Articles

Milk Does a White Body Good

by Hrag Vartanian on June 1, 2011

Image of the "process" at White Power Milk (image via whitepowermilk.com)

Yesterday, artist Nate Hill announced his new project, “White Power Milk” (2011). The email that was sent out by Hill was written in a friendly tone that seems out of synch with the subject matter:

I made a website called White Power Milk where you can buy milk purified by beautiful, rich, white girls. They gargle it. Ok that’s it.

Hill’s newest project is a departure from his previous work in that there is an explicit political and sexual layer that was only alluded to in his previous creations. Here images of women gargling milk on the website are bizarre, if artistic, and familiar to anyone who has perused porn online or has an affection for images of women with their mouths filled with cum. Any Google Image search (with SafeSearch off) will reveal more images of this type than you could imagine. The only difference between the images used in porn and “White Power Milk” is the perspective and angle of the photos. Most pornographic shots of women gargling cum are from above, mimicking the viewpoint of a man or men who have just received a blowjob and discharged into her mouth. Hill has shifted the perspective lower so that the women look less submissive but still on display.

Each of the young, and very white, women are listed on the website with their “pedigrees” that suggest affluence, including hobbies like sailing and horseback riding and alma maters like Stanford University, Phillips Academy and Harvard. Even their family names are listed with the source of their money in parentheses.

Clicking through to the pages you get the sense that you are perusing mail-order brides, call girls or some other service that commodifies human beings. The whole site is composed in a minimal style that makes it feel clean and emphasizes the idea of “whiteness.”

Cropped porn image of a blonde gargling cum from www.gigavids.com.

When Hill announced his project on Twitter, not everyone was happy. NY/SF-based artist Peter Dobey tweeted he thought, “the whole thing is pornographic and nothing else, cheap and vulgar. Really really offensive.” Brooklyn-based artist Jennifer Dalton had a heated back and forth with Nate Hill on April 27 and you can tell she found the ideas he put forth distasteful. One of her tweets says, “…what’s lacking is an undercutting/complicating/undermining of the fallback stereotypes,” and in another two-part tweet (1, 2) she wrote, “I think this & all ur projects are complex & thought-provoking, but I think ur ideas about womens’ ‘power’ are misguided … Power contingent on male approval is not real power. Have u turned down any ‘girls’ for not being pretty enough or white enough?”

Hill is good at pushing buttons and you can tell he likes it, maybe even gets off on it. All his projects poke holes into people’s ideas of comfort and force them to negotiate how far they are willing to go. Whether he is getting strangers to sit on his lap as part of “Free Bouncy Rides” (2009) or inviting people to get out their physical frustration on a cute animal in “Punch Me Panda” (2010), there was always an element in his performance that left many people — particularly non-art participants — puzzled but always amused.

Now that “White Power Milk” has launched, it will be interesting to see how the project evolves and changes. When I curated Hill’s “Punch Me Panda” into #TheSocialGraph last November, I was surprised how eager Hill was to change and transform the performance based on feedback and his evolving thoughts.

I asked Jennifer Dalton to take a look at the newly launched site for “White Power Milk” and see what she thought about a project that she initially reacted very negatively to. She emailed me the following commentary after viewing the website:

I think Nate Hill’s work is complex and fucked up and smart and it makes me feel uncomfortable in lots of ways, most of which I think are signs of its strength. I initially took issue with the selection process and use of the “pretty white girls” for White Power Milk because I felt that it came from a lack of awareness of what real power is and who really has it. I have trouble seeing the use of attractive (unpaid? volunteer?) women to sell products as subversive. But, at the same time, having seen the launch of the site today I can’t help thinking its satire is brilliantly sick.

The following is an email interview with Hill about the project and what it means.

*   *   *

Hrag Vartanian: White Power Milk? Sounds like you’re pushing someone’s buttons with that one. Whose?

Nate Hill: Some people who feel they are at a disadvantage in America because of their race (black people, for example) can get a get a sense of power in the world from having a white woman. They got a piece of the pie, so to speak. I named it “White Power Milk” because I’m selling people that access to white girls from powerful families. Those are the hardest white girls to get access to. They are the powerful.

It’s about the power that white women have over people’s minds. Some people think white girls are better than other races. They think they’re better at sex, more loyal, more polite, more compliant, bring less drama, or whatever. I put some examples of this kind of thinking in these tweets I’ve posted on Young Manhattanite.

"Nora" proving her power to gargle on "White Power Milk" (via whitepowermilk.com)

HV: It almost sounds like you’re speaking from personal experience. How does this relate (if at all) to your own experience in your family or otherwise?

NH: I don’t want this project to be about me. Typically that is how my art has been presented, but I’m moving away from that with this. I can tell you that I’m both black and white, and I’ve given a lot of thought to interracial relationships and class.

HV: By the way, is the milk full fat or skim?

NH: I don’t know, I forgot to address this.

