There is something repellent yet fascinating about dead animals in art, whether it be the careful dissections of Gunther Von Hagens or the cow and calf sliced in half by Damien Hirst. They should be abhorrent but the intricate inner workings of another creature offer an insight that holds our interest.
Alex Van Gelder has taken this appeal to the extreme by photographing animal remains outside a slaughterhouse, from intestines through to views inside carcasses. There is a definite shock value to his work especially when the subject matter is recognisable, such as a dead calf skinned and covered with feasting flies.
These works do lose some of their potency from their small size, and larger images might have produced a more visceral impact by surrounding the viewer with the harsh reality of the origins of the meat that we eat.
Other works can appear so mangled that they are no longer recognisable; they must be composed of flesh but the viewer will have no idea what body part they represent. However, it’s the semi-abstract frankenflesh photographs that are the most impressive.
An example is the head of a carcass where the lower jaw and eyes are visible but the remaining flesh is so flayed that the head has lost its shape. Other works include an assortment of tails and hooves and the skin of a cow with all the flesh removed so it simply resembles a bag of fur with four legs jutting out.
Despite the initial shock value of these works there are artistic subtleties that elevate this work beyond a merely macabre appeal. It’s clearly not an exhibition that will be to everyone’s taste, but it’s an eye-catching show with great impact.
Alex Van Gelder: Meat Portraits is on at Hauser & Wirth, 23 Savile Row, W1S 2ET until 8 February. Entrance is free.