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Marlow & Daughters

Arts and Entertainment, Profiles

Local Performer Leads Sensorial Journey Through “Farm to Table” Process

April 26, 2012

Dance and performance artist Carrie Ahern brings a whole new meaning to the phrase “you are what you eat” with her current project that delves into the connections between humans and the animals that many of us consume.

“For years, this question about sustainable food had been bothering me,” says Ahern, a Wisconsin native who moved to Brooklyn 17 years ago and currently resides in Ditmas Park. “I just felt so disconnected from going into a grocery store and buying a piece of meat and not really understanding where it came from.”

A growing interest in the origins of her food prompted Ahern to seek hands-on experience in the “farm to table” process back in 2010. The undertaking resulted in a bicoastal journey that involved hunting for Sika deer in the swamplands along the Eastern Shore of Maryland in the autumn of 2010 and then heading to Seattle, Washington a few months later to learn the art of butchering at Rain Shadow Meats. Ahern eventually spent a day slaughtering chickens at Stokesberry Farm in Olympia, Washington before returning to Brooklyn. Here, she has continued to perfect her butchering techniques at Williamsburg-based Marlow & Daughters.

Ahern’s forays into hunting, butchering and slaughtering serve as the main basis for her new work, “Borrowed Prey.” Though Ahern initially set out to better understand her own relationship with the “farm to table” process, the project took on a broader dimension during the course of her research.

“I felt like I really needed to be able to kill an animal if I was going to eat it… I really was so curious about what that experience would be like and if I would be able to eat meat after it,” Ahern notes. “But what ended up happening right away is I realized it is a project about empathy, more than anything. And it is a project about connection.”

The performer is creating “Borrowed Prey” as a diptych, with part one focusing on human-to-animal empathy and part two centering on human-to-human empathy.

Ahern began choreographing the first part of “Borrowed Prey” during her stay in Seattle last year, often walking straight to her studio after a shift spent carving up carcasses at Rain Shadow Meats. There, her roles as researcher and dancer became fascinatingly intertwined, as Ahern explains. “I started making the movement when I started the butchering,” she says. “So it comes directly out of my experience with all the research… putting it in my body and seeing what would come out.”

The result is a stunning work in which Ahern embodies both predator and prey, right down to her costume by Naoko Nagata that pairs a woolly, pointy-eared hood and furry shrug with a butcher’s apron splattered with fake blood. During a rehearsal at Brooklyn Arts Exchange in Park Slope, Ahern skillfully shifted from the limp stillness of a carcass on a butcher’s table to the playful strokes of a cat toying with a mouse to the skittish hops of a scared deer. Her movements were accompanied by a hauntingly beautiful score by composer Anne Hege that eventually gave way to an eerily distorted recording of Ahern reading text by Dr. Temple Grandin.

Grandin, an autistic and renowned animal behavior scientist, played an important role in the creation of Ahern’s new work. The scientist’s published findings serve as the fourth strand of research (along with Ahern’s hands-on studies of hunting, butchering and slaughtering) that informs part one of “Borrowed Prey.”

“Temple Grandin helped to answer some of the questions that we have about us versus animals,” Ahern notes. “Do animals think? Do they feel?”

Ahern hopes to get people thinking about these questions and many more by taking them along on a 55-minute sensorial journey filled with dance, music, spoken word, interactive touch experiments and open dialogue that leads up to the butchering of a lamb at the conclusion of the work.

The setting for Ahern’s upcoming performances will also provide rich stimuli, as the show will take place inside an actual butcher shop – Dickson’s Farmstand Meats – complete with pungent orders, a massive sausage grinder and a hefty butcher block that will serve as the dancer’s stage at times. Ahern plans to add her own touches to the space with the help of set and lighting designer Jay Ryan. Even such simple decorations as rawhide bundles dangling from the ceiling will serve to further Ahern’s examinations on the inescapable cycles of life and death, as she plans to fill them with decomposing flowers.

“Every aspect of the project is trying to get people more connected,” Ahern says. “It’s not that we just don’t ethically understand where our food comes from, it’s also that we’ve lost something in culture because we don’t participate in that process… by having a connection and empathy, there is more of a wholeness to our lives.”

Ahern will be performing part one of “Borrowed Prey” at Dickson’s Farmstand Meats in Chelsea Market on select nights from April 26 – May 13. Tickets are available for purchase at Brown Paper Tickets.


