Stockholm, Andres Serrano and chicken carcasses

Christian took me on a surprise holiday at the end of last Month and I didn’t know where we were going until the connecting flight. I was on cloud nine! We went to Stockholm – a beautiful city with grand architecture, plenty of interesting museums, great bars, restaurants, parks and even saw my first Moose (The living animal kind not the chocolate variety).

Amongst the many museums in Stockholm is the Fotografiska museum in an old industrial-looking building by the water. http://fotografiska.eu We were fortunate enough to catch an exhibition of Vee Speers’ beautiful – somewhat whimsical and fantastic portraits of children. In stark contrast we also saw an Andres Serrano restrospective, including his infamous “Piss Christ” ( 1987) about which much has been written. This work caused great controversy at the time of its unveiling and was in fact vandalized by some radical and presumably deeply offended, christians. See: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2011/apr/18/andres-serrano-piss-christ-destroyed-christian-protesters  

Whilst I am not surprised that some religious persons may have been offended by the title alone of “Piss Christ”, it was not at all problematic for me as an atheist. What I found disturbing were the close up images of semen and blood, or blood and urine. When I looked upon these abstract works I had the same physical repulsion as when I see surgical procedures on television or when being told a graphic story about a misfortune involving corporeal damage. It’s an icky sensation as if a shot of liquid metal has been injected into my veins and I have to shake the feeling out – literally. Many people have a similar reaction to the visceral – its perceived as the abject other, the internal body, the body only shared with those very intimate to you, and even then there are limits. Andres Serrano created these works in the 90’s when AIDS was a big topic. There was a lot of fear and paranoia surrounding bodily fluids at the time, and Serranos works definitely captures that feeling.

Seeing Serrano’s work reminded me of my own visceral and apparently disturbing works of earlier years. In 2001-2003, I created art performances and video installations in which I was cutting open supermarket prepped and packaged chicken carcasses. This caused a lot of shock -horror reaction from viewers, much to my surprise – perhaps as I had sewn baby doll heads, and limbs to these carcasses, stuffed them with red meat  and was then performing mock surgery upon them. ( of course a few thought this pretty funny but most not). The connection (whether conscious or not) between food (chicken) and human baby simulacra (doll) was incongruous and disturbing in this context as one animal is seen as food and the other as a beloved member of the family, raising the perplexing question of why were the two conjoined? At the time, there was a lot of hype around  biotechnology, transgenics and GM’s potentially hazardous and monstrous mutations. The works I made reflected the fear associated with this whilst also, I now realise, questioning our very perception of animals as products to be consumed and exploited for our own “benefit”.

I have included an image of one of my “chicken-dolls”…  have to say that seeing these again after so long is rather inspiring..

chickendoll 1

Claude Jones_chickendoll_1, Still image from “The Science of Butchery”, 2002, a video installation exhibited at Woods Gerry gallery, Providence, USA, 2002 and at Intersections, (Art, Health and Science Symposium), Sydney College of the Arts, Australia, 2003