Posts Tagged ‘animal rights’
I blogged about vegetables last week. Here’s the flip side.
SPH (that’s the Singapore Press Holdings) recently ran a series of rather er, visceral ads in the Straits Times promoting The Pitch – which is what they’re calling their new “reality contest” for ad agencies to “come up with their strategic and creative best.” And if the promotional campaign for the event itself is any yardstick, the creativity bar sure is being set pretty high. The series of ads (below) feature that mainstay of the dinner table, meat, in all its red, raw, bloody glory, ranging from gruesome slaughterhouse scenes to neatly laid out cuts of flesh all ready for the pan or pot. The creative team behind these carnivore-canny visuals, the local firm Wild Advertising & Marketing, explains their otherwise inscrutable choice thus: “Our business is already fraught with macabre language such as ‘deadlines’, ‘executions’ and having ads ‘butchered’ by clients. Which ad exec hasn’t felt like a lamb being led slaughter – walking into a client presentation being less than prepared.” (See here.)
The maternal unit, who’s spent a lifetime reading the ST and looking at their parade of otherwise uninspired ads, made a point of calling my attention to these novel, if rather grim, eye-catchers.
You can read more about The Pitch at SPH’s website.
As a subject of anthropological and semiotic interrogation, meat has aroused interest since the ’60s at least, when French thinker Claude Lévi-Strauss published his seminal (if a trifle far-fetched) piece, The Culinary Triangle, in the Partisan Review quarterly in 1966. He posited that different methods of cooking meat form a triangulated model, along the three connected pathways of which these various culinary modes could be located, and said to approach either “natural” or “cultural” processes. Umm, right …
The essay in its entirety is available on Google Books.
Even earlier though, French filmmaker Georges Franju chronicled first-hand the harrowing goings-on at a Parisian abattoir in his short documentary, Le Sang des Bêtes (Blood of the Beasts). That’s no misnomer, I assure you. One of the initial scenes shows a horse being knocked out by a captive bolt* before having its neck sliced open, bled – a seemingly endless river of dark blood swirling out onto the dirty cement floor – and then gutted, severed and carved up. As for the rest of it, you’ll have to watch it for yourself (see below), because that’s about as far as I got before my insides started feeling real funny. And I certainly haven’t tried getting any further since. Le Sang is quite enough to make a vegetarian out of anyone who isn’t a trigger-happy hunting enthusiast; a shoutout to my friend, AH, who long ago made the decision to give up meat, and hasn’t wavered, or at least not to my knowledge. These days the film attracts a cult audience primarily from having been made available on the Criterion Collection’s DVD of Franju’s 1960 horror classic, Les Yeux sans Visage (Eyes Without a Face), which is worth a look.
* And any talk of cattle guns is just pointless without at least a nod to the Coens’ No Country For Old Men (2007). I managed to sit through this one only because I’d already shelled out 10 USD for a ticket. Still one of the creepiest, stomach-churning-iest movies I’ve ever seen, bar none.
Le Sang des Bêtes, part 1 of 3. [Caution: very explicit, and not in a titillating way.]
Meanwhile, Franju’s documentary interests were transposed into the realm of deliciously nasty satire by fellow Frenchmen Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Marc Caro in their wicked 1991 début, Delicatessen. It tells the tale of a charcuterie owner who, in a post-apocalyptic world afflicted by an acute shortage of food, begins to butcher the tenants in his building instead, serving up his neighbours bit by paper-wrapped bit over the counter. The concern for how the human race treats its animalian fellows seems to have been overtaken by cannibalistic complexes, a trend that has persisted in the last two decades. While the specter of cannibalism has been explored in film since the notorious D-grade gore-fest, Blood Feast, appeared in 1963, and in the sci-fi dystopia flick Soylent Green (1973) – not to mention providing a gimmicky edge to The Silence of the Lambs and its sequel – movies like Deli and the Dutch black comedy The Green Butchers leave the horror and sci-fi genres behind to take a droll jibe at our most cherished dietary practices. TGB stars the ever Skeletor-ish Mads Mikkelsen (you can practically see the guy’s skull beneath his skin), who has lots of diabolical fun with meathooks and grinders and marinades, becoming a hit among the grocery-shopping housewives of his tiny town for those oh-so-tasty “Chickadees.” Even more than Jeunet and Caro’s work, TGB lifts the food film to surreal heights as a tongue-in-cheek <lol> investigation of the implications of meat-eating.
Chinese performance artist Zhu Yu shifted the terms of the debate when, as part of a piece simply dubbed Eating People, he staged a series of photographs of himself preparing and consuming what looked to be a human foetus (below). While doubts about the authenticity of his er, meal are rife, Zhu himself is on record as stating: ““Our subconscious tells us that eating babies is not right. But it is not prohibited. No religion forbids cannibalism. Nor can I find any law which prevents us from eating people. So I took advantage of the space between morality and the law and based my work on it.” The piece stirred further controversy when it was shown on BBC’s Channel 4 as part of a program on contemporary Chinese art, Beijing Swings.
