Sunday, March 30, 2008

PIG 05049 and Checked Baggage by Christein Meindertsma

What do paintballs, plaster, industrial explosives, pet food, wine, train brakes, wallpaper, matches, photographic film, corks, bullets, body lotion, dog treats, fish food, cigarettes, insulin, heart valves, tambourines, bio diesel, sandpaper, cellular concrete, safety gloves, crayons, toothpaste, floor wax and a deep fried pig ear have in common? Christien Meindertsma lets us know in her wonderful yet somewhat disturbing book PIG 05049 published by Flocks in 2007.

PIG 05049 could possibly be one of the clearest expressions of the globalized approach to the complete use of an animal in the processing industry. The premise is quite simple, very early in to this book we are faced with a black-and-white graph which shows the individual weights of the skin, bones, meat, internal organs, blood, fat and miscellaneous parts of one pig weighing a total of 103.7kg as it enters the processing industry. Each of these individual weights is then distributed amongst the various products that an entire pig is used in the manufacturing. 2,301g of skin goes into the manufacturing of a typical Valentines Day "love heart" candy. 2,6134 g of skin goes into making gelatin that is used as a clarifying agent in wine. 17,572 g of bone ash from pig bones is used in the production of train brakes in Germany. Insulin, used to treat diabetics, can be produced from the pancreas of the pig which is the closest human insulin in terms of structure. Blasting gelatine, which derives from the processing of pig bones, goes into creating powerful industrial explosives. The book itself is not only about PIG 05049 but it is made partly from PIG 05049 -- Usage number 71, "Bone Glue" derived from pig bones is used in book binding.

Meindertsma is an industrial designer and artist whose interest in this project was to trace the invisible connections between the raw material and the eventual consumers. As she explains, "In a strongly globalized world, it is becoming increasingly difficult to trace these lines and due to the increasing scope and complexity of the meat processing industry, consumer has hardly any idea of the route and animal takes to its various finished products." Although she goes on to say that this book should not be mistaken as a statement promoting vegetarianism, there is a surprising element to much of this information of what is in our consumer goods that it caused a similar reaction in me to that of the film Soylent Green. Through the 185 different uses illustrated, this book reveals man and science walking the fine line between ingeniousness and madness.

PIG 05049 is a perfect conceptual art piece and an exquisitely crafted object. From the cardboard cover with its embossed title to the interior design with thumb-tab indexed sections there is no part of this book that does not appeal tactually or visually. Lucas Verweij, the Dean of Rotterdam Academy of architecture and urban design lends a foreword in which he discusses the generational differences of ideas of complete animal usage in the processing industry.

Christein Meindertsma's first book Checked Baggage published by Soeps Uitgeverij in 2004 is another conceptual art piece that addresses another fascinating aspect of contemporary life.

After 9/11, Meindertsma purchased a container of a weeks worth of objects confiscated at security checkpoints in Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam. Due to the heightened security, nail files, scissors, pocketknives, corkscrews and any other sharp object were not allowed in hand luggage. Meindertsma then set about categorizing and photographing all of the 3264 prohibited objects on a white seamless background as if for a sales catalog.

The resulting book of 330 pages causes the viewer to reassess these objects in terms of their potential danger in our post-9/11 world. The ability of a few hijackers to take control of planes with a few box cutters has now created an atmosphere where even a child's pair of scissors or a cigarette lighter is subject to deeper suspicion. Meindertsma's book raises this issue as many of the objects featured seemed to mock seriousness of the baggage checker's notions of what can be considered dangerous. In this new "war on terror" do these security tactics actually make us safer or is there a deeper, more sinister reasoning behind the continual screening and curbing of individual rights for the sake of the greater "good?" Like PIG 05049, this book is also about a kind of madness.

Checked Baggage: 3264 Prohibited Items is another example of fine design and book craft. Appropriately made to feel more like a catalog, one could easily imagine a copy sitting next to the x-ray screener as a reference book of items to watch out for -- or perhaps someday when clear heads prevail -- it could serve as a barometer of our current state of paranoia.

This book has now become very scarce and valuable as it was featured in Parr/Badger volume 2 but should you find a copy while vacationing do not try to take this on board an airplane in your hand baggage. Each copy of Checked Baggage comes packaged with one of the 'prohibited items' that appears in the photographs. That would turn this conceptual art book into an on-site performance piece as the baggage screener -- seeing the ingeniousness of your intent to smuggle a dangerous art object on-board -- re-confiscates the 'prohibited item' and sends you onto the plane safe and sound, and cleared of suspicion.

Buy online at Dashwood Books