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The Nurturing Vessel, Israel Milk, 1997

In order to realise this work, I contacted the kibbutz  ‘Ma’abarot’ the producer of baby powder milk. I was interested in linking the notion of Motherland to that of motherhood. I had done several works with big companies, it was a way to relate myths to a post modern consumer society. Ma’abarot were very helpful and they provided me twice with some 90 kg of Materna which could not be used anymore. Materna  was also branded under the name Israel Milk and it suited previous works relating to the Holy Land.

For The Nuturing Vessel I created a big wooden box (15 x 200 x 140 cm) which I covered with cement. Inside this ‘sand box’ I poured the light baby powder milk. I remember that in the space of the exhibit the sweet smell of the milk was incredibly strong. While the cement associated with the words shelter, shield, binding, has a function which belonged to the elementary character of the vessel, the powder in contrast was soft, sweet, light, and nourishing, and alluded to motherhood and breastfeeding, or lack of breastfeeding. Both ‘protection’ and the ‘breast,’ the latter being the clearest expression of the Feminine giving, are  attributes of the Feminine nature. The equation of woman = body = vessel was perpetuated in this work  where motherhood and  motherland was very much a topic that occupied my thoughts at the time.

First exhibited at O Mama – The representation of motherhood in Israeli Contemporary  Art at The Museum of Israeli Art in Ramat Gan, I recreated the piece for Out of Senses exhibited at the Muhka in Antwerp. There I also exhibited the work Fragments of Time, which I had done in relation to childhood memories while bearing in mind that the logo of Materna ‘s Israel Milk was a tiny teddy bear.

The Nurturing Vessel, Israel Milk (1996)

“Ariane Littman-Cohen created a type of “sand” box, to which she pours many litres of “Materna” (infant powder milk). Is this Nature or Culture?
The sacred natural mother milk disintegrates before our eyes, and becomes industrial powder, like the sand in the playing box. A whole ideology is closely scrutinized. As from the 18th century (look: historical aspects of mother image-possible background) we were educated that breast-feeding is important for the intimate, physical, emotional bond between a mother and her baby. It is important for the baby’s nourishment, efficient as a natural immunization and serves as a solid base on which develops the baby’s confidence in himself and others.
The feminism of the sixties and the seventies stood against breast-feeding and indeed it was not popular for a certain period. However, in the last decade it came back as a winner. Littman-Cohen exposes this historical course of events by the scattering tremendous amount of infant powder milk (which substitutes mother milk) inside the box.

The powder is pure, but the artist does not follow the instructions on the package and does not keep its vital sterility. The powder loses its usefulness and becomes a pleasant play for the visitor, who touches it which his fingers. ”

Hadara Scheflan-Katzav (Extract)


Ariane Littman