24–Friday, October 30, 2020
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Liesel Burisch, Gorilla Milk (still), 2020.

Join us on e-flux Video & Film for an online screening of Liesel Burisch’s Gorilla Milk (2020), on view from Saturday, October 24 through Friday, October 30, 2020.

Gorilla Milk documents the meeting between an artist, a YouTube vlogger, and a gorilla. Mixing recordings from the meeting with archival content from the vlogger’s YouTube account, the video explores the artist’s and vlogger’s similarities with, and projections onto, the gorilla. The conversation centers around the beauty of the gorilla, who suffered a severe drop in popularity when her breasts started sagging. The public and the caretakers lost interest. And after losing her fertility, even her troop rejected her. 

Gorilla Milk aims to discuss motherhood, body dysmorphia, and the life of a female in captivity —by the ideas of bystanders, audience, society, and caretakers. 

It is presented alongside an excerpt from Burisch’s manual for queer nursing, which offers an alternative, inclusive way for both performing and supporting nursing.

Gorilla Milk is the first installment of Here is where we are, a program of films, texts, and interviews convened by Laure Prouvost, and comprising the fourth cycle of Artist Cinemas, a long-term, online series of film programs curated by artists for e-flux Video & Film.

Here is where we are will run for six weeks from October 24 through December 7, 2020, screening a new film each week accompanied by a text or an interview with the filmmaker(s) by Prouvost and invited guests. 

Phase 1: The Emotional
Excerpt from Liesel Burisch, Queer Nursing (Berlin: 2020)

Give space to all the parental figure(s)
During the time of nursing, it is vital to allow the other parental figure(s)[1] to find their own rhythm and style for comforting the child outside of a feeding scheme. This asks for patience, trust and loyalty. Undoubtedly you as parental figures will have your different ways with the child, no matter who nursed in the beginning. Accepting the differences and remembering that you strive for manifesting the same values, is an important, evergrowing assignment for you as parental figures. 
It is normal and often too easy for the other parental figure(s) to feel like they are failing when they are unable to comfort the child without nursing them. Talk about these emotions. Ensure each other that the more parental figures and children are exposed to equalitarian parenting, the more everyone involved will enjoy the early stages of joint parenthood. 
Nursing can seem like the answer to everything in the beginning, but by allowing the other parental figure(s) to step in and build other modes of calming, you are showing the child that they are safe and loved. As well as it will give the nursing parent some rest. 

The power of a calm voice 
Talk and communicate with the child even when it seems a bit funny. Through talking to the child continuously, you actively acknowledge the presence of each other. This can sound weird, but many folx forget that small babies are humans that like to be told what is going to happen. When respecting them as an individual by, for example talking to them as such, chances are, that you will acknowledge yourself as a parental figure and as a human as well. Another bonus is that you allow the child to get used to the calming sensations of your friendly voice, which is a good tool to use when wanting to signal to the child that they are safe and close to you. 
Avoid using their name in a condescending way, which for inexplicable reasons seems to be a common reaction to children who are grumpy or dissatisfied. Instead try mirroring them as well as verbalizing the situation. An example: instead of saying “(insert prolonged pronunciation of the name of the child), what’s wrong? Why are you like this” try “I see you are dissatisfied/unhappy, let’s go look at this” (acknowledge their dissatisfaction, offer them comfort and divert their attention to something else). 

Supported healing – pt. 1 
Have a clear idea of who your contact folx are. This is usually someone outside the parental unit, folx whom you enjoy talking to when feeling not-too great. Get in touch with them and have them be aware of their importance. Make sure that everyone in the family has someone to turn to. The entire family deserves to be seen, heard and supported by folx who love them. 

Supported healing – pt. 2 
Touch is very powerful during nursing. Much of the energy that is handed to the child can be replenished via touch. For many the most sacred places during nursing and after birth are the feet, shoulders and head and anything from a light, short stroke to a real massage will do wonders for the body and mind. Do note that touch, even the lightest strokes can hurt a sensitive body, so be rigid on asking for consent. 

Jealousy
Ironically, most literature focuses on jealousy from the other parenting figure(s) towards the bond between the nursing parental figure and the child.[2] During my own nursing, I experienced massive waves of jealousy towards my partners bond to our child. I was jealous about their somewhat “pure” bond. A relationship built on love and comfort, untainted by the basic need for food. 
It wasn’t easy understanding that my relationship to our child could and would be just as close, without the nursing experience. This can seem backwards, as many parents seem to deal with acknowledging that a close relationship is possible without feeding. (These emotions will further be addressed in Phase 2) 
Nursing may seem a shortcut to closeness with the child. But is in no way the only way to bond with a child. 
Being a great parent is not defined by the capability of nursing nor is it undermined by the fact that you sometimes feel reduced to be a dairy farm. When feeling a strong need to connect to you child outside nursing (this can sometimes feel like skin hunger) bed rest is very effective. Ask for time alone with the child in bed. They can be sleeping or awake. Be close, listen to music or watch a movie. Mere closeness and comfort can help soothe the need for connection without asking the body of too much. Rest is crucial. 
For instant relief at times of jealousy, repeating the mantra “love is love” can be very effective. I know it can sound cheesy, but by inviting the idea that all actions of love are love (and feeding a child can definitely be seen as an act of love), you can soothe the strange concept of there being a more pure, or better kind of love. 

