Art is of the Animal: Tori Amos & the Breastfeeding Piglet

by 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.

9 comments for this entry:
  1. megan milks

    lucas, how i wish you had been at my tori amos-themed 30th birthday party. i love your reading of this iconic photograph.

    i wonder what you make of the stagy theatricality of the strange little girls and american doll posse albums/artwork – i’m thinking of tori’s various personae and their relationship to identity and (potential) identity evacuation. there’s something banal about their artifice that makes them (accidentally? maybe not) kitschy – though in thinking about pj harvey’s relationship to her theatrical costuming (and p.s. pj’s white chalk performances are also interesting in this regard) i’m rethinking. it’s perhaps the level of control that tori seems to want to exert over these multiples and their too-easy distinctions from one another that makes them not super interesting to me. no spillage allowed, or something.

  2. Josef Horáček

    “Identity, I think, is just what the photo ends up evacuating (along with any possibility of a mask).” This is intriguing. I wonder if you could elaborate. Are you saying that the photograph is no longer concerned with a human subject, or any subjectivity whatsoever?

  3. Lucas de Lima

    Hey Megan,

    I would’ve loved to get smashed with you and Tori. Though to be honest I stopped paying attention after Strange Little Girls. I think you’re right, Tori’s later personae seem more preconceived than stumbled upon. Her earlier songs always took on masks, but their plurivocality allowed for a spillage, ambiance, and force that the more self-conscious and demarcated personae perhaps unwittingly foreclose.

    Josef, yes, I think the photo is utterly unstable. I see it as bodies in the midst of dissolution and becoming… I think it’s an image that resists any analysis based on naming, representation, and meaning. Instead it demands a bodily approach, based tactility, and affect.

  4. Francesco

    Loved your interpretation, and I’d love to hear a wider take on Tori’s visual representation from BFP era. I’m definitely sharing this.

  5. Nick Demske


    this is interesting, to say the least. you might want to take a look at a somewhat parallel post I put on my blog last night:

  6. Lucas de Lima

    Nick, those are some crazy links in your post. Can’t wait for the ms. Tori sings about “starfuckers” in “Professional Widow” from this same album… it’s kind of like a perverse national anthem… USA cast as Courtney Love… also could be a soundtrack to porn.

  7. Nick Demske

    thanks, luca. you already heard two poems from that ms in DC, actually. that’s ironic, about the song lyrics, though. we have that album at my library, so you sir just upped our circulation statistics. I’ll check it out asap. thanks man.

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