Art Crosses a Line

As an individual who has owned and loved horses, I find that the new Art Gallery of SA exhibit “We are all flesh” by Berliner De Bruyckere has crossed that line of acceptability being likely to offend and disgust. This display, utilising the actual skins of dead horses, is confronting, macabre and grotesque and likely to surprise and shock many members of the public who encounter it. I do not care that it purports to awaken people to animal suffering at the hands of humanity – I do not like it. The photograph in the paper is bad enough; I certainly do not wish to go and gawk at it in person. So much so, that my wife is now angry that I know longer wish to attend a function there that she has already paid good money for us to attend. What is next? Skinned, dead people to depict the horrors of war?


About adelaidepete

Now live in Adelaide South Australia and have always worked in Systems & Software Engineering. I am enjoying commenting on, suggesting and discussing innovative solutions to problems and useful risk mitigation strategies and recently interested in the realm of public policy re urban planning & disasters - the focus of this blog. I am interested in technology, gadgetry, enhancing productivity & functionality, urban planning, military thinking and public policy. I enjoyed periods I spent in USA (Reston, Virginia Beach & Dallas) & Europe (Germany, Spain, Italy & Greece) but genuinely love Australia, most people, animals, singing, dancing & life.
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2 Responses to Art Crosses a Line

  1. Upon encountering Berlinde De Bruyckere’s We are all flesh for the first time, I didn’t know what to think or feel, although I was overwhelmed by its emotional charge. One of our curators was moved to tears upon seeing the work, and I understand that this may well be the response from some members of our audience.

    Many have argued that in the last century or so, with the advent of mass media, art has lost its power to move us and to make us think deeply about the world we inhabit. However art still has that power and it still has the capacity move us.

    Art should never leave you cold. I never cease to be moved by Goya’s Disasters of War series, graphic depictions of the horrors of war printed after the artist’s death (the Gallery holds the complete series in its collection). I want to nurture understanding and open-mindedness and to this end, art today can be as profound as it has been in the past.

    When the Gallery acquired Patricia Piccinini’s Big Mother we were cautioned against its acquisition by some members of the community. It was feared that Piccinini’s work was too graphic for the younger members of our audience. Big Mother has proven to be a defining acquisition, one that lures thousands of visitors, including school groups, through our doors each year. The work was recently voted as one of the most popular in the collection and is currently on display in the Your Gallery people’s choice exhibition. De Bruyckere and Piccinini share the capacity to move us, to incite compassion – an emotion infrequently experienced in a contemporary world bombarded with images of violence and terror. Perhaps we have become so cynical that our own emotions cause us great surprise and consternation?

    Berlinde De Bruyckere has described her own emotional responses to death and to the treatment of animals. Her father was a butcher and a hunter and she has recalled the impression that dead animals had on her during her childhood. She remembers crying and questioning why the animals had lost their lives.

    In a recent interview, De Bruyckere comments on working with horses, ‘I don’t mean this as an aggressive statement. Once the veterinary students are finished with these bodies they go to the incinerator; it’s as though I could not accept this, couldn’t let it happen, so I took them with me and made something beautiful from them. That is how people should view them, not as dead flesh or meat, but as something living’ (From In the Flesh: Berlinde De Bruyckere by Alexandra Coghlan, The Monthly, July 2012). De Bruyckere’s work has been created in a spirit of compassion and her process is entirely humane. She works closely with the veterinary clinic at Ghent University where she can familiarise herself with the horses and when a horse dies, the veterinarians contact her so that she can cast it. The skins come from a tanner in Brussels, who otherwise prepares them for the leather industry.
    The contemplation of confronting works of art leads us to think about humanity, and our shared experience of humanity, in particular. As the title reminds us: we are ALL flesh.

    We want the Gallery to be a place that is moving and profound – and challenging. Art is here to evoke an emotional response from us —whether it’s joy or sorrow or shock and horror, it still makes us question and think about the content of the work, and thus the world we inhabit. De Bruyckere sought to re-create the horses’ former beauty and magnificence. We, the audience, can approach this work that way, or perhaps we can look for other resonances in the work.

    Adelaide is an open-minded and culturally literate community, and both the Adelaide Festival and Adelaide Fringe have played a role in forging this creative state. Since the Adelaide Festival’s inception in 1960, South Australia has played proud host to the avant-garde and the challenging – to those arts experiences that have transformed the very definition of art. We are all flesh, the Gallery’s Adelaide Fringe offering, reinvigorates the traditionally radical terrain of the Festival.

    History shows us that the edge in art over time can become the centre, and with time that the margin or boundary rider becomes the mainstream or status quo. The Impressionists and Fauves were scorned in their day, and even J.M.W. Turner, the subject of the Gallery’s forthcoming major exhibition, was dismissed and shunned by critics. His master work Regulus, when exhibited in 1828, was met with the following response: ‘suffice to say that whether you turned the picture on its side or upside down, you could still recognise as much in it’.

    The Art Gallery of South Australia is a fascinating place with an astounding collection – from the traditional to the cutting edge, and back again. Within this extraordinary collection, there has to be room for emotionally challenging experiences.

    I think it’s important that we’re all talking about art. That’s what a gallery should make its citizens do. I want the Art Gallery of South Australia to be a place for big ideas and moving experiences.

    Nick Mitzevich
    Art Gallery of South Australia

    • adelaidepete says:

      Thank you for the thoughtful analysis and your reply… However my reaction to the work was visceral and emotional rather than analytical so consideration your points can hardly allay my disquiet at needing to confront the piece in order to view the Tate Turner Collection you will soon be showing. The cultural elite of our Western World are in the habit of trampling on the sensibilities of other cultures – but to what cost?

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