Atlantic Dialogue #4: Milk
Atlantic Dialogues 4
Melanie Jackson Deeper in the Pyramid, 2016

Melanie Jackson & Esther Leslie

Jill Craigie Cinema, Plymouth University 16:00 05.12.17


Milk is a primal substance. The first fluid to enter our mouths, it is essential to life from the very beginning. Indeed, the ‘milk of human kindness’ is fundamental to our existence as social animals. The land that flowed with milk and honey, in pre-Modern times, was imagined as a bountiful pasture that became the model for a life fulfilled. Today, however, milk is an endlessly adaptable commodity, industrially produced in unimaginably vast quantities and re-formulated for every kind of flow that global consumerism demands. In an age dominated by a form of capital that despises ‘dependence’ yet thrives on ‘precarity’, our relation to milk embodies the contradictions of our times. One of the most technologized liquids on the planet, abstracted from its nurturing function, milk is at once a symbol of the bucolic and of the exploitation of nature. In order to produce cows’ milk for humans, the seasonal cycle related to gestation has been extended into the endless time of ever-increasing milk yields. This is the temporality of the market, of production and circulation. The mass industrialisation of milk also represents an abstraction from the female body, and thus its transformation into a de-gendered industrial commodity.

Artist, Melanie Jackson, and writer, Esther Leslie, have collaborated on a series of projects, including two recent publications The Urpflanze and The Ur-phenomenon and an article for Cabinet magazine, Journeys of Lactic Abstraction. They are currently exploring the notion of liquidity, in the form of milk.

The Atlantic Dialogues are a series of public talks and interdisciplinary discussions, organized jointly by the Atlantic Project and Plymouth University Fine Art. All talks arefree and open to students and the general public, held at 4pm in the Jill Craigie Lecture Theatre, Roland Levinsky Building, Plymouth University [unless otherwise stated].

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  • Melanie Jackson

    Melanie Jackson has developed an artistic practice that allows her to reflect upon her own implication in larger social systems of circulation and exchange, and the prevailing narratives around everyday commodities that work to normalize our daily consumption of consumer products. Previously she has focused on globalization and popular attitudes towards the circulation of goods and people around the world, whilst, in more recent times, her attention has shifted to the mythologies and processes of abstraction that we apply to natural products. Her approach is to try out different tactics of representation, often referencing stories in the media, employing many different techniques, such as drawing, print-making, paper-cutting, origami, sculpture, papier-maché, video, animation, performance, music, installation and other craft traditions, but always keeping her own complicity in the representation of her subject visible, as part of the circulation of meanings around her work.

    Esther Leslie

    Esther Leslie is a lecturer in English and Humanities at Birkbeck and Co-Director of the Birkbeck Institute for the Humanities. Her research interests include Marxist theories of aesthetics and culture, with a particular focus on the work of Walter Benjamin and Theodor Adorno, as well as the poetics of science, European literary and visual modernism and avant gardes, animation, colour and madness. Her books include Walter Benjamin: Overpowering Conformism (Pluto 2000), and Hollywood Flatlands, Animation, Critical Theory and the Avant Garde (Verso 2002), Synthetic Worlds: Nature, Art and the Chemical Industry (Reaktion, 2005) and Walter Benjamin (Reaktion 2007), Derelicts: Thought Worms from the Wreckage(Unkant, 2014). Her translations include Georg Lukacs, A Defence of 'History and Class Consciousness(Verso 2002) and Walter Benjamin: The Archives (Verso, 2007). Her next book is on the poetics and politics of liquid crystals.