I know you’ve heard about Lady GaGa’s meat dress
. Everyone has heard about the meat dress, and the corresponding PETA uproar
. However, how much do you know about the original
meat dress and its message about fashion?
In 1987, artist Jana Sterbak created the first – and extremely controversial – iteration of the meat dress. It was composed of 50 – 60 pounds of raw flank stank that was salted to naturally undergo the curing process. Sterbak attached the steak to a mannequin and fashioned it into the form of a dress. The sculpture, entitled “Vanitas: Flesh Dress for an Albino Anorectic,” was meant to emphasize the contrast between vanity and bodily decay.
In 1991, the controversial sculpture was exhibited in Ottowa’s National Gallery alongside a self-portrait of Sterbak wearing her creation. Much like PETA’s outcry in response to Lady GaGa’s dress today, there was an outcry in 1991. The dress was a waste of food and a waste of taxpayers money. It wasn’t art, it was offensive. People even protested the exhibit by sending scarps of meat to the gallery!
“the dress was stitched together from 60 pounds of raw flank steak and must be constructed anew each time it is shown. Following a centuries-old method of food preservation, the meat is heavily salted and allowed to air-dry. Over the span of the exhibition, the aging process drastically changes the appearance of the work.“
It is currently on display at the Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris’ modern art museum. The exhibit, simply entitled “elles“, is a changing year-long survey dedicated to female contemporary artists which runs through February 2011.
It is always interesting to learn how an artist perceives their own work, and this case is no different. Jana Sterbak considers “Vanitas” one of her most successful pieces:
“I think [Vanitas] is quite a successful work, if I can put it like that, because it can be interpreted in many different ways, from the respect that we do not accord to animals we raise for our food needs, to our own aging and death, the rituals of possession and absorption, etc. Vanitas could also be about the way time changes our perception of works. On the day of the opening, when the dress is exhibited the flesh is raw. Then the meat dries and starts to look like leather. Then everything is better, it becomes acceptable. This is also true for artists. Some curators prefer to work with dead artists because they’re less troublesome.“
She is completely right. When the Walker Art Center cataloged its collection and came to this piece they deduced that, in addition to its message about mortality, it was a direct reflection on fashion:
“The work also addresses issues concerning women, fashion, consumption, and the body. The equation of women with meat and the notion that “you are what you wear” are common ideas in Western society. In the United States, statistics have pointed to a growing number of young women with eating disorders such as bulimia and anorexia nervosa (referred to in the title), because their body types do not match the prevailing fashion or “look” sported by the tall, thin models populating the media.”
I can definitely see that.
Lady GaGa, in contrast, told Ellen DeGeneres that
for her personally, wearing the meat dress was a protest against the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy and the governmental restrictions placed on the rights of gay soldiers. She said:
“For me, it says if we don’t stand up for what we believe in, if we don’t fight for our rights, pretty soon we are going to have as much rights as the meat on our bones. And, I am not a piece of meat.“
I guess I can see that as well, but I wonder how much of it has to do with that as opposed with simple shock and publicity value. Prior to the meat dress, she wore a meat bikini on the cover of September’s Vogue Hommes Japan. I haven’t heard what the reasoning behind that shoot was, but my guess is something similar. Either way, the meat dress isn’t a new concept – it’s been done before.
Now, if I was ever going to wear something made out of meat, it would be this replica Chanel bag by Nancy Wu. It’s made completely out of hand-sewn beef jerky. Brilliant.
What are your thoughts on these 2 meat dresses?