To the Editor:
I'm writing to shed some light on the egg sculpture that appeared in Wilder Bowl last Thursday. I have received both positive and negative comments about the piece, and I'd like to thank those of you who approached me with them. I address this letter mainly to those people who however didn't have a chance to talk with me about the piece. I'd like to explain the meaning of the piece, which you wouldn't have gotten unless you'd taken part in the actual performance of this piece, and then I'd like to address the issue of waste which some people might accuse me of.
For a start, the piece is titled "Inherent Brutality"; the editorial staff of this paper would do well to note that it is conventional to include the title of a work of art with any image of that work. It was executed for the Ecological Sculpture Class being led this semester by Athena Tacha, and was about the brutality inherent in the act of eating and the production of food. In order to eat, we must kill: this is inescapable and irrespective of whether we eat only vegetable matter or include meat in our diet. This was therefore not an anti-meat piece. Killing serves also as an analogy for the extreme changes we cause in the natural environment by the ways we provide ourselves with food. Because of various social and economic institutions, we are usually unconscious of the true costs of eating and - again - its inherent brutality. This sculpture was an attempt to restore the brutality to the act of eating, to deconstruct the artificial unawareness of what it means to eat.
"Inherent Brutality" existed in three stages: a before, a during and an after. Many people saw either the patterned rows of eggs standing on end or the wet mess that was their aftermath. Neither of these stages however has any conceptual value without the performance stage of the piece. After I'd talked about the meaning of the piece last Thursday, I invited my class and other people who were watching to walk through the construction, and crush the eggs under their feet. Walking on eggs is actually fairly revolting: one can feel the shells crack, the membranes tear, the bags of fluid burst; one can hear the wet, sensuous shattering, the sudden vomiting of contents onto the pavement. This then is the brutality I captured with this piece.
Is this piece then to be considered a waste, a futile squandering of material from which we receive no recompense? It seems to me that there is value in this sculptural aphorism, but is this value equal to the cost of 960 eggs? Obviously this is difficult ground, and we're not going to find an absolute answer because we will not all agree about the value of either the eggs or the message.
I don't believe one can argue that I either deprived anyone of food or contributed significantly to the earnings of the poultry industry. And as for those who say that I would have better spent my money at a food shelter, I ask this: what are you doing at a college that costs over one hundred thousand dollars to attend and requires four years of your life? Does the education you receive justify the extravagance? Finally, would a piece of sculpture made out of large amounts of lumber, or metal, or paper bother you as much? While this last, rhetorical question only justifies my piece by claiming that sculpture inherently has value, it does require those who question the value of my sculptural material (eggs) to question the value of all sculptural material: one cannot evaluate my piece without addressing its artistic content unless one rejects all sculpture as fundamentally wasteful. One cannot claim that it was a waste solely because it involved the destruction of 960 eggs; one must also establish that artistically it was a failure.
Copyright © 1996, The Oberlin Review.
Volume 124, Number 21; April 19, 1996
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