Capturing carnivorousness

The ‘Flesh and blood,’ exhibition takes an up-close look at our relationship with animals

Man with mammoth tusks 521 (photo credit: NICK BRANDT)
Man with mammoth tusks 521
(photo credit: NICK BRANDT)
If your idea of a good day out is finding a leafy spot and pulling out your barbecue kit you may want to look away. Raphie Etgar certainly blinked when he got a new perspective on his own carnivorous habits. Etgar is director of Museum on the Seam but, more important, also the curator of the museum’s new exhibition, “Flesh and Blood.”
Flesh and Blood opened on Sunday and is clearly designed to tickle our conscience, and ensure we relate to the animal kingdom as more than just a source of sustenance.
The museum blurb explains the thinking behind the show as attempting “to scrutinize the existing harsh relationship between mankind and other animals, and to challenge us to show sensitivity and to face the reality of which the majority among us is not sufficiently aware. The exhibition calls upon us to look at the flesh and blood as a fabric connecting the family of animals, of which we are part, and to treat it with respect and compassion.”
This is not the first time Etgar has eschewed meat – he had two previous long stints as a vegetarian – but, as he worked on Flesh and Blood, he decided to return to a meatless diet.
“I became a vegetarian the first time when I returned from the Six Day War,” he recalls. “During the war I saw meat in all kinds of states, so when I saw it again on my plate I couldn’t ignore what is done to make it edible.”
Etgar’s second venture into a meatless world was prompted by a more audible, and emotive, experience.
“I was in a forest somewhere in the United States and I heard the cries of a pig that had been hunted,” he recalls.
“The cries were just so human, it really chilled my blood.
I never heard a human being shriek in such a human way. As Jews, of course, we are taught that the pig is an unclean animal, but it made me realize that we have to treat animals with respect, and humanely.”
That certainly comes across in the exhibition, which incorporates works by artists from here and abroad, including British photographer Nick Brandt, American video artist Bill Viola, Iraqi-born, Israeli-bred, Amsterdam-resident artist Joseph Semach, and Danish painter and South African-born Danish-resident performance artist Doris Bloom, as well as items created by local artists such as Eran Gilat, Anan Zuckerman, Shirley Faktor and Sigalit Landau.
The works follow a wide range of avenues of expression, depicting the creators’ take on the show’s thematic premise. There are highly aesthetic paintings and sculptures, items that may even elicit a smirk, if not a smile, from the visiting public, and some that are clearly intended to shake us up. The video clip of Bloom’s contribution, for instance, may put even put the stouthearted carnivore off his or her next meat meal.
Etgar makes no bones – pardon the pun – about the added value he hopes to generate via Flesh and Blood.
“People say that no work of art has ever stopped a war, or changed someone’s life philosophy, but I beg to differ,” says the curator. “There are all sorts of events and images we catch during our lifetime that leave their imprint on our way of thinking. You know there was a news report about the cruel way Tnuva treats animals [in December], which I believe can get us to adopt a different standpoint on what we eat, and where our food comes from.”
Etgar received his own jolt from an older visual work, a documentary by British Jewish filmmaker Victor Schonfeld about the exploitation of animals in modern society, called The Animals Film. The 1981 film documents what it calls “mankind’s degradation, exploitation and often pointless torture of the creatures who share our planet” and claims that “it proves, beyond contradiction, that an inherent part of our organized society including government departments, scientists, military authorities, factory farmers and university research laboratories, are motivated by their own selfish ends such as profit in money or prestige.”
“I saw the film many years ago, and I had a copy sitting in a drawer gathering dust,” explains Etgar. “I took it out and watched it and I started to think about putting this exhibition together. Schonfeld has made several documentaries on this topic, about how we torture animals, in the interest of sport and food and science and even pure entertainment. I think the film is a very important starting point.”
Screenings of The Animals Film form part of the exhibition.
Viola describes his contribution to Flesh and Blood, I Do Not Know What It Is, as “a personal investigation of the inner states and connections to animal consciousness we all carry within.”
The video artwork comprises five sections – “Il Corpo Scuro (The Dark Body),” “The Language of the Birds,” “The Night of Sense,” “Stunned by the Drum” and “The Living Flame,” and depicts a metaphysical journey of rational and intuitive thought, from the natural world to spiritual rituals. Viola says his intent is to get the viewer to consider and witness “what has always already been there but never quite seen.”
Bloom takes a sharp and definitively corporeal departure from her usual medium – canvas and paint – to try to impart the bond between human beings and animals through a chilling video clip in which the artist gets as close as she possibly can to a dead cow.
Meanwhile, Brandt has documented wildlife for many years and his monochrome creations tend to convey a sense of intimacy with the animals, which he generally captures – in a photographic sense only – in their natural habitat, and in a highly aesthetic manner. His work in Flesh and Blood, Ranger with Tusks of Killed Elephant, Amboseli, 2011, is both emotive and attractive.
On the local side of the artistic tracks, Sigalit Landau’s Gethsemane references an earlier creation that she exhibited six years ago in Berlin, which showed the ugly side of meat eating. Landau’s current exhibit portrays for the squeaky-clean flip side of that ethos.
As a biologist and medical researcher, Gilat observes tissues and organs and is constantly exposed to flesh and blood, while striving to find answers to recurring scientific questions. One of the results of his research has been his growing interest in what he calls “humanity’s arrogant attitude towards the animal world, as seen through scientific eyes.” His work, Untitled, gets that across in no uncertain terms.
Flesh and Blood clearly has an agenda, like all the Museum on the Seam’s projects.
“It is our duty and obligation to find creative ways to spread the message of change in our attitude toward animals, toward our fellow men, towards the weak and the other,” declares Etgar. 
For more information about the exhibition: 628-1278 and www.