Sarah Hurwitz's "Meat Market" Wants You to Consider Eating Unicorns
Backyard chicken wrangling is suddenly very cool. Tattooed, cruiser-pedaling hipsters, NoPho lacrosse moms, and even teenagers (the sure sign that a trend's become legit) are doing it.
Spotted recently in uptown Phoenix: a hand-painted sign reading, "Fresh eggs from my happy backyard chickens!" Could backyard pig ranching be the next urban farming trend? Will we paint signs that say, "Delicious chops from my happy backyard hogs"?
Probably not. Where butchering is concerned, even devoted carnivores don't want to think too much about the blood and sacrifice involved. Chickens give freely, after all. They can't not lay. But long-lashed cows? And what if the creature were mythical and magical? What if the creature were even part human, like a harpy? That might spin our perceptions about breast meat.
Spotted recently in downtown Phoenix: all manner of hand-painted signs hanging in a makeshift butcher shop. Valley artist Sarah Hurwitz has taken over the entire space with her "Hurwitz Meat Market" installation, something of a Saw meets middle school science fair — if the middle school were Hogwarts.
Hurwitz, much of whose work is playful and brave, works in all types of media, and many of those media are represented here, although not in ways we might expect. Her eponymous meat market installation is hyper-detailed, from a behind-the-scenes meat locker (do not miss the ginormous severed tentacle with its golf-tee-like suction cups and nerve fibers that look like a packed bundle of number two pencils) right down to price tags, Styrofoam trays, and please-take-a-number dispenser. It's not an actual dispenser — she constructed it — but that doesn't stop your Pavlovian urge to approach it and tug.
That may be what Hurwitz is getting at here. Take a number and wait at the meat counter, fabricated from aluminum flashing and heavy-duty plastic. The painted cooler vents add verisimilitude to Hurwitz's construction, as do the artfully arranged contents — three-dimensional steaks, sausages, and chops wrapped tightly in plastic on their individual trays — plastic grass "garnish" and all. The display case is unsettling the way all fake meat is unsettling. Like those soy formed poultry legs at vegan restaurants. Or even worse, gummy calamari.
Hurwitz isn't taking some kind of anti-meat stance here (some Third Friday looky-loos were joking about PETA standing outside on the corner). This installation is making a statement — as much of Hurwitz's work does — about the transition (Gap? Disappointment?) inherent in moving from childhood to adulthood. If anything, she's reveling in the art of butchery, asking us to think about how something goes from creature to display case.
This work seems to be more about having fun with that hope turned disappointment. In her artist statement, Hurwitz talks about the disconnect between her childhood misconception that adulthood would be a "magical time where you could eat Lucky Charms for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, stay up all night and wear your bathing suit to the supermarket" and the miserable, diarrhea-ridden world that adulthood can turn out to be. It's serious realization served up with whimsy and, well, horror in equal turns.
One wall of the installation is a mural of apothecary shelves — one-dimensional jars and bottles of hippogriff blood, ogre earwax, hydra urine, and chimera snot to cure what ails you. Another wall is covered in computer-generated graphics of such mythical creatures as Cerberus, mermaids, and leucrottas. Hurwitz has drawn and stitched on the images, which upon closer inspection are weird hybrids — not just of animals (a leucrotta is a like a badger/horse or hyena/lion, depending on your source) but of time and space, too. If beasts and humans were to mate, in Hurwitz's world, the result would be mermaids and satyrs whose human halves stepped out of the late Victorian period. Not ancient, just old-timey. And the animals themselves make us look once, twice, three times in the case of the Cerberus — one if of heads is, disturbingly, a poodle, and the other two Labrador retrievers.
Hurwitz's stitching is a tidy and subtle diagram of meat cuts — you know, tenderloin, strip loin, T-bone. The stitching articulates the anatomy of the mermaid cocktail you're enjoying. Big chunk of her scaly ass, it turns out.
Even the Saw room, where the evisceration happens, is cringe-y fun the way a block party Halloween haunted house is (well-read kids who know a thing or two about myth will dig this show, BTW). An oversize colander of draining intestines sits in a corner underneath a carcass dangling from a tire chain, a massive (you can envelop yourself in it — great Facebook profile photo-op) rib cage is affixed to one wall, and chains, hooks, and blades threaten from all angles. A neon sign flashes "MEAT."
When we grow up, something in us — something magical and naive and a bit wild — is butchered. Or maybe it happens the other way around. Yeah, it's a disappointment, Hurwitz seems to say, but it's not all bills and responsibilities. Look how much fun Hurwitz is having. She's installed three rooms of pretty much un-sellable work. And it's fantastic. The New York Times Book Review recently suggested that mythical creatures are the new vampires and werewolves in the young adult literary world. The teens are doing it? Hurwitz is totally on to something.
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