The Pig Way

see Gallery The Story of the Pig is one of Ion Creanga's loveliest stories. The story of the pig in contemporary Romanian art is, in its turn, one of the most exciting. The image of the pig in current art ranks, unexpectedly, among the most significant and consistent iconographic motifs.True, from Miorita, the meek lamb of the old, popular Romanian ballad, to Bisisica, the mean sheep of Marin Preda's cult novel, Morometii, and from the turn-of-the-century paintings of Nicolae Grigorescu to Ion Theodorescu-Sion's works, the sheep was the local fetish animal, the national totem. However, in the "golden epoch" of the socialist regime, in the post-communist unending transition, and in the early consumerism of today, the pig has taken the lion's share from the sheep.The Story of the Pig by Ion Creanga, the local, sarcastically adulterate variant of the ancient fairy tale Amor and Psyche, gives a hunch why it so happened. The emperor's daughter, who became wife to the piglet raised by the old hag and her old man, finds the key in her own bed, at night. Not only is the piglet the only pretender able to build a golden bridge between her palace and his shack overnight. At night, the piglet proves to be a consummate gentleman, although during the daytime he behaves as animals like him usually do, belching and grunting all day long.The pig stands for man. That is the key. The sheep stood for sheep only, even when it was a soft-speaking sheep, like Miorita, or a sneaking, scoffing sheep, like Bisisica. The sheep is the other as a proxy. In its turn, the pig is the body. The human body, the bodiliness of the human body. Between the body and the pig there is only one thin layer: the cover, the rind. The rind is thrown into the fire by the naughty, ever-insatiable emperor's daughter. And thus she brings the curse onto herself.The pig gives body to the human being. It gives itself as pork. This was plainly and painfully perceived by those who, in Romania and elsewhere in the communist camp, were deprived of their daily pork ration. Some of them tended to fantasize it as far as ironical delirium, as it happens in the drawings and the montages of Ion Barladeanu. In his works of the 70s and of the 80s, but also in his recent ones, the pig, the piglet, the big roasted chunks, the sausages and salamis became eerie visions, eroticized, over-identified flying objects. Barladeanu automatically associates pork and desire. Desire for the untouchable, for the idealized idols. Pork is associated by him with the teasing girls of the sexy magazines, with famous actors, with the communist leaders, the only masters of the body, and of the pork of the others. And again after 1989, the pig has its momentum: it appears as the emblem of the insolence of political power. The pig is humorously associated with the figure of a prominent politician, whose name, inspired by the animal world too, begins with a P.Having pork gives a fundamental certitude to the body in the world, in the precarious, adrift world of the communist generalized lack. Ion Grigorescu's and Iosif Kiraly's lucid, acute reportages dedicated to the traditional Christmas pig slaughter, offer a glimpse of the local vision of hallucinatory, evanescent welfare. In the photographs they made in the 80s, the butchering of the pig is a matter of a gruesome yet bland choreography, a dark ritual of poverty, centered on the carcass and the knife, through which one perceives the anxiety of a chronic misgiving. The pig is butchered with no passion, with no happiness, with no hope, but only in order to turn it into pork, a hunk of meat on the table. The meat, the greasy meat grabbed from the food shops only by queuing hours and even days, is hypostatized in the repelling paintings of the 80s by Teodor Graur. They are distorted replicas of the Dutch still-lifes of the 17th century, as they echo the vanitas-based symbolism of the former, by showing how ugly and passing is the pork that keeps life alive, the hunk of meat that becomes more and more horrid precisely as it becomes more and more rare, untouchable. The almost mythological apprehension facing the horrid, ill-ominous sacrifice, is to be found in the deeply dark drawings of slaughtered pigs by Marian Zidaru, part of his series Bloody Christmas, from 1985.In the early 90s, Ioana Batrinu found that pigs are a strong symbol for the survival of the strongest, of the communist nomenclature, of the apparatchiks and repressive forces transfigured in her series Our Pigs, where usually big, rosy-white fatty pigs enjoy eating and grunting in flowery meadows, trampling weeds and plants under their feet, like human beings. The pig is the epitome of lack in the art of the 70s and the 80s, while in the 90s it turns into an adequate sign of consumerist plenitude. At the beginning of the 90s, Matei Bejenaru tries to put together the broken pieces of the dazzling kaleidoscope of the urban tissue in peripheral neighborhoods. In 1993, Bejenaru made a non-lucrative, smoking contrivance out of a few barrels, and he invited his fellow citizens from the Alexandru cel Bun neighborhood in Iasi to put in their sausages to be smoked. A piece of early social work, the event of Bejenaru was viewed with suspicion by most of his neighbors. Diffidently, they hardly accepted to expose and publicly manipulate their food, their pork. This showed the connection between the pork and the family's intimacy, from where the other is excluded even when it is offering help (felt as invasive).A recent installation of Victor Man is also unsettling. He hanged a big prosciutto chunk, installing in it two functional electric bulbs, that turned the prosciutto into a pork-lamp, in its upper part, while in the lower part an old Islamic praying carpet was hanging on the prosciutto, as if a tail, a vestment or a fallen flag. The whole frightening composite looks like a ghost of faith (pork, electricity, prayer), a totem made up of entwined taboos, connected against their ideological nature, but not against their formal nature. The pig replaces the Lupa capitolina as symbol of today's community in Dumitru Gorzo's work. A big fatty swine is suckling three (instead of two) legendary cubs, meticulously marked by the artist with their names: Romulus, Remus, and… Juliet, a Miss Piggy who sparks hate and anger between the two brothers. In the paintings of Mircea Suciu, the pig is a flat source of meat. The body of the pig is nothing but the temporary envelope of the hacked, aseptic meat, the organic, neutral industrial matter made to be wrapped, weighted and sold in the supermarket. The succulent symbolism of the meat is thus erased in favor of a clean, mundane utilitarianism. In Vlad Nanca's Addidas, it is again the older dramatism and symbolism that are questioned and subverted, as the emblematic cheap pork meat of the years before 1989 turns into an iconic, cultural product made for sale for big money, as art, although missing any social and critical relevance. The pork becomes therefore nothing but a topos, a joke turned into idea, an idea turned into concept, a concept turned into entertainment, and entertainment turned into sheer money (the bar code directly inscribed onto the props meat). A historical trajectory is accomplished, marking the becoming of the pig and its pork body, from a sign of enduring the history and its hardships into a sign of cultural, relaxed inter-play. Thus, in the drawing of Dan Perjovschi, a funny (mad) cow decrees "Kill all Pigs!". In Suzana Dan's paintings, soft rose pigs fly around, like fleshy, turgescent transcriptions of her own erotic projections. The pig has thus fallen down both from stories and from history, landing in the personal stories and mythologies, as it happens in the drawings of Sorin Tara, where pigs and people change their features in order to underline the piggish way of living today, amid fat, mud, money, and sex. However, the pig way in art of today keeps going forward. 

by Erwin Kessler