If you weren’t outside enjoying the weekend then you may remember Saturday’s post (“Let Them Eat Rat! Artist Serves $100 Rat Dinner“) about artist Laura Ginn. Ginn received no small amount of attention about a performance art piece in which 20 attendees paid $100 each to dine on rat.
The piece, titled “Tomorrow We Will Feast Again on What We Catch”, has been a lightning rod for conversation online. Many of those commenting on a story about the piece at the NY Times referred to Ginn as “talentless” and a “hipster” and criticized her work as superficial and meaningless. We felt that there was probably more to her art than just a few dismissive comments can encompass, so We reached out to Laura for a quick interview about the piece, the response and what she plans on doing next.
I understand that “Tomorrow We Will Feast Again on What We Catch” was only one part of a longtime art project centering on survivalism and related practices. How and why did you become interested in the subject matter? What kind of things have you been doing in the contextof this project?
I have been working on this project for about 3 years. It began with reading a lot of post-peak oil and survivalist blogs. When I moved back to Michigan for grad-school in 2008 I was shocked at the level of economic ruin. On some blocks half of the houses were being foreclosed on. I started thinking about self-sufficiency and how to cope with the sort of financial anxiety I saw around me -that made me want to try my hand at some of the things I’d read about on all those blogs.
My first project was to build a cabin by hand. It was so exciting and empowering to learn by doing something and to see the results of my effort that I couldn’t wait to learn more new skills. Over the course of this project I have been bow hunting, built traps, collected road kill and of course, learned to make leather. Photography lends itself to showing process, so it is a great way to communicate my learning process and share the adventure I’ve been on with an audience.
You served rats to 20 audience members. The meal consisted of several courses. What were some of the recipes and who prepared them? Was there much experimentation in developing the recipes?
You should talk with the chef Yuri Hart about this. We started trying rat out in December 2011 at a test dinner. Yuri Hart, a couple of friends and I sampled the rats to find out what they were like and so we could brainstorm a menu. Yuri is an incredibly talented chef who went above and beyond on this project, smoking, braising grilling and generally trying every possible method of preparation.
I read that you also wore an outfit made of sewed rat skins. How long did it take to make that?
It took months to skin, tan and soften all of the rat pelts and a few days to sew together the dress.
Where have you gotten all of your rats? Have you had to kill any of them yourself? If so, how? Have any of the animal rights groups been in touch with you or reacted to your work?
The rats for this work have come from a feeder supply company. It isn’t the apocalypse so it is still important to keep people safe. A good survivalist knows not to take unnecessary risks.
Of course I am not popular with animal rights activists. My job as an artist is not to make people happy it is to make them ask questions. This has been an emotional project for me – I was a vegetarian for many years before starting this project – I don’t take the use of animals lightly. That is why when I transitioned from using roadkill for my leather to using the rats I knew I had to eat them and use as much of them as possible in order for the project to make sense for me. I actually think rats make an interesting alternative food source. They are prolific and easy to raise. They were included in the book Microlivestock: Little-Known Small Animals with a Promising Economic Future, 1991, Office of International Affairs. You can read the book online here:
It occurred to me that for some of the world’s poorest people eating rat is a matter of survival, but in your piece you fed rat meat to Westerners who obviously have disposable income. To what extent did this irony play a role in the piece?
I’m glad you picked up on that. I struggle with how much we romanticize self-reliance in the United States. True self-reliance is almost impossible – or perhaps completely impossible. In the same way, a lot of the things we do to make ourselves feel better about the way we live could be taken a lot further. Do you really need an iPhone and an iPad and whatever else? As Westerners we live high on the hog but we love to be self-righteous. I guess I’m just trying to have a little fun with that idea. I mean, c’mon, I got people to pay to eat rats, AND they had a good time. That’s a win in my book.
And of course this project would be very different presented in another place. In a lot of places eating rats is no big deal.
Are you anticipating negative reactions from people who might see this performance as arrogant and insensitive -kind of a “Let them eat cake” moment?
I don’t need to anticipate. I am not a popular person right now. Just check out some of the NY Times comments. Ouch! But I stand by what I’m doing. I am having an adventure and exploring ideas about my world by pushing my own boundaries and people’s buttons and having some fun in the process. Sometimes this work is hard to make and hard to look at, sometimes it’s absurd, but it’s about exploring possibilities so I just have to keep going with it.
What’s next for you?
I’m on my way to North Carolina where I’ve accepted a teaching position at a small college. I’m looking forward to doing more work on a series of photographs related to the work of Edward S. Curtis (a man well known for his romanticism of a time, place and people). Time for the next adventure!