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Photo by Jeff Derose

Abattoir, steel, wool, silk, casings, dimensions variable upon installation, 12x11x6 feet, 2011

Video of forging hooks

“Of course, we are meat.

We are potential carcasses.”

Francis Bacon

This year I went to a local, family run slaughterhouse in interest of understanding my relationship with, my dissociation from, and even my role in death. Recently, my work has been based on a dialogue with farming, but mostly the aesthetic side. The one we see, with sheep dotting the hillside, as we drive by in our cars. I shook to my core (and for several hours later) that day in the cold and unfamiliar building as I witnessed the slaughtering process. The recently living animals hung from the line of hooks while men worked with unimaginable skill, on the transformation, and dare I say metamorphosis, of cow to food.

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Creating hook for Abattoir, an installation for Brattleboro Museum

These oversized blackened hooks, holding up featherweight material are in contrast to the hooks I saw in the slaughterhouse.  Thin glossy hooks held up the immeasurable weight of beasts larger than I remembered from the field.  In Abattoir, the middle hook is twisted, full of lament, barely able to hold up its burden. Or perhaps, simply, it is bent from overuse.

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Ben Westbrook of BMW Ironworks

“Once the skin was off I saw myself in the forms and colors swimming around me.  I immediately understood the compulsion to make art with the subject matter of carcass. Bacon, Damien Hirst, even Rembrant joined me today in the slaughterhouse. In the mélange of sound, smell and form that my eyes could not stray from I realized this struggle to understand goes deeper than farming, than art, than death itself. It confirmed for me the human burden of consciousness.”

from my sketchbook

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The light and airy, silk and merino cobweb felt of hanging cocoons/carcasses in Abattoir have none of the familiar markings of any particular animal. They hint at both beast and human, or even Nature itself hanging from the hooks.  At the very least the three forms refer to the metamorphosis of animal to food that takes place once an animal is no longer living. The material is in stark contrast to the dense, opaque, colorful weighty meat that I witnessed hanging from the slaughterhouse hooks. The draped forms in Abattoir are ghostly, a shroud of holy cloth. There is a transcendence of death with light. The white sacs are almost empty, see-through, even full of holes. Blown up casings provide form inside. One is ripped open as if something burst out, or the material gave way from the weight.  The only colors in Abattoir are variations of black and white.  It is not my goal to shock and awe with representing reality. It is to simplify so that I may begin to understand of the vast concept of human consciousness. 

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Photo by Jeff Derose

Rembrant’s, Carcass of Beef (Flayed Ox), and Bacon’s, Figure with Meat, both include a human head in their paintings of carcasses. The viewers seen through the frame of Abattoir become our fellow witnesses, our moving contrasts to the lifeless hanging forms.

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Photo by Jeff Derose

The use of shadow on the white museum wall presents another layer, a darker, sinister side to being human. It refers to the veiled side of the New England bucolic farms that we love so much with cows dotting the hillside.

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Photo by Jeff Derose