The Penticton Art Gallery is proud to present Found Wanting, the first major Canadian exhibition by the Fort Langley based installation artist Betty Spackman. In this exhibition Spackman tackles the multilayered and troubling questions which surround today’s large scale factory farms while shedding some light on where our food comes from and the journey it took to get to our kitchen table. This exhibition is not trying to push a specific agenda and the artist is far from a vegetarian; it is about creating awareness and asking some hard questions which challenge us to review our role in society and assess the impact of our decisions on the greater good. We are already seeing the implications of our insatiable need to consume and this exhibition questions how much longer we can continue at this pace.
As we become increasingly urbanized and the pace of society continues to accelerate, consumers are increasingly losing sense of where their food comes from especially as regards our consumption of animal products. When one purchases a steak or pork chop from the local supermarket, there is no tangible connection between the consumer and the animal from which it came and there is no thought as to the quality of life the animal lived leading up to its slaughter. For many, picking up a saran wrapped package of meat from the grocery store counter is no different than selecting an apple or an orange from the produce section as they are both so far removed from the context from which they came. In the case of a produce item, however, the average consumer can still relate on some level to its origin and the journey it took to get to your plate; in the case of meat or fowl products, that connection is virtually non-existent.
In her installation Found Wanting, Spackman doesn’t pull any punches as she wrestles with the dilemma we have as consumers between the objects we consume and the stories connected to them. To illustrate this point she has methodically collected and cleaned the bones of those domesticated animals we readily consume as meat often without thinking about them as animals. In so doing, she forces the viewer to reconcile and acknowledge the origin of the meat products we consume. As we are confronted by this reality each one of us is faced with the knowledge that we have benefited from the demise of these animals and are therefore implicated at some level in the mismanagement, poor stewardship and lack of regard society has shown them.
This exhibition is not intended to gratuitously shock or horrify but it provides us with a gut wrenching reality check intended to remind us that there is never a feast without a sacrifice. As we march precariously close to the brink and are increasingly forced to acknowledge the global dilemma of resource depletion, we must address the fact that our greed and an unstoppable lust for consumption is seemingly never satisfied. In spite of all the excuses we make about our behaviour, our greed will eventually consume and destroy all of the very things we depend on to live.
As an artist and a storyteller Spackman finds herself caught somewhere between actual, real objects and the stories connected to them. The bones she gathered, cleaned and used in this work are real. Firmly believing that all of creation is sacred and to be respected, these remains are not intended to represent fetishes of any kind. They are simply scavenged fragments, evidence of death for the task of remembering life. For Spackman, the bones and other animal remains which make up this exhibition stand in stark contrast to the ingratitude and indifference the greater society exhibits towards the animals we consume. The intent is to honour them and in so doing to acknowledge that, as a consumer, we have each benefited from the animals they once represented.
It is troubling to realize that within only a couple of generations, the food production industryhas transformed from the family farm and city milkmen to a massive agribusiness of automated factory farms, genetic engineering and fast food restaurants. Spackman’s growing awareness of the ecological fragility of our planet and the increasingly inhumane treatment of both domesticated and wild animal populations fuelled the fire and brought this project to life. Working tirelessly over the past five years Spackman has struggled to reconcile the many layers of often conflicting ideas about what it is to be ‘animal’, what it is to be ‘human’ and what it means to be humane.
Regardless of the artist’s personal manipulations and storytelling, each of the bones, and all the remains of the animals used in this exhibition carry an inherent personal story of their own, a presence outside the various contexts of the definition given them. Found Wanting is about giving them a voice. It is not only about facing the brutal tenderness of their dying but also about giving regard to how much our own mortality is connected to theirs. This work is not one of protest but a stark and touching lament. It is a story, a song about grief, but a grief filled with hope knowing that if the right choices and the right sacrifices are made, the end of our stories can change.