The human condition lies at the heart of the practice of Belgian artist Berlinde De Bruyckere. De Bruyckere’s sculptures address notions of birth, love, mourning, courage, anguish and empathy. We are all flesh has been created in a spirit of compassion, and its process is entirely humane. De Bruyckere works closely with the veterinary clinic at Ghent University. When a horse passes away, the veterinarians contact De Bruyckere so that she can make plaster moulds of the horse’s body. She then casts reconfigured sections of these moulds in resin to create sculptural forms, which she covers with horse skins acquired from a tanner in Brussels.
De Bruyckere hopes that once the initial association with the image of 'real' horses has passed, viewers will begin to see or understand her sculpture in relation to human emotions and confronting moral contexts. De Bruyckere uses the horse as a symbol for our humanity, which she deliberately abstracts in order to lay bare our vulnerabilities, afflictions and fears. In so doing, she continues the traditions of Francis Bacon (1909-1992) and Auguste Rodin (1840 1917), artists who also fragmented the representation of the body in order to express mental and physical states of being.
We are all flesh is a reminder of the fragility of existence - made all the more stark by the jarring juxtaposition of (apparently) organic forms with the permanency of the metal armature. The brutal mass of the steel structure, which was once part of an oil rig, conveys the heaviness and oppressiveness of death. The brandings on the hides and the tears and scars are evidence of a life lived — of body and flesh - and thus of being. We are all flesh considers what it is to let go of life.
Leigh Robb on divisive works of art in the AGSA collection
Works of art, particularly ones which can be divisive or challenging, provide us with opportunities to have safe and meaningful conversations with students about their likes, dislikes and encourage them to formalise their point of view in succinct and informed ways. Works of art are the ideal platform for students to develop their critical thinking skills and build confidence when sharing opinions and ideas.
- Think about where else you may have seen taxidermy animals. Suggest some reasons why it would be important to preserve animals in this way.
- De Bruyckere was inspired to utilise horses in her art after reflecting on the horses who lost their lives during both world wars. Visit the War Horse Memorial in Rundle Park. Does this memorial adequately commemorate the thousands of horses that served in the First World War? Explain your answer. As a class, make a list of other animal memorials in Australia.
- Works of art in the Melrose Wing are thematically hung. What similarities can you discover between We are all flesh and another work of art in Gallery 13.
- Examine other artists who have used taxidermy as a part of their art making. Compare We are all flesh with Untitled (Robert), a tattooed pigskin by Wim Delvoye. Research the process both artists use to create their works. Tip: You may like to investigate Damien Hirst or Julia deVille.
- In Venice in 2017 a Damien Hirst exhibition was targeted by protestors from an animal rights group. Investigate Hirst’s process of sourcing and using animals. Divide your class into two groups and debate the topic: Using animals in art is always ethically and morally wrong. Conduct further research and use artists’ examples to support either argument
- Write a story about your own pet or a pet you would like to own one day. Design a sculpture that commemorates their life. Where would you place your work of art? What makes this animal special to you?
- Complete a blind contour line drawing of We are all flesh. Back in the classroom, simplify your line drawing further. Using this design, carve sections of your drawing into a piece of fruit. Leave your work near a window and photograph its deterioration each day. As a class create video capturing the demise of each work of art. Tip: Research Simryn Gill’s Skin for further inspiration.
- Take multiple macro photographs of your skin on your arms and legs. Print these images and cover with gel medium. Once dry remove the paper to reveal the semi‑transparent remnants. With a partner, stitch your photographs together to create an item of ‘skin‑like’ clothing. You may like to hang your work of art from an armature and distort it by twisting, tearing, overlapping, pulling and stretching the gel medium. Tip: Research Lady Gaga’s meat dress designed by Franc Fernandez.
- Create a work of art (2D or 3D) using a non‑traditional material in response to one of de Bruyckere’s core themes; love, suffering, loneliness, birth, death, or remembrance.
Science Understanding - The use and influence of Science
- Although horses have long been raised as pets, humans have also relied on horses for transport and farming during both world wars. Solutions to contemporary issues that are found using science and technology may involve ethical considerations. Investigate how animals are used for scientific research. Discuss the benefits and issues associated with animal research.
- Investigate an example where the use of animals in research led to a scientific breakthrough.