Four busts and an image of creation. BITUMEN AND PORK was an installation to mark the post-performance cabaret of FEAST, a work by theatre company Clout at Battersea Arts Centre in 2014. The performance charted the gradual alienation of mankind through a framework of breakfast, lunch and dinner. The installation BITUMEN AND PORK was an allusion to a contemporary state of eating. If cleanliness is the artificial insemination of swine and the electric floors of the abattoir, then, the disfigured state of modern eating is in the true industrial aesthetic of such acts.
Normal production at our studios takes the form of bronze casting. Butley Mills is a foundry specialising in the archaic method of Italian Lost Wax. In my own work, I have taken dead animals through the process of casting itself. The majority of organic materials burn away, leaving the vacant space necessary for the bronze to fill and reconstruct what was lost. This includes bodies with hair, feathers, and bones intact. Curiously, crustaceans and the odd tooth seem resilient to the process. Otherwise, the smaller birds and animals I’ve sent to the kiln have always returned as solid metal casts.
In the case of the severed pig’s head, the central motif in BITUMEN AND PORK, the scale of the skull and fleshy matter would have resulted in a solid mass far too heavy to justify in casting terms. An intermediary step was therefore required.
A knife was used to push silicon rubber into the details of the nose and eyes and gradually to coat the flesh.
Along with another member of the studio, I endeavoured to take a life-cast from the severed head of a pig (reared just over the road), producing a rubber mould of the head and ears in three parts. We amended the viscosity of a silicon rubber, before the pig’s head was smothered in the fast-setting mixture. A knife was used to push the substance into the details of the nose and eyes and gradually to coat the flesh.
The rubber catalyst thankfully prevented the continuation of the rubber too far into the head itself. Plaster was applied over the top of the hard-set rubber to hold the shape and the original pig was finally reclaimed from inside. Its final resting place was a neighbouring ditch (and then, it would seem after a visit many months later, a fox burrow nearby).
Our repetitive output felt comfortably aligned with the principles of industrial-scale food production as the original foodstuffs were lost in the process.
Alongside this process of recording a piggish likeness, we systematically dipped and bound cloth in bitumen, treated with a final shower of plucked feathers. A pulley-system between two beams allowed this ‘chicken bunting’ to be drawn along, each panel tacked onto the twine with a needle and thread. A small hook threaded through additional chicken ‘clusters’ allowed the bitumen to hang and cure along the ceiling of the studio.
The scale of the enterprise quickly saw the rubber mould disfigured in the ceaseless application of plaster and output of multiple herculite pigs. The studio was thoroughly tarred and feathered. As the pair of us continued in the assembly, the final forms of the installation were refracted further and further from the wholesome ingredients we began with.
It occurred to me then that a better parallel to the performance’s own dark logic could not have been struck. Our repetitive output felt comfortably aligned with the principles of industrial-scale food production. The original foodstuffs were lost in the process, reduced in the same terms as animal goods sped through a food-processing plant.
Organic, sustainable, bio-dynamic, local foods are synonymous with high prices and a sense of gentrified entitlement. Our own region has become a tourist destination for good and ‘honest’ eating; Suffolk produce is a brand in its own right. The curious status of nutritional, sustainable food as something somehow fetishised and decadent seemed a fitting reversal of Clout’s theme to communicate the same, essential, social concern.
In perhaps a fitting final parallel for the rarefaction of good eating, I have since cast a bronze copy of the swine – a final upgrade from the real pork.
Part of The Learned Pig’s Clean Unclean editorial season, March-May 2015.