Madame Curie Discovers the Milky Way

Lovisa Johansson’s Milky Way

(Photo by Henry Chan)

Have I ever seen anything as true as Lovisa Johansson’s durational piece entitled, Milky Way? Three hours of uninterrupted repetition, she sits on a white cushion under a spotlight, in oatmeal-coloured, short-sleeved undershirt and long johns, her red-blonde hair in a long, fuzzy ponytail. Penned in by a tight circle of milk bottles – one upside-down and draining its contents into another, like hour glasses keeping time in ounces of milk – she lets them drain, then changes the nipple and flips them, continuously.

Her attitude is one of incredible patience. It is almost hard to watch, how trapped she is by the action, the circle of bottles, and yet, how devotional she seems, too. Overtop it all, a soundtrack of wetness, of dripping liquid, like a leaky faucet, or a broken toilet. She doesn’t even have room enough to stretch out her legs. The action of changing the bottles requires precision. She wipes the bottles with a dish towel she has slung over her shoulder. Every nipple is shook out in the same manner, before it gets changed and the milk-timer flipped, then she swivels on her cushion to the next one.

(Photo by Henry Chan)

It could be three o’clock in the morning. Your baby has a fever. Your friends are all out on the town, at a black tie event, collecting awards. But you are in the spotlight at the kitchen sink. The tap is leaking. Your body is shaky from lack of sleep and there is this delicate business of sterilizing the bottles, filling them with milk.

It is done, as is the whole performance, with a numbing resignation to boredom, the necessary restraint required of the nurturing repetitive gesture. Drudgery and chores. And yet, there is something of the scientist at work, Madame Curie on the cusp of a great discovery, hard at work in her lab, in the middle of the night.

She has the serene, exhausted look of a medieval visionary mystic.

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “Madame Curie Discovers the Milky Way

  1. miguel invierno

    fantastic description! “penned” is a good word. and the black tie event. mw

  2. Pingback: New Maternalisms | Lovisa Johansson

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