Wednesday, October 24, 2012

In the Lion’s Den

There are agitated roars coming from the walls. The Doris McCarthy Gallery has been transformed into a restaurant for beasts, with rhythmic scratching sounds, wooden sticks for cutlery, and food plastered everywhere. Tables are lined up in rows, topped with fried eggs and sausages. The wooden cutlery skates across the plates as if driven by an invisible hand, or paw.

Courtesy of the DMG
 Laura Gutierrez is here to guide me.

“The exhibition is by Rita McKeough. It’s supposed to be a comical take on the more serious issue of food production. So basically, when you come in here, what kind of feelings do you get?”
Confusion. Anxiety. There are carrots on the walls that are screaming to be let down, shocked by the chaos and primitive hunger. The grating sounds are overwhelming. Laura tells me that the roar is supposed to represent a person’s hungry stomach. The exhibit is supposed to be a juxtaposition of how humans are fed in restaurants and public places, and how animals are fed behind closed doors. It’s meant to make you think about how food gets from factory farms to your kitchen table. The sausages skewered to the walls with sharp sticks? “They were trying to run away.”
White milk-tongues stretch out of the milk tank and glasses of milk, trying to lick you back. Wooden fish in the fish tank push to the top to be fed.
We walk over to what looks like a miniature animal pen filled with sausages. “Well, what do you think it represents?” Laura asks me.
Other than the sausages, it looks like a collection of miniature animal dung, but I don’t want to say.
Laura says, “So this is kind of poo, right?”
I laugh.
“So it’s kind of cattle who are sort of living in their own dirt in factories and industries, so they can be fed to us and turned into hot dogs. It represents how animals are treated. And what they have to go through in order for us to be fed.”
Our final stop is the back room. The door closes and the room is stifling. It looks like the remainder of the kitchen after a tornado: cracked eggs on the floor and sunny-side-up eggs flattened on the walls, piles of plates on the floor. On top of the crooked counter is a plump white animatronic chicken. Then the chicken starts screaming.
“Well this is the kitchen!” Laura says.
The hen makes terrible high-pitched cackles of laughter, a searing cacophony in the cramped room. It giggles and squawks and curls its head back in hysteria.
“Most people just laugh,” Laura says. “You look really scared right now.”
The eggs on the walls are supposed to represent eyes, watching and judging. The cracked eggs on the floor is another representation of how animals are treated.
And the chicken? “Yeah…she’s kind of gone mad, right? So I think it’s about how animals are treated, how chickens are treated, chicken farming. They have no place to stand, they’re being genetically mutated, they fall down because their muscles are so heavy. Some of them are just laying eggs so we can eat them, right? So I guess, in that way, it’s kind of like the chicken just cracked.”
Chaos, surrealism, and anxiety are words I’d use to describe The Lion’s Share by Rita McKeough at the DMG. The exhibit lasts until this Saturday.

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