Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Heart Art and Meat Ethics

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As I mentioned in several of the videos a few posts back on Words of Traitors, one of the primary dioramas that I'm using to stage the art in WoT was based on a hypnogagic state, a half-dream image of a pulsating heart with wires linking to various images and fragments of written text that represent the emotions binding us to the past -- but which also fixate us in time at all. It got me thinking, or feeling, really, a sense of the Bardo. I came out of the state crying, and cried for quite some time before I determined that I should attempt to build something like what I had seen.

It wasn't ever meant to be a statement about food. As a meat eater, I don't see any sense in the ritual and artistic use of organs to be any more wasteful than eating it. But we'll get to that in a minute, because that isn't why I made this thing. It isn't, in other words, what the heart is meant to evoke.

The heart generally symbolizes emotion for some reason or other, though it is especially funny to me when people eat hamburgers but get freaked out by organs. I simply wanted to approach the dream image as directly as I could.

Sure though, let's talk a bit about food, or meat, at any rate. I still find it a little funny. Americans don't like bones, or heads. I am always getting amused glances from the people at the fish market when I have to insist "head on, please." (The cheeks are tasty, and I like to be as aware as possible of what it is that I am doing. If I am to be an omnivore I don't want to neurotically turn away from it. I talk about this more here.)

But since it comes up, I figure ritualistic use is probably better than most cow hearts get post mortem- I just wish more of them were treated better while they are alive. This is the crucial issue for me if we are to talk about the use of animal or plant matter for any purpose whatsoever: how we treat them, and one another, while they are alive. Though I eat meat I do everything in my power to purchase meat locally farmed, from farms that don't industrialize their processes to the extent that a cow cannot be a cow. But you are free to make your own decisions on this issue, as all of us should be, unless if you propose fascism.

There is too much to say on all sides of this issue if we don't hone in on one bottom line: everything dies. I am all for lovers eating my organs except I don't think they will be much good by then (nevertheless I once had a lover with dibs on my heart--I don't know if she still wants it--and my wife wants my teeth. The others are still up for grabs, I suppose.) It is to the living that life must deal with, and with the transition to and from -- as Burroughs points out, there is no knowing if perhaps we have already died and are in the Bardo process at this very moment -- but of death itself, that is of the matter left behind, we see a sort of cultural shadow cast upon the cells as they are quickly consumed by bacteria.

The Tibetan traditional way is to cut up bodies for vultures. Quite a difference from the Greeks, where it was such humiliation to leave Hector out for the crows. In India, where a friend/artist I've worked with spent several years now, of course they partially burn humans before putting them in the Ganges. Goat sacrifice is just about nonstop in Calcutta, (they eat it all), yet they would never touch a cow. My friend and fellow artist William Clark spent quite some time with tantrics and aghoris, or just generally hanging out at the charnal grounds. I drank whiskey out of a human skullcap with him. We talk a bit about this before his most recent trip to India here.

I find it all fascinating and bizarre, the taboos we have about life and the body. Happy I incidentally butted against one without even intending to. The dream image I had called for a heart and it seemed a safer bet than a human.

Yet I have received more reaction in private from people about this element of the piece than the piece itself. It's a heart, it's a heart, it's a heart! How great! How terrible! How could you! At first I was amused, then irritated, and finally annoyed for a different reason, which is that I feel like the intention of the piece itself gets lost behind this non-issue.

It is a non-issue because, unless we want to have a discussion about the very foundation of food ethics--which is a worthwhile conversation but not what this piece is about--then the simple fact is that a butcher had a heart, already cut, which was set for the trash bin if I hadn't have taken it and turned it into a ritual object. Is this more of a debasement than throwing it away, out of sight? Maybe that is the real heart of the matter. (Sorry. I couldn't help myself.) It is right there, not hidden. We have to contend with it. We have to feel the ventricals, watch the blood drip out. And we lose sight of the symbol for which the body can stand in -- because as much as symbols are created by the body, so too in a weird way the body is created by symbols.

On another note, creating these dioramas and collages physically has given my a great deal of inspiration toward building mini sets in the future which could be filmed with micro lens and animated through puppetry, air pumps, light changes, camera motion, and of course after effects and digital "wizardry." It is very hard work, very time consuming--but I really love how this turned out and can't wait to for instance integrate it with what we do for the Nyssa trailer, or possibly music videos in the future...

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