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The Body Meets Meat

Over the last month, I have been playing with new ways to display the commonality between the human body and animal meat, with the aim of increasingly bodily awareness and sense of the abject in an audience. It's been an interesting time for messing around with different mediums too, dabbling in photography, moving image work, and 3D structures.

I began by taking close up photographs of meat from the butchers and of my own skin, I wanted to show these image together to create a more blatant marrying of the two as I felt that the work I was making previously was not quite getting the message across, while it was fun, it was just too vague. This new work was far more inspired by abject and actionist artists of the late 20th century, so perhaps a more serious twist to the recently more absurd imagery I've been experimenting with. I felt it best to strip it back to basics to then evaluate what was working well and build upon that. I thought about displaying the images of animal meat and human skin side by side, but it was just not very visually stimulating. So, using Adobe Photoshop, I layered the images over each other, as if the flesh was showing through the skin. I feel that this links nicely to Julia Kristeva's discussion of the abject, with the blurring of the interiors and exteriors of the body being explicitly displayed. It made me think of Mona Hatoum's 'Corps Etranger', with the uncovering of something inside, making our own familiar bodies almost alien. However, due to their obviousness, they don't leave a huge amount of room for interpretation. The second image seems to work better than the other two because it's not so clearly meat, it has more of that alienness to it, a wet visceral quality that the others seem to be missing. The first image is definitely the weakest, it doesn't feel like a close examination, and having the thumb in it just doesn't make a lot of sense to the image, both in terms of context and composition. Another weakness of the work is its display, which is something that I hadn't really experimented with at the time. The rectangular dimensions don't feel like they relate to the body but rather to the screen or frame. Therefore, the visceral qualities of the work are somewhat diminished.

After reflecting upon the work I decided to mess around with the imagery in a more playful way in a physical space - after all, the corporeal body does exist in the physical world and less so in the digital or 2 dimensional. With prints of the images, I messed around in the studio, making them into simple 3D structures. I wanted them to be particularly uncomplex because I wanted to represent the body in the most simple way and not allude to it being a complicated form. The pieces needed to represent the basic meatiness of the human form. So I stuck with the idea of tubular structures to start with, some with the skin images on the outside and meat images on the inside to continue with this interior-exterior play, and others with the combined edits. These ones were about the height of a person to try and connect the 'I' (the audience) with the 'other' (the sculpture) through a physical similarity. These were really fun to make and I think they worked quite well in their more playful nature. However, to expand on this idea, it would be interesting to make multiple of these and present them all in a large space, as if they are people that an audience could walk between. I tested putting a speaker inside one, playing audio of a text piece that I previously wrote about meat. Perhaps each one could have a different voice coming out of it, maybe saying more mundane things. I could just record various conversations that I hear when out and about or on the phone.

I went on to experiment with other formats of layering the body and meat, this time using projection. In a dark room, I projected images of meat onto my own body and took photographs of this. Whilst the aesthetics were quite visually striking with the stark contrast between black and red, I didn't feel that these were particularly strong pieces but, instead, a good starting point for something larger. I wanted to carry this dangerous, horror-like red colouring forward and the visually interesting use of projection. The main issue with this series is I am using my own gendered body, which skews the contexts to a more feminist perspective, drawing comparisons between meat and women specifically. This alludes to the discussion of women being a piece of meat or objects in the male gaze, which is something I wish to avoid as it does not represent my contexts.

Developing from this photography work, I decided to play with using projection over the body in a moving image format. I used more performative techniques to represent auto-cannibalism, focusing on the body as meat, the inception of bodily interior and exteriors, and consumption and primality. By speeding the footage up and experimenting with vivid colours, the work becomes more gruesome and sinister, even though nothing particularly vile was actually happening. I split the video into three sections, like acts in a play, the first blurring an image of skin and an image of meat, which was a development of the previously discussed digital collage work, the second being a montage of clips of me "eating" myself, and the third being a piece of appropriated and edited footage of a steak decaying. This was a way to direct the audience step by step, first comparing the human body to animal meat, the second displaying primality, and the third showing the inevitable mortality of the human form. This was paired with a recording of the same meaty spoken word piece as I used before for the sculptural work. I added in various pieces of music, taken from horror films and edited. This created a tense and strange atmosphere that added to this unsettling and sinister feeling. The message came across pretty strong in a critiquing session, and even when the message wasn't fully grasped, the atmosphere was definitely felt. This was the first time making a connection between not just meat and the body, but also understanding the implications of this, how (with that fact) the body is also vulnerable and mortal, which is something that I wish to take forward in my work to make my contexts have more depth. This piece inspired me to start looking into horror films, specifically body horrors, which always display this fleshy vulnerability and our fears of death. The aesthetic and sound choices are something that I feel were strong and would like to take forwards but perhaps in a less serious and more playful way. The seriousness of the work is just not as exciting or complex as the more comical work. Not knowing whether to laugh or cringe is far more enjoyable, and creates an automatic reaction even if the work is not fully understood. Laughing at a serious topic feels more engaging for both me as an artist making the work and the audience viewing it than being too serious about the subject. And since I don't feel that we should take ourselves too seriously because of the nature of absurd meaninglessness, it does not even feel particularly true to the contexts.


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