Now showing at Berlin's Altes Museum, Meat presents depictions of flesh in contemporary and ancient art that reveal an ongoing conflict between the living and the dead in human culture.
Meat has been a central component of cultural life for millennia, a highly symbolic source of sustenance, and sometimes evil, that reveals the transition between life and death.
An exhibition titled Meat (Fleisch in German) at the Altes Museum in Berlin explores the complex relationship between humans and the body — including its flesh — through a plethora of objects held in Berlin museum collections.
In addition to contemporary artists such as Vanessa Beecroft, Christian Jankowski and Bruce Nauman, archaeological, ethnological and historical art objects ranging across 5,000 years of human history are presented in an effort to understand our relationship to meat.
After the exhibition "Beards – Between Nature and Razor" in the Neues Museum that explored the cultural history of facial hair, Meat is the latest thematic show that draws from the 12 collections of the Berlin State Museums.
With Meat, the team of young curators were able to chew on a diverse topic that is full of possibilities, said curator Anika Reineke, who also integrates objects from the Alte Nationalgalerie into the exhibition.
"We were are able to do all kinds of things that can fit," she said of the inter-thematic show that showcases meat's diverse cultural significance. "Meat is part of all of us; even for those who find the subject controversial."
More questions than answers
The general, single-word title for the exhibition was deliberately chosen to leave it open to interpretation, to raise questions instead of giving answers.
"The exhibition is focused on the objects and the interpretation is left to the visitors," said Reineke of a show that provides little written explanation about objects that should speak for themselves.
The meat theme was classified into three sub-concepts, namely food, cult and body. It is through these ever-intersecting realms that humans negotiates their relationship to flesh.
Meat is food
Among the more contemporary art works on show, Christian Jankowski's video Die Jagd (The Hunt, 1992–1997), takes us on a journey through the the local supermarket to highlight the alienation of animals and the packaging of their flesh that marks the modern food industry.
The subject of meat as food is taken up via diverse objects. In particular focus is the pig, the only animal bred exclusively as a meat source.
The picture story by Ludwig Emil Grimm showing the life, death, and afterlife of a sow depicts the emotionally-charged fate of an individual pig; while the clinical descriptions in the handbook for sanitary and administrative workers at an American industrial slaughterhouse around 1900 offer a more sober and objective view on the animal.
Meat is cult — and body
Animal meat often occupies a central place in almost all religions, especially in terms of dietary rules. Cultic rituals ranging from animal to human sacrifice also often take a central place within individual religious societies.
Within the exhibition, meat is also explored through the Christian narrative of the body of Christ, and through religious offerings of flesh from antiquity to the present day.
The body as a transient foundation of life is closely interwoven with cultural and political struggles and the exhibition presents diverse objects representing birth and decay, symbols of fertility and lust murder.
A diverse accompanying program
"Some visitors will say that they lack information, that they do not learn enough. But it's not the text but the objects themselves that tell their story," said Anika Reineke.
The show's inter-thematic approach and effort to create "meaningful juxtapositions of objects from the institution's universal collections," is further apparent in the diverse accompanying program that picks up on some of the topics and questions that are not extensively dealt with in the exhibition.
This will include discussions between a food activist, a communication scientist and sex-positive feminist, who will talk about the lust for meat and the relationship between body and mind.
In addition, a tattoo and suspension artist and specialist in plastic and aesthetic surgery will discuss external modifications and self-created bodies.
Meat runs June 1 through August 31 at Berlin's Altes Museum