We are aware of the wretched circumstances and short duration of the life of a broiler in a production plant, though we prefer not to think of this as a wide-scale animal Holocaust. Many choose to disregard, or at least to disbelieve the images animal rights activists show of animals in production plants. Broiler meat is refined into unrecognizable filets so that we can forget its origin. Eating meat can cause feelings of repressed guilt.
On the other hand, our minds are haunted by the kinds of archetypal images of the agrarian world, which marketing and media effectively use. A sweltering summer’s day, rippling fields of hay. Free-range leghorns roam at will in a red ochre painted courtyard, where a matron dressed in a spotless apron feed them grain. The meat of such an animal is healthy, tender, organic. This vision is completed by the image of clean, white, free-range eggs, still warm from the nest, which children gather in the mornings into little baskets.
A free, live bird is a magnificent creature. It can fly, navigate, migrate, sing, lay eggs and reproduce in many challenging environments. Birds can be big or tiny. Bird species have evolved to their environments, their capacity to adapt to very scarce and harsh circumstances makes the mass growing of broilers in production plants possible.
Broilers are un-birds. After their insignificant and pointless life, they are executed and decapitated. The form of a broiler brings to mind conflicting associations. A broiler is at once a pathetic wretch and a hysterically comic, nearly foetal figure, which brings out our protective instincts. A dead broiler resembles many living creatures before they become living creatures. My fibreglass sculpture Holidays in the Sun is largely based on these juxtapositions.
In my work, three broiler sculptures bathe in a heart shaped pool, which has a stone structure in its centre, resembling a sauna stove. Water is spouting from the stove. There are three broilers, a balanced number, as in the Holy Trinity, the three wise men of the Bible, Donald Duck’s three nephews, the Three Musketeers, the love triangle ménage a trois or the three Graces of art history.
For their size, the characters in the work could be turkeys or other force-fed poultry. They represent the same species, yet each has its own individual characteristics. The broilers are unnatural, artificially moulded, primed and trimmed to extremes, travesties of healthy and happy birds.
The golden broiler is the Gladstone Gander of the piece, the goose that lays golden eggs, a fortunate member of the upper classes. He has the self-assurance and charm of the highborn. This luxury broiler represents old money, a lifestyle, which self-evidently includes luxury and consumption, pleasure seeking and looking after oneself. The harsh metallic colour combined with a broiler’s round, organic and erotic shape creates a surreal feeling. The colour of the metal brings to mind jewellery, ornaments and decorative furniture. The atmosphere resembles that of Jeff Koons’ exhibition at the Versailles. The golden broiler has three golden eggs, so it is literally a productive, golden-egg-laying broiler. One contradiction is that a broiler is, in reality, a young rooster, incapable of laying eggs. Could the golden eggs be adopted? Or maybe the eggs, irrigated by the fountain in the middle of the stove, represent the broiler’s castration. The story of king Midas comes to mind. How everything the king touched turned to gold. In the end, the king ended up turning his closest and dearest family members into gold. The story of Midas is the story of how greed leads to destruction. The golden broiler lounges in the bath, stiff and lifeless, golden and dignified, unable to do anything but exists. It is a prisoner of its own demeanour and position.
Another broiler in the piece is a flesh coloured, somehow feminine figure, which resembles a giant turkey. There is a decorative ribbon with a bow wrapped around the broiler, as though he were an Easter egg. The bow and ribbon are, however, not separate decorations, but carved of the same substance as the broiler. They are the same skin tone, fused into the broiler’s flesh and skin. They are attached as though by plastic surgery to the broiler, permanent trophies like silicon breasts, buttocks or biceps. The feeling of surrealism and artificiality is emphasized by the colour of the broiler, flesh tint pigment, familiar from many artist’s colour selections, purporting to be the tone of an average skin, ready to use, straight from the tube. A bow and ribbon denote a gift and a celebration, in this instance they are like the apple in a roasted pig’s mouth. On the other hand, this broiler’s meat and demeanour are like those of an uncooked Thanksgiving turkey: raw, virginal and full of promise. The form and colour of the broiler are reminiscent of products in a sex shop, artificial penises, vibrators and vaginas, instruments of pleasure.
The role model for the third broiler in my piece can be found in Pippi Longstocking books illustrated by Ingrid Wang-Nyman. In one story, Pippi and friends attend a circus and meet the world’s strongest man, the strongman Adolf. He is portrayed as dark-haired, moustachioed and very muscular. He is wearing a striped outfit resembling a swimsuit or a wrestling outfit.
A similar outfit is worn by my third broiler sculpture, the largest and grandest one in the piece. This broiler is the alpha male of the group, a supremely well-trained, self made man, a tanned, brown-painted and possibly even roasted bodybuilder broiler. Here is a broiler who hasn’t gained such body mass merely by feeding on grains. This trimmed body is the result of antibiotics and steroids.
The three broilers of my work represent three different, highly evolved western lifestyles. They represent wanton consumerism and waste as well as the artificial sculpting of the body.
The season of the work is summer, since in the summertime people in Finland dig out summer items from storage: Summer furniture, toys, buckets, mattresses, tyres, pots and pools. The broiler pool as a whole resembles our summer items, both in form and colour. They invite one to play, and the pool and its contents wouldn’t seem out of place in the back yard of a detached house, as in Donald Duck cartoons, where eternal summer reigns.
The broilers lounging in a heart shaped, bright blue pool pretend to be enjoying life. The pool resembles not only a child’s bathtub, but also the bathing barrels installed in many gardens. The pool with its fountain represents middle class kitsch, the status symbols people install in their yards: A swimming pool, children’s playhouse, sand box, gas grill, trampoline, folly, quad bike. Each broiler has withdrawn into its own private world. They have no relationship or contact with each other, they have merely accidentally been placed in the same pool, like strangers bathing in a spa or on the ferries to Sweden. The broilers recline stiffly in their individual corners. They do not sit up straight or make any attempt to adapt to the contours of the pool, they do not jump and splash, swim, have a sauna, feel joy or seem active in any way. They just are, stiff like dolls, too fine to play with, like statues, which they also are. They represent the beautiful opportunities life presents us with, that go to waste if they are not grasped.
The summer’s day goes on indefinitely. Real-world problems do not penetrate the idyll. The water in the pool flows and burbles, the fountain sprouts water like in a renaissance palace. A water element belongs self-evidently in myths of paradise, a spa, a large pool with canals, lovely babbling brooks. We are in broiler heaven.
Pirjetta Brander 2014