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Thursday, 19 May 2016
Neat, Tidy and Organised? Dig a little deeper and you will find a wreck of a being!
I was sitting on the side of Solsbury Hill the other day looking back at the west side of Woolley Valley. There was Larkhall Athletic Football Club, the allotments, the farm with the alpacas, the rec, the field going up to the worst pub in Bath, all divided by fences and gates and roads.
And all those divisions reminded me of Mishka Henner's Feedlots, which I'd written about for the current edition of Foam Magazine. Here again, there are the divisions of land; the fences, the gates and pens control the landscape.
It's marking season in British universities so that took me back to essays I'd read on farming, and how the English landscape was shaped by the agricultural revolution of the 18th century, the enclosures act and the apparent taming of the landscape. As this happened so we went from having a mindset that is part of the land, is even subservient to the land, to one where we tower over the land. It is something expendable, to be consumed and exploited in the name of economic growth and the wealth of the nation. That's the mindset we still have now. In the UK at least.
And it occurred to me that what is interesting about Henner's Feedlots are the places where the control of the landscape, where the grid system through which we see the land (and just about everything) falls apart. They reveal the essential instability of that grid. Behind those ordered line, everything is literally being turned into a toxic wasteland. We are destroying the land, the life that lives with it, and ourselves through a psychotic imposition of imaginary systems of control. Just because we put perpendicular lines running across the land doesn't mean we understand it, or care for it, or are not destroying it. Those ordered lines are rather symbols of our destruction, our stupidity and the contempt in which we hold the land. They are symbols of a rationality that is both arrogant and ignorant in equal measure.
I think Bruce Connew's new book, Body of Work, fits into this category of revealing what lies outside the grid. I don't like the cover, but that aside it's a quite special book that touches an emotional spot that very few other books on farming or livestock will visit.
In the case of Body of Work the grid is made of the pens in which stallions and mares are coupled in thoroughbred racehorse breeding (I think they are racehorses - they look like it). And the instability comes through the coupling of the horses, through the fluids and the movement of these horses, through the dark eyes of the mare, through the dark recesses of their horse hair coats.
Body of Work is a book that shows the process of a stallion impregnating a mare. It's a controlled event and, if you know anything about horseracing and thoroughbreds, then it is quite a destructive one. It's also incredibly controlled. There's are the interiors of the stable at the stud where the 'cover' takes place, the bits, the reins, the halter, the shoes and the hands that guide everything into its correct location, all set against the erect horse penises, vaginas, streams of horse piss, and torrents of water, mucus and sweat.
It's a physical book then, and the message it sends is emotional, and really quite a dark commentary on the failings of, by extension, our treatment of livestock, of the land, of the way we distance ourselves from the world we are part of. With its emphasis on the physical and the soulful, it stands against the systems of control it sees these matings take place in. It's a sad book, a judgemental book that use the near black tones of the horses' flesh, and the highlight dashes in the mare's eyes to make a case for something better.
With its inclusion of what lies beyond the frame, you could also see it as a critique as the way in which we see the world. That might be stretching it, but what is a blog for if not stretching it. So Body of Work is about our whole method of organisation and categorisation and keeping things neat and tidy. The idea here is that look outside that ordered box and chaos reigns. There is chaos beneath our ordered landscapes, there is chaos beneath our ordered houses, there is chaos beneath our ordered minds. We can keep it at bay for a little while, but this is a self deception: one day we will wake up to find ourselves smothered by the sea of madness that our little lines and squares can't keep at bay.
See and Buy Body of Work Here