Visual Arts Programme
The Concourse Installation 1999
How to Butterfly a Leg of Lamb
Mary Kelly and Abigail O'Brien with Elaine Hartigan
How to Butterfly a Leg of Lamb looks at ritual, sexuality and cultural mores. Rituals are procedures, which we use to transform one reality into another and therefore make it safe. Preparing food is a complex and messy business and here we examine the tradition of butchery. This work explores the tension between linear step-by-step instructions and the raw reality of butterflying a leg of lamb. Emily Dickinson refers in her poem to the parts of a woman that can be bloody, ferocious and strong. Acknowledging cultural convention and not without irony, she begs the readers pardon, for giving voice to her observations.
The sacrificial Lamb has strong religious connotations as the substitute emblem for human sacrifice. The image of woman as pure and innocent has to be altered in order for her reality to be re-negotiated.
'Since to be feminine is to have qualities that are the opposite or negation, of ideal masculine qualities, for a long time it was hard to elaborate the attractiveness of the strong woman in other than mythic or allegorical guise' -Susan Sontag
One element of How to Butterfly a Leg of Lamb is a video in the format of a cookery demonstration. Butterflying the Leg of Lamb is interspersed with another ritual involving napkin folding. The art of napkin folding is an aesthetic that elevates this stain remover into a cultured cloth for polite society. The flesh being dissected is the body and blood, the visceral and the abject, the vermilion and the feminine.
The video is viewed on a 14-inch screen, typical of televisions found in domestic kitchens. The siting of the television is on a carcass or abstracted kitchen. This kitchen is a linear 'drawing' in wood and stainless steel, except for one contrasting section of densely layered red napkins.
Instructions appear to offer a safe code of practice since they provide a certain order and control. The Step-by-step Instruction Leaflet implies a direct linear progression from one clear stage to the next. This instruction leaflet is a free hand-out.
How to Butterfly a Leg of Lamb was made initially for the Concourse space, County Hall, Dun Laoghaire, which is an open plan, architecturally designed public building. We sited our installation in the centre of the Concourse space, thereby positioning a domestic ritual at its core.
Since context changes meaning, our work for Circa Art magazine Project Pages was presented in the format of a cookery magazine, demonstrating through text and image how to butterfly a leg of lamb. Inserting these instructions into a visual arts magazine allows for multiple layers of interpretation.
Abigail O'Brien & Mary Kelly December 1999