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photo: Richard Andersen

La Nourrice (come drink from me my darling)

Samantha Sweeting

La Nourrice (come drink from me my darling) is a one to one performance in which audience members are invited to suckle. It stems from my research into alternative imagery and actions involving breasts and breast milk, including interspecies nurture, induced lactation and adult nursing. My lover had never been breastfed as a child and the idea of adult nursing presented an opportunity to fulfil a mutual desire for closeness, highlighting the nostalgia and deep-rooted eroticism of this basic corporeal act. At the same time, one of the motherless feral kittens that we had adopted from a neighbouring sheep farm kept trying to suckle from me. I found this instinctive behaviour strangely sweet and tragic, a kind of impossible longing and need for love. I would spend time on the sheep farm, watching ewes being milked and holding newly born lambs. A feeling of broodiness for an animal shaped baby led me to making a collection of videos suckling young lambs. 18 months later the little cat died. I held her frail corpse in a pieta, as I slipped into a period of incomprehensible grief. The image of the exposed breast now signified loss; I was a mater dolorosa grieving her dead child. Shortly afterwards, one of my closest friends drowned himself in the Thames. I began my public breastfeeding performance, using it an overwhelming offer of kindness and desire for solace.  

The performance begins with a looped single screen video of a girl on all fours breastfeeding a lamb. The participant then enters my space. In my most recent version, I sit on a low wooden milking stool with an unwashed sheep fleece at my feet. I wear a white nursing bra and a Supplementary Nursing System. This is a simple contraption used by adoptive parents or people with insufficient amounts of breast milk to breast feed as normal. A bottle of milk hangs around the neck and tiny latex tubes attach to the nipples. I invite my participant to sit before me as I unclasp my nursing bra. I cradle their head as they suckle, taking nipple and milk into their body. There is a play between the obvious artifice of the performance and the very real experience that it generates. My bottle is filled with almond milk to supplement my empty breasts. The breastfeeding is a sham. Yet, at the same time, a profound feeling of bonding is triggered as my participant and I share an intense moment of tenderness, deeply sexual, comforting and sad. They stay with me as long as they choose. Sometimes we talk. Sometimes we hug. They exit the space.

Published in Zerihan, R. (2009), Live Art Development Agency Study Room Guide on One to One Performance, 'Samantha Sweeting' (pp74-78), London: Live Art Development Agency


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