Fangirl moment: these two pictures are truly amazing and continue to delight me – on the left Professor Lori Gruen author of Entangled Empathy, sits beneath and also discusses boobscape for a video on Animaladies, Sydney, 2016. On the Right: Carol Adams (author of The Sexual Politics of Meat) and myself standing under a second much larger iteration of boobscape, installed as part of SPOM: Sexual Politics of Meat Exhibition, The Animal Museum 2017. Of course Gruen and Adams together also edited the incredible ‘Ecofeminism’, and have written many other influential and important texts. I am so lucky to have had the opportunity to meet these women – I have to pinch myself!
Featured in this great article in Art Guide on the rise of animal-centric art in Australia by artist/writer/curator Maddi Boyd – http://artguide.com.au/art-plus/dont-put-bird-rise-rise-animal-centric-art-australia
How can the use of traumatic knowledge drive the development of new visual languages of empathy and testimony? My recent sculptural series boobscape draws upon knowledges of the lives and deaths of dairy cattle. The madness and somewhat garbled hysteria of the witness, the repetitive compulsion to share and reveal, the necessity to communicate to another, and the inability or struggle to find shared language can also be the productive and generative force of animalady.
Skinning days. The bodies are taken down from their hanging position, and rubbed with talc, rubbing into the crevices, the pits, the groin. A sharp scalpel makes a cut through the skin, and then the process of skinning commences, pulling and rubbing down, pulling, stretching, releasing, it is an ugly task, on par with creating meat lumps from skulls. I’m sometimes callous with my little objects. Sometimes their grip on me is too strong, their tenderness fragility and exposure is too painful to bear. I become meat worker, butcher, in order to do this work, and I make amends [regrettably useless] with small objects. I counterbalance the butchering with the endless work of reparation.
Trauma and empathic witnessing erupt into the creative production processes, creating a divergence of methodologies and materialities, such as; tenderness, care, violence, damage and reparation. These contradictory methods are born not only from the witnessing but the trauma of bearing witness, and the maddening frustration of being positioned as the radical vegan freak, the out-there irrational-nutty-screw-loose-mushy-softy-weirdo-bunny-hugger-animal-lover.
Sometimes I stand at the edge of butchers shops, normally I rush by them, their smell envelops me, covers me in a layer of flesh and fatty tissue, the thick smell of cold death. I wonder at how normal this all seems to people, these lumps of bodies laid out, creatures whose lives were given and taken from them for a meal. How invisible yet visible the atrocity is.
boobscape alludes to milking machines, multi-breasted goddesses, boundary crossings and infringements between human and non-human animals, the abject and transgressive possibilities of milk and motherhood. boobscape is a monstrous amalgamation of paradoxical mammaries; breasts and udders, teats and nipples, droopy, full and empty. The pieces grow together on the wall like mold. They linger discordantly between beauty and horror, between empathy and erasure, in doing so they develop the abject languages of empathic relations with our nonhuman fellow creatures.
Thrilled that Lori Gruen discusses my work in this video
“and this work is also meant to be in a very deep way, an empathetic work, and part of what’s happening is we’re meant to understand our embodiment and the embodiment of dairy cows, who are not thought to be worth thinking about need to be thought about and need to be paid attention to. And I think this work does this beautifully, and horribly … it does the messaging in a way that is really shocking, and importantly shocking, so it is political work, it’s political art in an important way, but it is also meant to evoke a certain type of empathetic engagement with other female bodies.”
Lori Gruen – Interview Animaladies: (2:40-4:00)
Lots of fun exhibiting along with the other artists at Animaladies, Interlude Gallery, Sydney. Big thanks to Sharon Billinge for install help, Amber & Richard for wadding deliveries. The curators Maddi Boyd, Melissa Boyde, Yvette Watt. And of course Yamini Narayanan for taking better documentary photos than me! Also photos available at Interlude Gallery website
This coming week is busy – presenting at PSi#22 – Fleshy Encounters: Performing Responsibilities in a time of ecological crisis with creative writers Sue Pyke and Hayley Singer. Exhibition- Animaladies at Interlude Gallery, Glebe, and presenting Empathic Udder-ness: Witnessing and the traumatic imagination at the conference.