Way back in 1999, I was living in Jerusalem and happened to go to an exhibit at the Israel Art Museum titled, “Skin Deep.” I went because I’d heard that Orlan would be there – the French performance artist who used plastic surgery as her medium. Also at that exhibit was a meat dress by Canadian artist Jana Sterbak. Walking around the dress, which weighed 60-lbs and hung on a mannequin, you were confronted with, for lack of a better phrase, the sheer grossness of it. But it wasn’t just the spectacle of a dress made of meat, it was the context.
First of all, it was part of an exhibit that offered artistic commentary on superficiality, vanity, shelter, and the things we turn to for comfort and security. At that point the meat dress was browning and fetid so even if you didn’t want to look at it, you couldn’t avoid the smell. It made me think about the clothes I put on my body, and the nourishment I put into it. Artist Jana Sterbak herself offers this food for thought:
“The work also addresses issues concerning women, fashion, consumption, and the body. The equation of women with meat and the notion that “you are what you wear” are common ideas in Western society.”
As you’ve probably seen, Lady Gaga has taken to sporting her own meat wardrobe lately, most notably on the cover of Vogue Hommes Japan and at this week’s MTV Video Music Awards. Here is the explanation that she gave to Ellen DeGeneres (who, it should be noted, is a vegan) after the VMAs:
“It’s certainly no disrespect to anyone that’s vegan or vegetarian. As you know, I’m the most judgment-free human being on the Earth. It has many interpretations, but for me this evening it’s [saying] if we don’t stand up for what we believe in, if we don’t fight for our rights, pretty soon we’re going to have as much rights as the meat on our bones.”
There are many arguments to be made about originality of ideas (just ask Christina Aguilera) but, in my opinion, the real problem here is about the loss of meaning of the original work. If you Google “meat dress”, Lady Gaga occupies most of the search results, along with her banal, generic and self-serving (“I’m the most judgment-free human being on Earth” – really?) explanation about standing up for what we believe in. The connection she makes between the meat dress and “standing up for what we believe” is weak at best. I mean, aren’t we the meat on our bones? Isn’t that, like, our flesh?
Perhaps this crystallizes the growing argument that people have about Lady Gaga: the she’s just a spectacle. I’m still on the fence about that. I think she does tremendous and necessary work for the gay community. But in terms of what she does as an “artist”… well, it seems that this particularly unoriginal statement only shows that the lady is swimming in the shallow end of the pool.