Sunday, June 11, 2006

Tatooed Pigs, Slug-eating and Bonecarvers

Have you ever seen a tatooed pig? I never thought that I would, but I have now.

One of the girls staying in my room in Beijing was a lovely Canadian named Joanie who works for Belgian modern artist, Wim Delvoye. She arranged for me to meet him in Beijing. Wim is best known for "The Cloaca", a piece that actually emulates the human digestive process. The Cloaca machine is fed food and actually produces human shit, which is boxed and sold as art. Check out the Cloaca Web site It's absolutely fascinating. I wish that I had seen it in person when it was in Toronto.

Wim was incredibly intriguing, entertaining and bright. I would have to say that he was one of the most interesting people I had the good fortune of meeting on this trip. He had this wonderful sense of whimsy that seems to run through all his art, and his newest project involves tatooing pigs - yes, tatooing...all in the name of art - on a farm in a village outside of Beijing. He told me how he had three types of pigs - classic pigs (with biker tatoos), Disney pigs (with the Little Mermaid and other characters tatooed) and Louis Vitton pigs (wearing this season's Louis Vitton cherry logos).

I was lucky enough to spend some time outside the city on the pig farm with Joanie and another girl Fouzia, and I even got to briefly see the pigs themselves. The farm is run by a Chinese man and when we arrived, it was clear that no one in the village spoke English. People were obviously not used to seeing Westerners, but were friendly and waved. Joanie doubled me as we biked to meet a fellow artist in the village, a Chinese man who carves bones, affectionately known to her as "The Bonecarver". Inside his house we were shown photos of the Bonecarver and Mao, and also had the opportunity to see his beautiful work - intricately carved wood boxes and bone vases.

That night we biked into town for a meal. As usual, people stared at the three of us bikin
g past. I don't imagine that they get many foreigners in this village and no doubt they thought that we were associated with the strange Western man who tatoos pigs. In China pigs aren't treated all that well, whereas Wim's pigs are well taken care of. They are well fed, kept warmer than many of the villagers themselves and live in relative luxury when you consider the fate of most Chinese pigs, which is to be crammed into a tiny plot for four months until you are slaughtered.

The next morning the Bonecarver inexplicably appeared at the pig farm on his motorcycle and, motioning with his hands, insisted that we come to his house. Baffled, we followed him and were greeted by a clean cut young Chinese man who immediately shoved his resume - all in Chinese characters - into our hands. Unable to understand what was going on because of the language barrier, we assumed that this man was some sort of fellow artisan. The
next thing we knew, without any explanation, we were shoved into various positions to have our photographs taken next to art work.

It got even more bizarre when we were seated and served tea. The Bonecarver's wife brought out a large bowl filled with brown items that were unrecognziable to us. She stared eagerly at us, motioning to eat. Joanie, Fouzia and I exchanged looks. No one wanted to eat the mystery brown items, but it seemed rude to refuse. Finally I grabbed one and took a bite.

Whatever it was I was eating had a horrible flavour and texture. It tasted a bit like eating dirt. I smiled at the room full of Chinese people watching us eat and rubbed my stomach in an exaggerated fashion, saying, "Mmmmmmm.." loudly to sh
ow my appreciation for their snack. This was obviously the right response because the family smiled and nodded approvingly. Out of the side of my perma-grin mouth I whispered to Joanie, "What the hell am I eating?!?!?!"

Joanie spoke a little Chinese and after a few moments we were informed that we were eating dried slugs! I cannot tell you how difficult it became to swallow that mouthful when I realized I was eating a slug, especially with the whole room staring at us. We waited for a moment when everyone in the room wasn't looking at us to slip the partially eaten slugs into our bags. However, seeing we had finished our slugs, the family tried to force more on us, which were also destined for our bags when no one was looking. Finally at one point, when encouraged to take even more slugs, I smile and faked being full indicating, "No thanks! That last slug just filled me up!!"

I came home with a bag full of dried slugs.

Back in Beijing I marveled at my time on the farm. While you all sat at your desks working, I was seeing tatooed pigs, eating dried slugs and modeling for a bonecarver. What a strange, strange ball of dirt we live on.


Anonymous H-Dawg said...

I have not heard the term "doubled me" when referring to a bike ride for two since I was a kid. I had a good chuckle with that one. Don't be coming back here and offering us that bag of slugs as snacks...

Great post!


8:07 PM  

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