Eating my Still Life: The Last Meal

The Academy sends four students to enjoy a two-month residency at the Leipzig International Art Programme in the historic Spinnerei in Leipzig during the summer. Holly Ann Sailors, Aleah Chapin, Nicolas Holiber and Alexander Barton blog with us while they're on residency in Germany.

By Nicolas Holiber (MFA 2012)

When I first starting working with animal flesh, in Catherine Howe’s Comp & Design II class, we had to write a thesis about the body of work we intended to make that semester. My ideas about working with butchered animal parts centered around my love for food; specifically the communal experience of a shared meal, and the metaphysical symbolism of eating meat. Research led to me to Sue Coe’s book, Dead Meat, in which Alexander Cockburn gives an introduction on “A Short Meat-Oriented History of the World from Eden to Mattole”. In his writing Mr. Cockburn describes eating as “a moral act inextricably bound to killing” and provides a philosophical understanding of meat-eating (told by his friend, Michael), which together made up the backbone of my thesis:
“Bullocks I'd slaughter after about two years. I don't lie to my animals. I tell them the only way I know, using English, that I'm going to slaughter them. I give them as much love and care as I can. Then, when they're slaughtered they will be part of my body, part of your body. You do the same in your garden.”
A big part of my thesis was also devoted to making a meal out of my still life, large enough to feed a group of people and conceptually what that meant in my work. However, that brought on a handful of obstacles concerning meat preservation and studio practice, leaving me with a frozen, half-rotten pair of lamb legs at the end of the semester. It was only until I traveled to Leipzig that my thesis came to full realization: painting, cooking, and eating my still life together with other artists and friends. Another resident here at LIA, Italian artist Lucia Lamberti had the idea of making pasta fagioli with the hocks I had bought. I couldn’t explain to her how excited and happy I was that she had this idea and before I knew it she was slow-cooking the pork and salting the water for pasta. It was an amazing feeling, having my idea come to fruition and the only way I could thank Lucia was by eating myself into a food coma.

Four hours on the stove...
... a Masterpiece!

During the spring semester I created six large-scale, mixed media paintings; meatscapes. It was my plan to continue with these meatscapes in Leipzig however, after many failed attempts at making the same imagery something was just not working. I spent the majority of the month frustrated about not being able to continue with this type of work; it was hard for me to end a series and process of art making that was so fulfilling for me, but I was forcing it since I arrived here. In hindsight, that meal should have been the conclusion for the meatscapes and in a way it was – nothing I made after that operated coherently.

Now, a day after returning from an extended stay in Berlin where I was able to see national collections and special exhibitions, I am completely refreshed. Revisiting the figure in combination with the animal-flesh-vocabulary I have developed over the year, I plan on making a new body of work that will lead into my Master Thesis.

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