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2003, 2 x 160 x 115 cm, oil on canvas, price on request

No, it is not yet meat; it is still a dead animal.

Diptych; oil on canvas; two, 160 x 115 cm. Arabesque carcasses in strong red are superimposed on a rural, idyllic landscape shot near Bern. The colour contrast stresses the disparate representation modes. Ironically, my painting practice led me to visit the slaughterhouse of Bern. “What a strange idea,” you may say.

Well, the carcass has always appealed to painters: the famous Slaughtered Ox by Rembrandt (1655) and the Carcass by Francis Bacon (1980) testify to this attraction.

The carcass is formally very interesting, or simply beautiful: it is a strongly structured and coloured object, with vivid reds contrasting with very subtle mother-of-pearl tones. As for half-carcasses, they reveal the skeleton, such a perfect construction, fine and robust as well.

A Complex Universe

Of course, the choice of this subject is not innocent materially. I am interested in the profound symbolic strata of our relationship to animals. Blood, sacrifice, cruelty, they still strike us, even if the procedures are industrialised and aseptic, at least by all appearances. On the other hand, let us not forget the fête, the good food, and our attachment to animals. Besides, the carcass is a paradigm of the Still Life, Vanitas Vanitatum. Briefly, it is an entire complex world, a matter for thorough mental rumination (if I dare say).

Moreover, my job at the Swiss Federal Office for Agriculture (FOAG), where I closely follow food crises, made me even more aware of this topic. So for years I have nourished the project of using the carcass as a model. After a rather long digestion (if I dare say), I had an idea: making a diptych with arabesque carcasses superimposed on idyllic rural landscapes. I would like to offer my audience something to think about without making a moral judgment.

I needed models, but could not find any convincing images on the Web. So I decided to make photos myself. The experience of the slaughterhouse was not new: as I had needed horns for an exhibition in Windsor (yes, in the UK: what a coincidence!) many years ago, I went to fetch some in a British slaughterhouse. But this time, the experience was more complete.

A Moving Visit

CarcassSo one day, off I go to the Bern slaughterhouse to take some shots. An employee receives me warmly at the entrance, a real butcher: a little bit round and a little bit pink, in any case a really nice chap. Both he and his colleagues are pleased to see that someone is interested in their work without finger-wagging. Mention of the FOAG and the Proviande, an inter-professional organisation in the meat sector, perhaps helps a bit.

I get some protective plastic clothing (a cap, coat, and slippers) and we are ready for take-off. While it is too late to see the slaughter itself, the skinning and halving of the carcasses is also very impressive. Two men separate the skin from the bodies with a circular cutter while pulling it apart at full power. As for halving the carcasses with a chainsaw, this show is rather crude. An aura of archaic sacrifice adds to the image par excellence of modern industrial efficiency.

One experience touches me particularly, both literally and metaphorically: while walking in the hall, it is nearly impossible to avoid contact with carcasses, which hang everywhere and which move from one production phase to another. So I bump into a corpse of a huge imposing ox. And although it is perfectly logical, I am nevertheless astonished that the body is quite warm.

No, it is not yet meat; it is still a dead animal.

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