Patty Chang, Milk Debt, 2020

In collaboration with 18th Street Arts Center, Marathon Screenings co-presented a screening and conversation on May 22, 2020 with Patty Chang and curator Anuradha Vikram, who initiated Chang’s presentation at 18th Street. 

Patty Chang, Fear List, 2020. 9 minutes. Video still. Courtesy of the artist.
Patty Chang: In the summer of 2018, I was overwhelmed by feelings of anxiety in relation to climate change and the current state of affairs in the United States.  I decided to make a list of everything I was afraid of at that moment. It was a relief to know that some of my fears were irrational, but it was equally scary to know that consequential things were out of my control.

Since February 2019 I’ve been working on Milk Debt, a multi-part video project of women pumping breast milk while reciting lists of fears. The fears are collected from various communities in specific geographical regions.

The title Milk Debt refers to the idea in Chinese Buddhism that a child is forever indebted to its mother for the milk she gave. Breast milk is created when the body starts to produce the hormones prolactin and oxytocin. Oxytocin is also produced when one is in love.  Milk debt is an arrangement that binds us to our history and to the earth. It is an unpayable debt. 
The performance acts as a type of ritual in which the performer channels the fears of others into public speech, in turn, transforming them from the individual into the communal.


Patty Chang is an artist working in performance, video, writing, and installation. Her work has a capacity to explore complex subjects nearly simultaneously, as does life.

Born in 1972 in San Leandro, California, Chang received her BA from the University of California, San Diego, in 1994. Her work has been exhibited nationwide and internationally at such institutions as the Museum of Modern Art, New York; Guggenheim Museum, New York; New Museum, New York; ; BAK, Basis voor actuele Kunst, Utrecht; the Hammer Museum, Los Angeles; Fri Art Centre d’Art de Freibourg, Switzerland; Chinese Arts Centre, Manchester, England; the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago; the M+ Museum, Hong Kong; the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; the Times Museum in Guangzhou, China; and the Moderna Museet, Stockholm. She has received a United States Artists Fellowship, Rockefeller Foundation Grant, a Creative Capital Award, a finalist for the Hugo Boss Prize, a Guna S. Mundheim Fellow in the Visual Arts at the American Academy in Berlin, a John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellow, an Anonymous Was a Woman Grant. She teaches at the University of Southern California. She lives and works in Los Angeles.