Recently I stumbled upon an amazing art project titled TRANS.MEAT whilst interviewing the indie singer Cities and States. Maria Escudero of Quito, Ecuador and Sam Brown of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania have travelled to Ecuador where they have explored the female archetypes within Ecuadorian culture.
The milieu for this project is the Catholic space of Ecuador where strong stereotypes exist. The aim of the project was to examine the relationship between phallus and death from the perspective of unique characters. To ensure the character was as life-like as possible, the pair installed themselves within the living spaces of local people. The direct contact and social interplay brought an added dimension to the art and provided exciting results.
1) Why Ecuadorian women? What is different about the archetypes found within this region to the more commonly identified western theories?
There is a rope skipping game that girls play in Ecuador, which assigns them different roles that women play in their lives: ‘Monja, viuda, soltera, casada, enamorada, estudiante!’ (‘Nun, widow, single, married, girlfriend, divorced, student!’) In Ecuador, a culture where ‘machismo’ and strong Catholic values prevail, gender roles are highly defined. To navigate gender, we created a map of female archetypes. Sam, a man, plays the role of the women and Maria documents performances of social intervention in everyday spaces.
2) Do you feel a drag queen finds solace amidst the ‘drag uniform’ due to it being the ‘lost object’ within that person’s psyche? I.e., femininity?
Drag uniform is an access point for different parts of the feminine personality. For instance, someone might not access ‘the mother’ without a specific costume. The costume gives the actor a character. However, in the case of our project, the lost object is presented as flesh. These real or suggested animal parts create dimension in the actor-costume dialogue. Meat is the conflict that the character must overcome.
3) Some people see drag as an attack on femininity and mocking of women, what would you say to this?
Drag is a mirror that reflects hyper-stylized archetypes already present in society. Drag is playful and grotesque, but it is not an attack on woman herself. It is a commentary on performing femininity.
4) How did you and Maria come into contact, and where did the idea for the project come from?
We met at the Sculpture Studio at Wheaton College, Massachusetts. Some of our final work at Wheaton dealt with a metamorphosis documented on analog photography. During the performance we gave birth to an animal-creature that puzzled people enough for us to continue this study long after graduation.
5) The name ‘TRANS.MEAT’ – is this an adaptation of the word ‘transmeate’ which refers to ‘crossing over’? Do you feel your project bridges a gap?
To understand the dance of death, we looked to a Japanese art form called Butoh. Butoh was born in the 1960s as a reaction to the horrors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Butoh is said to always be in the process of being birthed but not yet born. It is an ethereal dance of crossing over into the unknown plane. For these many reasons, we named our project TRANS.MEAT, a homonym to ‘transmeate’ or to crossover and yet it is an open ended title. What we do can be considered as cross-dressing, but as it was captured in the language of the transsexual workers of Quito, we are transformistas: people that change quickly in costume and appearance to interpret different personas.
6) Why meat products?
Meat is death and death is real. Death is an existential limit to which we can only respond to in the imagination. Our symbolic archetypes are then forced to react to mortality through meat. Our images are a record of tension present in the now.
The project consists of ten shoots portraying various stories from across the social spectrum. These include a revolutionary in the consumerist atmosphere of a tienda or store, a virgin who secretly masturbates in a bathroom, a porn star who becomes tired of performing sex, and a street vendor who sells a capitalist’s pig’s head. Through these characters we learn about ourselves, about gender and the role of the phallus.
The use of meat products forces the character to come face to face with death. The use of meat to symbolise this refers to the Japanese Butoh dance and the concept of Ma. This refers to how the dead flesh represents a space once held by the individual. It forces the character to contemplate their humanity.
The interplay between a gender performer and meat is to question the anatomy of gender. They present detached pieces of meat, and see a phallic symbol made flesh, like a limp cow’s tongue or dangling chicken. Seeing a man as a woman holding a detached phallic symbol, we become aware of the conflict of castration. She isn’t a woman, yet she isn’t a man, it is the phallus that is question.
You can find out more at trans-meat.com