The Burlesque Butcher
Cleaver-wielding beauty Anna Felicity Friedman AKA the Burlesque Butcher provided a rousing kick-off to this week at the Rapid Pulse International Performance Art Festival with a provocative performance on Monday afternoon.
Friedman’s process began with a thorough cleaning of the two parallel, street facing windows in front of the Defibrillator gallery. Drop cloths were placed, ice buckets filled, and surfaces/tools sterilized. She set up her butchering station in the left window and hung the skinned lamb storefront-style facing Milwaukee Avenue. Donning an apron and latex gloves, Friedman first broke the animal down into primals (large sections), then divided those into individual cuts of meat. The window on the right served as the meat packing area where two female assistants vacuum-sealed and labeled each carefully rendered slice. It took Friedman a full 7 hours to deconstruct the animal, used latex gloves accruing in a pyramid as she progressed. It was a familiar storefront butcher shop scene, save one detail: aside from their gloves and aprons, each of the three ladies were only wearing lingerie, high heels, and an impressive array of tattoos.
The impeccably styled sirens looked fabulous, carrying out their tasks nonplussed by the height of their heels or the gawking of passersby. Rubbernecking drivers and bikers alike paused to take photos and yell out questions from their vehicles. Artists and volunteers from the festival were on hand to answer questions and engage in dialogue with the public. Viewers were encouraged to return at 7pm for “free meat” (note: some cuts had been claimed via donations to the artist’s indiegogo campaign, the remainder were available for an optional donation).
Friedman believes in empowerment and critique through parody, humor, and states of undress. The artist, in her own words, “combines feats of butchery art with the spectacle of lingerie-clad women in heels, exploring the interplays between masculinity, femininity, food and sex.” She locates her inspiration in visits to farms (sustainable, humanely-raised and grass-fed only) during which she noticed pin-up girl calendars in the facilities. Acknowledging that butchering is a male-dominated field, Friedman wondered what it would be like if the women came off the pages of the calendar and started participating in the community.
Freidman’s performance was fluid and without intermission despite the duration. As she meditatively sectioned the animal, her countenance was one of calm concentration; the joy she gets from her craft is clear. She moved with confidence, rarely taking pause, save for a moment of intimacy at the very onset of the performance. After making her first cut and separating the head from the body of the lamb, she stopped, cradled it in her hands for a moment, and smiled.
Photo by Erin Toale
Erin Toale graduated from Moore College of Art and Design with a BFA in 2D and 3D Fine Arts in 2006. Since then, she has worked as an administrator, educator, curator, researcher and arts advocate at non-profits, galleries and research centers including the Social Impact of the Arts Project, the Sullivan Galleries at the Art Institute of Chicago, and the Dorchester Projects. She is a recent graduate of the Dual MA in Modern Art History, Theory, and Criticism and Arts Administration and Policy Departments at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and a working artist.