Fresh Meat Rituals: Confronting the Flesh in Performance Art
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Meat entails a contradictory bundle of associations. In its cooked form, it is inoffensive, a normal everyday staple for most of the population. Yet in its raw, freshly butchered state, meat and its handling provoke feelings of disgust for even the most avid of meat-eaters. Its status as a once-living, now dismembered body is a viscerally disturbing reminder of our own vulnerable bodies. Since Carolee Schneeman's performance Meat Joy (1964), which explored the taboo nature of enjoying flesh as Schneeman and her co performers enthusiastically danced and wriggled in meat, many other performance artists have followed suit and used raw meat in abject performances that focus on bodily tensions, especially the state of the body in contemporary society. I will examine two contemporary performances in which a ritual involving the use of raw meat, an abject and disgusting material, is undertaken in order to address the violence, dismemberment and guilt that the body undergoes from political and societal forces. In Balkan Baroque (1997), Marina Abramović spent three days cleansing 1,500 beef bones of their blood and gristle amidst an installation that addressed both the Serbo-Croatian civil war and her personal life. In The Burden of Guilt (1997), Tania Bruguera slowly ate a bowl of dirt over the course of an hour under the weight of a slaughtered lamb in her living room that she had opened to the public. Though these works differ in intent and the socio-political context from which they emerge, they both exemplify the use of raw meat as a medium uniquely suited to express the anxieties of the vulnerable body. Both artists rely on an abject meat ritual in order to confront and possibly transcend the violence and horror that threaten their individual bodies as well as the traumatic experiences of the collectivities they represent. These collectivities include the war-torn and stereotyped Balkans that Abramović represents or the Cuban citizenry burdened by an oppressive regime that Bruguera embodies. Both artists, however, use their bodies in rituals that reflect the universal human condition.
Table of Contents
Introduction -- The impossible cleanse: Marina Abramovic and Balkan Baroque -- Eating dirt: Tania Bruguera and the Burden of Guilt -- Conclusion