Interview with Patty Chang
tangible amidst a milieu of unrest, eroding democracy, and an overworked planet, I was soothed by Chang’s performers; speaking over the mechanical suck of the breast pump, their stated fears felt more collective than isolating. Last month, as we sat in distanced chairs in Chang’s backyard to talk about Milk Debt, I told Chang that I like to think of the solace I found in Milk Debt as a form of successful affect labeling. Affect labeling— an implicit emotional regulation strategy of verbalizing feelings, or more specifically in this case, fears—is a form of linguistic processing. Milk Debt grounds pandemic-era fears by allowing them to linguistically congregate in a commons. In this way, Chang forges a reservoir in which visitors can bathe in their fears—the porosity of one’s anxieties intermingling with those of others.
Patty Chang’s recent shows have both featured breast milk. Bodily fluids (milk, urine, tears) continue to percolate through her practice. I have oft-conceived of Chang’s practice as a semiaquatic mammal of its own: watery and bodily, helical in flow. Chang’s new exhibition at 18th Street Arts Center, Milk Debt, takes its title from Chinese Buddhist notions of filial piety, wherein children owe a lifelong debt to the mothers who suckled them. In the five-channel video installation, lactating women stephanie mei huang: I wonder, how do pump their breast milk while reciting you think about the way the pandemic lists of fears, which Chang collected has really transformed collectivized by surveying communities in Los fears? I’ve heard you use the phrase Angeles, where she lives and works, “communal text” in regards to the list of as well as Hong Kong and New fears that is read in Milk Debt. Mexico, where she has recently completed artist residencies. Chang Patty Chang: I think maybe an environthen chose a handful of women to mental difference [between] now and film while they pumped breast milk— when we were building our list of fears constellating women across various is that [now, fears are] much more cities through this shared act. socially on the surface. So, people The inventory of fears begins are actually feeling these and then with Chang’s personal list, first vocalizing them, whether it be in drafted in 2018. Upon moving to an intimate setting or in a public setting. Altadena in late 2017, Chang, who I think that when I made my personal had recently given birth, found her list and then when we were collecting anxieties over the environment and the fears, we thought of these [fears] as climate compounded by her own things that people thought but didn’t postpartum. Many of the fears speak. It was much more internalized … in Chang’s list are eerily prescient: like there’s a sort of low, humming the fifth fear is “fire, burning in a fire”; anxiety, but maybe we can’t name what two fears later is “smog”; then, “113 it is because we don’t want to. So degrees everyday.” perhaps that’s one of the differences I previewed Milk Debt just three that Covid has revealed. days after the recent San Gabriel earthquake, the very night of Ruth smh: Were your fears being amplified Bader Ginsburg’s death. As my after you had your son, Leroy, and you personal fears became increasingly were responsible for another life?
stephanie mei huang
1. Patty Chang, Patty Chang: The Wandering Lake (Brooklyn, NY: Dancing Foxes Press, 2017). 2. Astrida Neimanis, “Feminist Subjectivity, Watered,” Feminist Review, no. 103 (2013): 23–41, http://www.jstor. org/stable/41819667.