Milk and Blood is the latest performance by visual and live artist Franko B. First previewed at a/political in July 2015, a national and international tour of the performance was launched as part of the Certain Blacks festival at Rich Mix in July 2016.
Predominantly known as a bloodletting artist, Franko B’s most famous performance is I Miss You (1999-2005), in which the artist is naked and painted white, catheters placed in his elbow fossae to enable his blood to let. He walks up and down a runway, fluorescent lighting trained on the bleeding body, on the agglomerating drops of red on white canvas. The artist states: ‘We are all bleeding inside.’ In I Miss You, exsanguination is literal and figurative. The performance suggests a love poem: the lived experience and enactment of loss and suffering, the immersion within and exposure of interiorities, the wilful draining of self and body. I miss you, I bleed for you, I bleed myself for you.
The press release for Milk and Blood suggests a shift in Franko B’s creative practices: ‘Looking introspectively, I can truly say that I have successfully wrecked my career as a “bleeding” artist and continued my lust for life thanks to language.’ However, in terms of critical methodology, Milk and Blood continues and expands the concept of bleeding. While the exsanguination is figurative only, the performance indicates wider concerns about local and global society and politics.
A gold punch bag is suspended from the ceiling in the centre of a black stage. The artist wears gold boxing gear; his boots, shorts, vest, gloves, and helmet are made of the same material as the punch bag (furthermore, the gear is embellished with the cross insignia that is tattooed all over Franko B’s body). A bell rings and the round begins. The artist punches the bag while reciting clipped words and phrases: ‘insignificant’, ‘insecure’, ‘marginalised’, ‘masochistic’, ‘policing of desires’, ‘wounds of failures’, ‘love’, ‘fascism’, ‘death’. As he punches, the bag leaks, dripping milk onto the stage. A bell rings and the round ends; the artist sits on a stool while his assistant (dressed in black) mops his brow with a gold towel and offers him water from a gold flask. The bell rings again; the artist resumes the combination of punching and recitation. The performance lasts for a total of thirteen two-minute rounds, at the end of which the artist is sweating and gasping for breath, the stage sopping with milk.
In Milk and Blood, loss and suffering are consequences of social, political, and historical inequalities and injustices. The performance conveys the artist’s immersion within the world and his attempt to expose its structures. Positioned as spectators, the audience is invited to realise our own complicity as milk splashes our feet. The artist does not exclude himself from this censure. The punch bag seems to function as a simulacrum of the artist’s body: swathed in gold, passive and reactive, inert and fluctuating, thick and bursting. Fighting himself, resisting himself, the artist seems to challenge notions of self-harm and self-care. As the golden bodies sweat and smash into each other, one body gaining muscle as the other body loses fat, the artist questions the conditions and impact of richness in a competitive world. As the body swings and struggles, draining itself of milk, of nourishment, the artist questions the capacity and endurance of goodness in a bloodthirsty world. Indeed, the performance conveys a sense of resignation: it’s no use crying over spilt milk.
It would be remiss to reference the proverb glibly, without considering Franko B’s relationship with language. The text of Milk and Blood is adapted from the earlier text Insignificant (2015), which concludes: ‘I, insignificant, have, insignificant, language, insignificant, on, insignificant, my, insignificant, side, insignificant, I have language on my side, I have language on my side.’ What does it mean to have language, to share a cause with language, to support and be supported by language? The text of Milk and Blood names contemporary issues, for example, ‘Brexit’, ‘homeless’, ‘refugee’, ‘deportation’, ‘Iraq, Afghanistan, Ukraine’. Compiled in a list of unattributed adjectives and abstract nouns, these issues are decontextualised, defamiliarised, and rendered indeterminable. The list multiplies, becoming a series of loops, convolutions, inescapabilities. However, as milk continues to spill, as the world is saturated with loss and suffering, the artist continues to name his opponents, to assume his position, to fight, to resist.
Milk and Blood reminds us that the match may be fixed, the result may not be comprehensible in terms of success or failure, but we will bleed. Regardless of ability, strength, stance, endurance, we will bleed. As Franko B asserts, although we cannot change the fact of our bleeding, we can choose what we bleed for. The artist states: ‘Milk will bleed.’ Goodness, for Franko B, is solidarity, hope, love. Goodness will drain, will drain us, will be drained and flow forth.
Milk and Blood was on at Rich Mix. Click here for more information.