Here is the space for all the students to participate and send their class works to be published! @hadpratt
This week we want to share Emma Seely-Katz blog post
Paul Thek has been one of my favorite artists ever since I discovered his work and story in the book Aliens & Anorexia by Chris Kraus. In it, Kraus details the lives of several artists and thinkers she feels are misunderstood or under-appreciated by society at large. Reading about a work of art before viewing it is a very interesting experience for me–I was immediately taken by Kraus’ description of Thek’s series of sculptures entitled Technological Reliquaries: “wax replicas of animal and human meat encased in glass” and even more so by this quote from Thek explaining that his relationship to visceral imagery was not intended to shock, but to detach and recontextualize: “It delighted me that bodies could be used to decorate a room, like flowers.”
A sculpture that stands out to me from the Reliquaries is called “Birthday Cake.” Four layers of what appears to be bloody “meat” with a layer of human-looking skin on top are stacked like a cake and topped with fuzzy hairs and cheerful pink candles. The “cake” is ensconced in a glass pyramid with metal hardware and yellow striations. The colors grabbed me first: Thek’s characteristic use of paint on wax produces lush, shiny, vital-looking reds and pinks with tinges of blues and greens, as if he’d cut slabs of meat just for the piece and they were in danger of going bad if left out for too long. What really enchants me about this piece is the attempt at demystifying the human body through what can be read as inherently violent imagery: though the image of animal meat doesn’t faze most humans, there is an unspoken distinction between human lives and “other” lives that renders comparisons of human bodies to lesser meat a taboo. Thek breaks this boundary by taking this violent imagery and subverting it with additions that could be considered “domestic,” “feminine,” and even “holy.”
The image of a tiered cake calls to mind frilly wedding receptions and the pink of the unlit candles recalls a birthday party color-coded towards femininity–the juxtaposition of femininity and violence shakes the dichotomy we are entrenched in that unequivocally assigns violence to the domain of “masculinity.” The pyramidal case (evoking ancient holy imagery that Thek returned to again and again in his pieces) with its industrial metal contrasts with its soft, organic, fleshy contents–is this “meat” under protection? Or is it being held captive? How far do we take our obsession with the human body and our certainty in its intrinsic value?
The de-gendering and reverent display of the “cake” raises questions about the value of anatomical form which are addressed by the overarching humor of the piece. Thek does not take himself too seriously and has a similar relationship towards bodies–Kraus cites an incident where Thek visited the Capuchin catacombs, which are decorated with decaying corpses. He picked up what he’d thought was a piece of paper–it was a human thigh. Thek said “We accept our thing-ness intellectually, but the emotional acceptance of it can be a joy.” My senior year of high school, I took a field trip with my anatomy class to a cadaver lab. I was nervous about how I’d react to seeing someone without consciousness, flayed open, empty of all vitality and agency. However, after getting to hold human organs and see a body in a purely aesthetic sense with none of the political and personal implications that are inherent in viewing a live body, I had at least a moment of acceptance of our thing-ness, and it was a joy.