What has been termed BioArt deals with living matter and its study, including tissue culture, bioengineering processes, laboratory praxis, and, of course, a whole range of organic substances like meat, animal parts and bodily fluids, representing a new paradigm, beyond the performative, for corporeal engagement in art. Some of it is highly cerebral, literally operating at the interstice between art and lab science, like the SymbioticA collective; others tend toward the deliberately shocking and provocative. The work of female Indian artists Anita Dube and Shilpa Gupta, for instance, were featured at a recent SAM show on contemporary Asian art. Dube’s Silence (Blood Wedding) co-opts actual human bones as part of a series of ornate, florid sculptures, where these remains are transformed through a covering of rich red velvet and fussy beadwork into particularly beguiling, macabre memento mori-s. Gupta, on the other hand, while not actually utilizing biological material, created numerous bottles of simulated blood to stock a grisly pharmacy. Blame (2003) stands as a critique of communal violence in India, as well as global bloodshed such as the war on terror, confronting the viewer with the horrific consequences of these hostilities cloaked in the guise of the everyday, rendering it all the more startling and affective. (Though not without certain misgivings, at least on my part.) Other Asian artists engaged in body art as shock tactics include the infamous Chinese duo Sun Yuan and Peng Yu, whose Body Link and Human Oil utilized actual human foetuses as part of their attempt to highlight the brutality of modern urban life. The artists’ site clearly notes that the materials for Body Link were a “baby cadaver (medical specimen), plastic tubing, needles, and 200 cc of blood”, and Human Oil consisted of “liquefied human fat, one male infant cadaver.” So scandalous, in fact, were the shenanigans of artists like Zhu, Sun and Peng that in 2001 the Chinese authorities banned exhibitions “involving torture, animal abuse, corpses, and overt violence and sexuality”, and any “gallery or alternative space planning to mount a show during the run of the 2002 Shanghai Biennale was required to vet its contents with censors.” (See Richard Vine’s New China, New Art [Prestel USA, 2008], p. 104-5.)
Sun Yuan & Peng Yu, Body Link (2000). Images from sunyuanpengu.com.
Sun Yuan & Peng Yu, Human Oil (2000). Image from sunyuanpengyu.com.
As a sort of subcategory of BioArt, the visual culture of meat and meat-related products has of late been attracting the attention of artists interested in issues like feminism, animal rights, and foodways. Here’s a wonderful snippet from a review of Meat After Meat Joy, an exhibition which showed at the Mahmood Daneyal Gallery in NYC in 2008, which I think serves well as an articulation of the politics and connotations of representing meat:
I sing the song of meat, of its joys and discontents. For text demanded is now text made manifest. For meat is not only murder but also medium. Not merely the flesh, bone and sinew of corporeal existence but also an aesthetic construct replete with its peculiar and innate ontology. Not just tissue but also a symbolic projection of the impolite body into the rarefied space of the contemporary art world ……
Meat is food. Meat is death. Meat is torture. Meat is production. Meat is raw, although it can be cooked. Meat is dissection, substratum, structure. Meat is the bridge between human and animal, a reminder of where we come from, of our shared morphology, and of our place in the food chain. But meat is, above all, metaphor. It drips with larger aesthetic and political implications. It is laced with the gristle of artistic effort, striated by the tendons of semiotic theory and the ligaments of art school curriculum, greased with the lard of unctuous careerism, inflamed in the rotisserie of the contemporary art market, braised on the skillet of critical acclaim or indifference, its physical wholeness challenged by entropy, time and the maggots of eventual dissolution. It is a pungent medium, and should this not be immediately apparent, just give it a day or two without refrigeration.
(Read the full review at post.thing.net.)
Some of the pieces included in the show were the well-known video work My New York (2002) by Chinese artist Zhang Huan, who wore a meat suit down the streets of the city, having evinced a longstanding concern with the human body and its fleshly constituent, as well as the American Betty Hirst, who has incorporated the motif of meat across a broad spectrum of iconographies.
Stills from Zhang Huan’s My New York (2002). Images from Style Tease.
American Flag, Betty Hirst. Image from a review at Eat Me Daily.
Hommage a Meret Oppenheim, Betty Hirst. Image from a review at Eat Me Daily.
Elsewhere, photographer-artist Dominic Episcopo had a one-man show at the Bambi Gallery in Philadelphia, entitled Meat America. A brief notice at The Urban Grocer remarks: “Through this work, Episcopo intended to celebrate his own unabashed love for meat and “the American appetite for decadent and iconoclastic deliciousness.” And for the artist, delicious it was – word on the street says Episcopo and his wife ate all the meat he photographed. Now that’s dedication.”
All images below from The Coolist.
… It’s the end of the post. There isn’t going to be any mention of Her Gaga-ness.