It’s disconcerting for sure, even strange. But is it funny?
Felix Bacolor’s Meet Your Meat (Gallery 1, West Gallery, West Avenue) had the latter as goal, and yet it isn’t so much a sense of humor that this exhibit requires. Maybe a sense of irony? Maybe just a snicker – the physiological act, not the candy bar.
Because in fact, eating will be the last thing on your mind once you see Meet Your Meat. From outside the tiny gallery, the amount of meat across the space is startling; within the gallery, it is everything and disconcerting.
On the main wall are three huge images of stark white trays with individual slabs of raw meat: a drumstick here, some steaks there. The paleness of the chicken beside the bloody redness of the beef brought on an involuntary crinkling of the nose: images of raw meat, I realize, can only evoke memories of wet markets, with its ironic stench of freshness.
Smaller versions of these digitally modified images of raw meat make up the Warhol-inspired bigger work in front of the gallery. While this is a little less disconcerting because it isn’t extraordinarily larger than life, the discomfort does lie in the fact of its smallness, i.e., it almost seems like something that we would still possibly eat, although we’d fear growing a finger given what looks to be the size of a genetically modified animal.
But what does evoke an amount of fear in this exhibit is the stainless steel meat grinder that seems to be centerpiece. From outside the gallery, the grinder atop a wooden table looks like it’s spewing out raw meat in its various shades of red to pale pink. It doesn’t just require a crinkled nose, it begets a certain amount of disgust. Inside the gallery, the disgust turns into astonishment: what a good pair of hands can do with clay and some color.
On opposite walls of the gallery are two smaller works. One is an installation of a stainless steel meat tray made in China, which evokes the coldness of raw, unencumbered, meat. The other is what looks like a puzzle from our childhoods: cartoon-like images of a pig, cat and cow are cut up into 16 squares scrambled across a square frame. The goal should be to rearrange the pieces and complete the puzzle. In Bacolor’s installation, the manner in which the animals are cut up are telling of the meat parts we end up eating: the chicken’s legs and wings and breast, the pig’s snout and belly, the cow’s ribs and loin. The interest is necessarily sustained by a work such as this, given one’s gut reaction to “solve” a puzzle, yes?
At the same time, an exhibit such as this can really only be puzzling. On the one hand, there is the surprise and astonishment that sustains interest; on the other, there is the gut reaction of disgust that makes it too easy to walk out of, or not even walk into, the gallery.
One’s reaction to the real images of raw meat vis a vis the cartoon painting seems like a difficult test you can’t pass. Or, given that there’s no delicious cooked food in sight, i.e., no food as we know it, this could also be a cruel joke: we are being reprimanded as meat-eaters, being judged for what you do to those poor cartoon animals, being told of what it is you really are eating before it becomes your food.
In this sense, the gut reaction of disgust, the imagined smell, is a critique not so much of the exhibit, as it is of the meat-eater-self. That self that doesn’t care much for the meat one eats, has taken it at (cooked) face value all this time, without thinking of wherefore it comes and why. To say that this is a critique of capitalism is a stretch, but so is to say that it’s funny. Maybe in the end, all it becomes is the strangest of mirrors. The kind that reminds us as well that we are nothing but meat, just not the kind that’s made for eating. Though maybe the worst kind of animal.