Photos by Lori Singlar for the Brooklyn Bugle


From the Web

Events, Food

A Feast for the Senses at TASTE Williamsburg Greenpoint

September 23, 2011

A strip of Williamsburg waterfront was transformed into a smorgasbord for the senses on Sunday, as
some 2,000 visitors from Brooklyn and beyond streamed into the CitiStorage lot at 5 North 11th Street to sample tantalizing dishes and drinks, dance to live music, and watch a butcher demonstration-cum-performance piece at the 2nd annual TASTE Williamsburg Greenpoint benefit that raised approximately $75,000 for the Northside Town Hall Community and Cultural Center.

“There is a really good variety – I love it,” said Greenpoint resident Erin Lee. “It’s like I’ve been all over the world.”

Switching the venue from last year’s block-long spot on Williamsburg’s public streets to this year’s location on CitiStorage’s private property gave event organizers the ability to feature an expanded lineup of restaurants and bands, as well as the addition of alcoholic beverages and the culinary performance piece.

“Being in a private location as opposed to being on a city street allowed us a little more freedom to do what we had envisioned for year one – that big block party feel,” said TASTE co-chair Melissa Estro.

Armed with festival maps and tickets (day-of prices ranged from $40 for 10 tastes to $90 for unlimited samples), attendees navigated their way around the event’s food stands and beverage tents manned by nearly 60 local restaurants, bars and businesses that doled out everything from wild boar ribs to absinthe milkshakes. With food and drink in hand, festivalgoers snagged seats at picnic tables with a waterfront view, while others stood in front of the music stage or gathered around the butcher demo/performance piece.

“There is a diversity of food… and everybody has been really nice,” said DUMBO resident Jack Berkowitz. “And the (butcher) demonstration has been spectacular.”

The inclusion of the culinary performance piece gave event attendees an up-close look at the “farm to table” process during a fascinating two-hour demonstration/discussion that involved anatomy lessons, proper butchering techniques, cooking tips and audience participation. While butcher Andrew Dorsey from Williamsburg-based Marlow & Daughters meticulously carved up a 110-pound half pig and described the various ways each cut could be prepared and served, performance artist Carrie Ahern discussed the animal’s anatomy in an interactive lesson that quickly attracted a small crowd.

“I’m hoping to get people a little more connected to where their food comes from,” Ahern explained. “The process of how we get our food is so slow and complicated, while our experience with it is one of convenience.”

“It is something greater than just a cellophane-wrapped Styrofoam tray in a supermarket fridge,” Dorsey added. “I hope (the performance) will bring more of an appreciation for the similarities between us and the animals that we raise for our nutrition.”

The pair led their audience on a sensorial journey through the butchering process, with Ahern using former dancer Rebecca Smith and volunteers from the crowd to draw comparisons between the anatomies of pigs and humans. As Dorsey cut into each part of the animal, Ahern touched related spots on her human models and discussed the functions of various muscle groups for both pigs and people.

Spectators were also given the option of participating in a tactile exercise when Ahern passed out disposable gloves and invited them to probe the glistening cuts – exposed muscles and all – that Dorsey piled onto platters.

“I thought it felt really slimy and kinda gross, but when you cook it into bacon, it tastes really delicious,” said one of the youngest audience members, 10-year-old Adrian Korin from Greenpoint.

“I like the fact that we are trying to connect the animal to what is on our plate, so from the standpoint of agriculture, we’ll hopefully have a little more respect for how we handle and treat animals before we serve them up as food,” added the youth’s father, George Korin.

Some curious passersby paused to watch and then quickly walked away in disgust, while others were impressed by the knowledge imparted by Ahern and Dorsey.

“I thought it was fascinating,” said Manhattan resident Sarah Chiapetta. “I think it is really important for people to see where their food comes from and not just see a piece of bacon on a plate. I think it is fine to eat meat as long as you have that understanding.”

The culinary performance piece also gave festivalgoers a glimpse into the range of cultural programming offered by the Northside Town Hall non-profit that benefited from the TASTE fundraiser. Proceeds will be used to redevelop Williamsburg’s shuttered firehouse at 134 Wythe Avenue into a community center focused on art and activism. Formed by local advocacy groups Neighbors Allied for Good Growth and The People’s Firehouse, Inc. who are heading up the renovation project, the non-profit has already staged performances at the site, which will be reborn as the Northside Town Hall Community and Cultural Center once the proposed $2-million revamp is complete.

“We have this Northside Town Hall Arts Happening Series that is now in its second year… and when we were looking for artists, we started talking with Carrie Ahern and the TASTE was coming up,” said Northside Town Hall board member and art committee chair Jaclyn Moynahan. “Since it is all about food, what better place to present her work? It became this perfect pairing.”

Ahern will premiere her Borrowed Prey show, which incorporates elements of her TASTE performance, at Manhattan’s LAB Gallery in April 2012.

Photos by Lori Singlar for the Brooklyn Bugle

From the Web