HV: Ok, what do you think people’s reactions to this project will be? Or what do you expect?

NH: I’ve been reading a few over here on Reddit. Lots of different things are being said, so hopefully somewhere I have added to the conversation about race. I was also interested in how young, beautiful, white women are used in advertising to sell just about anything, so I was thinking it would be interesting if they could also make milk taste better. Absurd, but hopefully I made my point.

Pornstar Kelly Wells gargling cum in a gangbang movie. (image via gigavids.com)

HV: Do you like white women?

NH: Hrag, c’mon.

HV: Is there a version of this for gay guys and straight women? I guess I’m more interested in how you think people who don’t desire white women sexually will react to this project.

NH: The assumption of the project is that white women are the best choice for a person seeking a woman.

HV: What do you expect people to do with the milk when they purchase it?

NH: Drink it before it goes bad. [My fiancee] Arika suggests I make other things in the future that are more affordable and keep, such as white chocolate or soaps. I may add those items in the future.

All the young white women available to gargle your milk (via whitepowermilk.com)

HV: You’ve obviously referencing White Supremacy with the name of the piece, right? This seems more explicitly political than any other work you’ve done. Is there a reason for the timing?

NH: Yes, it’s a white man’s world, so if you can get a white woman it’s saying something if you’re not white. That’s one of the messages of the project. People think that way.

I was just ready to try something new. If I kept doing mascot stuff, I was on the road to hackdom.

HV: Your previous project had an artist statement that discussed the notion of community service and helping people. This sounds like something different or is it still a community service?

NH: I’ve been cultivating a new persona on my Twitter in the last few weeks. It’s a man who has unchecked desires for steak and white women. He claims to eat over 20 raw steaks a day and has just as much of an appetite for white girls. I also claimed on Twitter to own a lion that I walk in Harlem who sometimes eats people then forgets she did.

The reason for all that Twitter nonsense was to align this new art persona as not someone who wants to help the community, but to become someone who has overblown, unreal, primitive appetites and desires that are not concerned with anyone other than satisfying his own desires.

Not sure if I answered your question.

HV: You sure did. I was going to ask about the steak thing, but you’ve cleared that up. Does your lion have a Twitterfeed too?

NH: Haha, no.

*   *   *

Nate Hill’s “White Power Milk” is a continuing project and you can follow (or unfollow) him on Twitter at @natexhill.

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  • Den Hickey

    Yeah, despite its social and economic underpinnings… I’m not sure the whole thing isn’t just sexist and racist itself.  Its a fine line, yes.. but I think this project jumps pretty far beyond the line.  Making people feel uncomfortable is part of much art.. and is often a huge part of good art… but that doesn’t mean making people feel uncomfortable or offended actually makes something art.

    It in many ways just seems like another white kid of similar middle to upper class, ivy league educated background playing at regurgitating stereotypes of class, gender, and race to supposedly talk about those stereotypes… but without really doing much besides saying that these other stereotypes (It’s a man who has unchecked desires for steak and white women.) hold the stereotypes he is presenting.

    • http://hragv.com Hrag Vartanian

      I think when you observe other people’s responses to this project you realize that it functions on a very deep level for people. Hill is interested in that response and exploring where it goes. His projects are carefully designed and I think we all have advantages and disadvantages in our lives and he effectively uses his to make art.

      • Den Hickey

        Functions on a very deep level.. or offends on a very deep level?

        Art can be offensive, but being offensive doesn’t make it art.

        • http://hragv.com Hrag Vartanian

          I think it taps something that people don’t want to discuss. He’s raising questions about this using he trappings of pop culture. I think he’s framed it in a way that makes people think and not just get off on it. Ordering milk gargled by people is just ridiculous but that also underlines how the nature of commodity and ownership is equally absurd, never mind the notion of desire and race. I think it hits upon something deep. If he really wanted to make it a spectacle he could’ve easily done things differently.

  • Anonymous

    It puts me in mind of another work of art by General Idea: Nazi Milk.

    http://www.artnet.com/artwork/59765/2/general-idea-nazi-milk.html

    • http://hragv.com Hrag Vartanian

      You’re absolutely right. I can’t believe I didn’t make the connection. You’re awesome!

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jeannine-Hunter-Lazzaro/1371029204 Jeannine Hunter Lazzaro

    I think that this has been discussed to death.  I also can’t get beyond the sexist and rascist implication. Not that I am offended (good art usually offends-but I’d rather get pissed at Richard Prince).  The commodification of women (“piece of the pie”indeed!) and resentment and anger at the bourgeois class is a timeless and endless conversation that I have joined in numerous times.

    Possibly I am missing the point. For one thing I never did get the whole “got milk” thing that this seems to refer to.(Hi, I’m a slob who didn’t wipe my mouth after…drinking white paint, putting a glue mustache on my lip, oral sex…drink milk like me!)

    Another thing that I almost hate to say-the bourgeois-white-women (piece of pie) have become “the other”.

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