Wysing Arts and BCA Gallery




Patricia MacKinnon-Day’s yearlong residency at Wysing Arts culminated in this exhibition of new work exploring issues around the production of pigs for meat. Her project was part of the centre’s ongoing science and art residency programme.


MacKinnon-Day chose to investigate research into animal behaviour and made contact with the Department of Clinical Veterinary Medicine at Cambridge University. There, she was introduced to Liz Genever, a PhD student in animal welfare, studying the social behaviour of penned pigs. Artist and scientist shared ideas and MacKinnon-Day accompanied Genever during her observations of pigs on the farm and in the abattoir. The proposition under investigation was ‘do happy pigs produce tastier meat?’.


MacKinnon-Day’s experience is distilled in two sharply contrasting art works. One is a composite, twin-screen video installation entitled Chew until Saturated; the other a transparent sculptural installation made of glass and acrylic resin entitled Membrane.


During the exhibition a litter of pigs from The College of West Anglia resided in a specially constructed enclosure in the field above the gallery.


The project was funded by Arts Council England under the Regional Arts Lottery Programme with additional funding from the Grants for the Arts scheme. It was been produced in partnership with BCA Gallery, Bedford, where the exhibition was shown in November.


Discussing this exhibition, MacKinnon-Day ranges across the language of scientific research, the anthropomorphic interpretation of pig behaviour, the shock of the magnified detail (in the form of the consuming mouths), the commodification of animals and the architecture of pig sheds. Her art thrives on curiosity and, as most good art does, raises more questions than it answers. Although the viewer is confronted, on one level, by beautiful objects, a disquieting subtext lies beneath the smooth surface.


This residency offered me an opportunity to become absorbed in a completely new, exciting and challenging field of study. The concepts for the art have evolved from a six-month period of research with Liz Genever, observing both the pigs and the particular language and methodologies Liz uses in her work.


Liz closely observes the pigs’ behaviour three weeks prior to slaughter. She analyses their behaviour patterns and physical traits to judge their stress levels. The food industry (sponsors of the research) believes that happy produce tastier meat. An interesting correlation emerges between pig and human social groupings. The raw data Liz has compiled has proven a useful source of information and ideas for new work.


At the farm, the pigs, enclosed in small pens within a large shed, are coming to the end of their life. During each visit Liz produces, at different times during the day, five simple drawings, reminiscent of dance notations. These drawings map out the social groupings and behaviour of the pigs. Liz sprays a number onto the back of each pig to identify it.


I filmed and recorded the sounds of the pigs feeding during each visit to the farm and also the mouths of thirty adults eating a bacon sandwich. I have included nine mouths in a grid in the finished projection. The human feeding is viewed opposite an animation projection of dancing pig wallpaper. The close up of the mouths is an intimate and slightly disgusting view and the bacon looks very pink and flesh-like. I want the viewer to be confronted by the juxtaposition of conflicting sounds and associations and to question what is going on.


I would like to thank the following people for their contributions to this project


Liz Genever

Tom Hering, The College of West Anglia

Stephen Robinson

Idris Day

Mrs Charlotte Richards and children from Bourn Primary School:

Jodie Baker, Jenny Bane, Christopher Butterworth, Alex Cox-Nergard, Kelly Dedross, Nathan Ladd, Daniel O’Brien, Oliver Temple and Helena Wareham


Professor Donald Broom, Veterinary School, University of Cambridge