by Lucas de Lima on Aug.11, 2011
If To Bring You My Love was the album that overwhelmed and saturated PJ Harvey by turning the musician into a dramatic vessel for art, it was Boys for Pele that took Tori Amos’ mediumicity to new lows and heights beyond theatricality. Staged in the Gothic south, the album’s artwork unravels its own staginess. While one photograph depicts Amos in a rocking chair with a gun in her lap, dead cocks at her side, and snakes slithering on a deck, in the enclosed booklet Amos accidentally suckles a piglet as per an interview:
“Um, that day, the little critter was 4 days old. And he was with me for hours. And was scared, and hungry, and just kind of fell right in on there.”
In the same interview Amos jokes about “nurturing the non-kosher” and explains the photo as a reclamation of shame. In another interview, she recalls a childhood memory of her father covering her eyes before another woman’s exposed breastfeeding. If it’s clear that the photo thus responds to the ways in which women’s bodies are estranged and debased, the piglet attached to Amos’ breast exceeds identity as an interpretive frame. Identity, I think, is just what the photo ends up evacuating (along with any possibility of a mask). As a disorientation of the “Madonna and Child,” the image achieves its sacred glow precisely through profanation. In the piglet figured as Jesus, we see an improperly Christian separation of life–an unthinkable and unnamable cross-species encounter that awes us because of the nonhuman infant it exalts.
While elevating the piglet religiously, however, the photo reduces and confuses the porcine and human at the level of flesh. This posthumanism, as it were, lies in the sudden conviviality of bodies opening up to each other: Amos herself sings in the album’s “Blood Roses,” “Sometimes you’re nothing but meat.” Sometimes, in other words, art emerges as the accidental scene of authenticity–of an act that spills through its subjects, spills subjects into each other, spills over the art-frame. The authentic act thus erupts as a matter of bodily matter, or unrestrained and unpredictable touch, taste, milk, blood, flow: a totally undifferentiating sensation.