Interspecies @ Cornerhouse, Manchester

Artists exploring gray areas: Interspecies at Manchester Cornerhouse until March 22. Four new pieces that attempt to work with animals, not as subjects of their art, but “as equals”. The artists involved include performance artist Kira O’Reilly, whose piece involved 36 hours living, sleeping and eating, with a pig called Delilah. You can read  O’Reilly’s blog about the experience on her site here.

It’s not the first time O’Reilly has worked with pigs, though last time it was with a dead one, and the Daily Mail was incensed. “IT’S ART SAYS THE NAKED WOMAN WHO’LL HUG A DEAD PIG ON STAGE” ran the headline to a piece that accompanied her 2006 performance in Newlyn.

Interspecies has been curated by Arts Catalyst, an organisation that works in that strange but sometimes extremely productive space of the Venn diagram between arts and science. They partnered with us to run the Nuclear Forum at the end of last year with Gustav Metzger and James Acord – exploring the depths of another subject that often goes undiscussed.

The power of the subject of Interspecies is the way in which it encounters our increasingly uncomfortable relationship with animals. As any anthropologist will tell you, animals have always been the subject of taboos – which ones you should eat, and which ones you should stroke.

Post-industrial society assumes it’s past such primitive notions as taboos. OK, sex is everywhere in these days, but try asking people when they last saw a dead body? In our society death, as natural a process as sex or birth,  has become invisible. Victorians used to hold dinner parties in graveyards; you’d get arrested if you tried that now.

I was talking to the designer Julia Lohmann recently; she is the creator of the cow bench – a single cow’s hide stretched over a wooden skeleton that ends up looking uncomfortably like the animal that surrendered its skin for us. It’s physically uncomfortable to sit on too, but that’s the point. Lohmann is in fact a passionate animal lover. When she returned from a spell working on a farm to London she saw an advertisement for dinosaur-shaped chicken nuggets that so disturbed her that she set out on a process that ended with making a sofa that looked like what it really was.

And, as O’Reilly’s work suggests, our relationship with meat has never been stranger.

Go to RSA Arts & Ecology Blog