“Be careful! I know you taste delicious!”
PLACENTA ART & COOKERY
A series of experiments completed during my artist’s residency at the NOMADIC VILLAGE 2012
During my time at the Nomadic Village 2012 I just happened to have a 13 week old placenta sat in the freezer. An odd thing to have in the freezer? Maybe – if you weren’t me, I guess. Even before I became pregnant, I knew that I would do something special with it. I wanted to create as many beautiful things from it as possible – before I ate it.
Eating placenta was something I found to be incredibly natural. It is called Placentophagy and most mammals do it – are we really that different? Even herbivores eat theirs! Apparently camels are the exception to the rule – perhaps they don’t like theirs covered in sand.
From a cruelty-free, veggie perspective – it’s the only piece of meat (save eating a surgically chopped-off bit) whose owner didn’t have to die first for it to be eaten!
The way we treat the placenta in the West is to incinerate it (and hospital maternity units don’t offer mothers the option to keep it), but there are other cultures in which it has a special place in rituals following a birth. It is common to use them in symbolic burials and tree planting.
The Chinese use it in traditional medicine and it’s growing in popularity to have it dried and encapsulated. ‘Potential’ benefits of eating your placenta are:
- Warding off postpartum depression.
- Improving breast milk supply
- Stimulating involution of the uterus
- Increasing energy and even preventing aging
- Postpartum hemorrhage
I could blab on and on about what I have read and learned about placentas, but I reckon I’ll save that for another blog!
I was too preoccupied after the birth to dig out and defrost my carefully stored placenta and cook it. As I briefly mentioned, you can hire someone to dry it out and reform it into easy-to-swallow capsules, but I wanted to do more with it than that, so I left it there, among the bags of liquidized kale, yellow-label Tesco bargains and Suma nuts and seeds.
The opportunity arose when I was chosen to participate as a resident artist in the Nomadic Village project – ahhhh, enforced creativity time… I would never have prioritized this idea otherwise.
On one of those amazing hot sunny days, under our snow-cam, lean-to in the shade of our motor home I prepped a workspace for my, now defrosted, placenta. Fellow nomadic sound artist Marek Gabrsych, recorded and documented the entire process from printing to fine-dining.
I did the following things on a large roll of wallpaper liner…
- Placenta Printing
- Painted Sheela-Na-Gig images with placenta blood and black food colouring
- Lino Prints
- Cured the Amniotic Sac that contained Max and stretched the skin
- Made the artistic piece, “A Womb With A View”
- Cooked the rest and shared the meal with my partner and four adventurous others!
- Had a lively discussion about eating placenta and cannibalism
- Retained the rest of the skin to make other things at a later date – including a pair of baby booties! I tried to crotchet a pair, but the pattern flummoxed me!
1. Placenta Prints
Without really doing much with the organ, I blotted it using the wallpaper liner spread before me. I repeated the process, experimenting with positioning. It was an amazing thing to play with. The veins running through the skin made patterns like a road map, palm print and tree roots. The flesh inside the bag was just like a sponge, in texture and function… it just kept on blotting!!
The bowl within which the placenta had been defrosting was full of blood! I experimented by painting with this blood and then mixing it with black food colouring – it applied like ink! I repeatedly painted a stylized self portrait based on a Sheela-Na-Gig – an ancient and archetypal pre-Christian image of fertility. I had a picture of this on the wall near my birthing pool to assist me through the first and second stages of labour. It reminded me that women have been doing this for millennia and it ‘does stretch that much’!
Self portrait of the archetypal image of Sheela-Na-Gig in B/W, Earth, Air, Fire & Water.
3. Lino Prints
I then made some block prints using a lino tile I had cut just days before the birth. The image was that of the Sheela-Na-Gig image that helped me through labour. I made pencil rubbings of the tile and created thank-you cards for my ‘Blessingway Sisters’ who had nurtured me beautifully.
4. Placenta Rawhide
I skinned the placenta to remove the bag Max grew in. I had a couple of shamanic drum hoops with me. I figured that a bag containing a baby for nine months, kicking away had to be pretty strong! I just hoped it could be stretched to cover a hoop! Failing that, I could make a shamanic baby’s rattle! And I could attach the rattlesnake’s tail I had brought back from the States during last year’s ‘Burning Man’ trip.
The skin was beautiful and heavily veined near the umbilical cord. I could not seperate it in one large unbroken piece so ended up with three medium sized bits. The skin wasn’t a single thickness either – it seemed to be made up of two layers. It reminded me of the construction of ply-wood. I separated the skin further into three smaller pieces of practically transparent skin, like cling-film. I cured all the bits in salt, stretched them on the wallpaper and turned them into rawhide – because it was in pieces I had to rethink my idea of a placenta skin drum or baby’s rattle.
The umbilical cord had gone pink in colour, as opposed to the beautiful white colour with a royal blue vein spiraling around it. An umbilical cord has two arteries and a vein, known as a three vessel cord. We would have liked to have had it cryogenically stored for possible future stem cell use… but it just didn’t happen.
I still have some of the cord in the freezer, part of it I will bury under a tree…but the rest? Suggestions anybody?
5. A Womb with a View
Using whatever bits I could find in the van, I made a light box, backlit with the LED innards of my broken head torch, a plastic version of a 12-week-old fetus that was given to me last year, tissue-paper and a placenta skin window. I named it, ”A Womb with a View”. I have a little skin left so I am going to also make a pair of booties to hang like fluffy dice, lol.
Recycled mixed media and placenta skin (Nomadic Village UK 2012)
6. Placenta Bourguignon
We did get around to eating it eventually that day. In fact… four adventurous others tried it too… it was delicious! We first tried a small piece lightly fried in olive oil just to see how it tasted before the addition of onions, garlic, mushrooms, and a dash of tomato paste, red wine and seasoning. It was really tastey! I thought it tasted like lamb with the texture of heart, another thought it tasted more akin to beefy liver. Asked what the umbilical cord tasted like and ‘parilla’ was the answer – ‘intestine’ to the uninitiated, lol.
It was amusing to see the looks on the faces of those who had tried it in a moment of curious spontaneity, after they had had a while to mentally process the occasion. They would give me a skewed look of “Did I really just eat that?” or “OMG!! That fell out of your vagina!” lol. One of the funniest comments was when Austrian Captain Klaus tried some – he said
“It iz very nice in zee mouth, but very weird in zee head”.
The moment of ‘fine dining’ was recorded as a live performance, albeit quite private in one corner of the kitchen tent. The table was decorated with beautiful orchids (unbeknown to everyone, they had decorated the lid of a coffin recently and we wanted to recycle them).
Later we had a discussion on cannibalism.
7. Cordon bleu or Cannibalism?
Now then, I keep saying ‘my’ placenta, but in actual fact, it isn’t mine, it is Max’s! It carries his genome. So… despite me growing it, and giving birth to it, it belonged to Max. This meant that eating it was actually a form of ‘cannibalism’! This sparked a couple of interesting conversations on the subject which will have to be saved for a different blog. In the meantime, here is someone elses blog that pretty much covers it…
As with much of my work, I aspire to gently push the experiencer, including myself, to question preconceptions and socio-cultural taboos by creating something beautiful and compelling from something dead and/or socially repulsive.
Great!! I get to tackle ‘another’ taboo! I also get to playfully threaten Max later on with…
“Be careful! I know you taste delicious!”
…………………. O ………………..
COMING UP!! – Placenta skin Booties! WATCH THIS SPACE!!
Look out for blogs on my other projects created at Nomadic Village– SHAMANIC ROADKILL CAPE & JAPANESE INSPIRED WISHING TREE