Building a lasting relationship 
There are (in the beginning) many days where the energy is simply not there to do much more than feed yourself, and the one depending on you for food. That is okay. You will find your moments to share with the child. 
As you begin to have more energy, any activity unrelated to nursing will help the child (and especially you) to understand and enjoy your respective roles in the lives of one another. 

Exhaustion
Nursing does cause massive exhaustion. The body is working to the point of being in safe mode. Just the fact that folx who nurse lose their hair, voice and body fat should prove how much any body is working in order to feed a child. Therefore, acknowledge that being in a egalitarian parent relationship does not mean doing the same amount of work. If the nursing parent can match the other parental figure(s) in the amount of house and general work done, well, great! But try to arrive to a point of view knowing, that each parental figure is doing their best and their best is enough. It is vital for parenthood, nursing and healing, to get to know limits and boundaries. Often it is in the families and your own interest to stay conservative and rather do less, than more. 
Understanding that nursing not always can be shared in the same way as caretaking and running errands can at times be tricky. Communication is the best tool we have to deal with challenges like these. Different roles in an egalitarian parent relationship are normal and good to get used to. Resting, staying in bed, doing less early morning rises is not only okay but also necessary. Resting does not change intentions of egalitarian parenting nor does it make any of you less of a dedicated parental figure. On the contrary, it ensures that you will be able to at some point to do the same as the other parenting figure(s) in terms of home labor (if that even is your goal). 

Public nursing 
For most folx moving into the public space is impossible to prevent. As a nursing parent, it can seem overwhelming to place yourself in uncertain scenarios. I am assuming it is unnecessary to go into details with the challenges of being a queer body in the public sphere. Let this merely be words of support for when you introduce the child and yourself as equal members of society. Protect yourself in your unique way from the reproduction of ideas on parenthood. Experiment with feeding whilst the child is in a sling. This often can make the nursing more discreet. For every public feed, I found myself getting stronger in my belief of belonging and deserving decent treatment. Stigmas do not change overnight, and it is not your battle to fight on your own. But well and ill intended treatment of nursing parents in the public space most effectively are silenced by normalizing feeding and verbalizing experiences to your community. 

Overflowing pleasure 
Milk flow is heavily affected, if not totally connected to the mental landscape. Little fountains of milk will flow whenever you are or feel pleasured and relaxed or have lust. Thereby the reverse is naturally also bound to happen. You will encounter feelings of pleasure and lust while nursing. 
If this triggers feelings of shame, disgust or disappointment, try finding time to question where these condescending, mean reactions come from. Chances are that they are projected ideas of how one should feel in certain situations, and should not in others. See, if you can allow and embrace that your body reacts to feeling good, just as you feel good by being stimulated. Rejecting or not addressing these darker voices is missing an opportunity to free yourself and the body from the forced ideas of how one is supposed to feel. 
There ARE times though where you are not in the comfort of your own space and want to stop milk flow. This is done by pressing directly on the nipples for some time (as long as it takes for the brain to slam on the breaks). You are in other words responding to the mental desire with an uncomfortable stimulus, thereby stopping the production thought. Your body will get the hint. 

Alcohol
It is a common belief and stigma that nursing parents can’t and shouldn’t drink. At the time of this text there was no scientific evidence for controlled alcohol intake being harmful during nursing. Alcohol consumption should be limited in ways that will allow you to be a responsible parent in the morning, but will not do harm to the milk. There might be reactions to a nursing parent enjoying a glass of whatnot. Ask them for their source and let them revisit these sources to check the scientific evidence. They will learn that alcoholic beverages should be totally avoided during pregnancy but have extremely little to no effect on the milk. Refrain from pumping out or dumping and other constraining myths. If you do feel hesitant, then do what you need to do but let the choice be yours. 

Solidarity
It probably goes without saying, but donating (or receiving donated milk) is a beautiful way to confront the purpose of nursing. There are many reasons for why it is great to donate. Beyond the ideological benefits, it is a small but vital help to parents of prenatal children, with starting problems, sick children or sick parents of healthy children. By donating or receiving donated milk, you rewrite the idea of paternal identity with nursing. Nursing becomes a way to care for a child. Any child. Thereby the idea of the unique bond between the nursing parent and the child can be lifted from being defined by the act of nursing. It helps parents understand that caring for a child is what forms the unique bond. Consider if you are willing to offer nursing to another child or let someone else nurse. Investigate if you are interested in these acts of solidarity or not.

[1] I address the non-nursing parent/caretaker as “other parenting figure.” Families can have many constellations with vital parental caregivers, so please, whenever you read “other parenting figure” understand that it is a way of describing someone who is playing an indispensable role in the family. 

[2] For example: “Suzanne Pelka, Sharing motherhood: Maternal Jealousy Among Lesbian Co-Mothers,” Journal of Homosexuality, Volume 56, Issue 2, January 30, 2009.

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Liesel Burisch is a video artist, writer, and birth worker based between Copenhagen and Berlin. Burisch’s films and video installations are based on generous collaborations, patient observations of reality, and staged performances. By bringing seemingly mundane rituals and intimate situations into focus. Burisch aims to address deeper, underlying social political challenges. Their work has been shown internationally in various institutional and non-commercial exhibitions.

For more information, contact program [​at​] e-flux.com.

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