The artist claims that the performance wasn't even cannibalism, and instead was a metaphor for self-destructive consumerism.
An artist in Latvia stirred up controversy with the release of his newest performance piece, called Eschatology, which featured two performers engaging in autocannibalism in front of a small audience and a live-streaming camera.
The performance, which was performed at the Grata JJ cultural center in Latvia’s capital city Riga, begins with appropriately ominous music in the form of a low, ethereal chorus. The performers – one male, one female – each bury a children’s toy in a small pot of dirt, before moving to sit with their backs to the audience.
Another performer, dressed in white surgical coveralls and carrying a handful of scalpels and tweezers, and two instrument trays kneels behind the two seated performers. With an almost dramatic flourish, the medical performer uses the scalpels to remove small sections of the seated performers’ skin, one at a time.
The seated performers remain resolute throughout the procedure, even as blood trickles down their backs and pools on the white bench beneath them. After the skin pieces are removed, the medical performer becomes a chef, taking the pieces across the room, and dropping them one by one into a pan, sitting atop a hot plate.
Again, with added flair, the medic-turned-chef seasons the two pieces of flesh, and lets them fry. The sound of the cooking can just be heard over the eerie music. Then the performers stand with the blood still trailing from their wounds. As they face each other, the chef drops their respective skin pieces into their mouth.
The audience is abuzz as cameras flash, and the performance is over.
Needless to say, those not in the room were outraged. After the video was posted on YouTube on March 3, 2018, complaints started pouring in, so much so that even the police got involved. Artist Arthur Berzinsh, however, was not swayed. In the description of his piece, the title of which means the spiritual study of death and the “end times,” he defended his work.
“This performance is a metaphor of consumer society that consumes itself,” Berzinsh wrote. “Even now, in post-postmodernism, we still don’t have the over-idea that brings us any meaning or justification of our existence.”
In an interview with the Sun, he further defended his work, and even eschewed the label of “cannibalism”
“Each of them ate his or her own piece of skin after [a] scarification procedure,” he said. “Otherwise fingernail gnawing also can be proclaimed as cannibalism.”
He continued to explain the thought process behind his work in the comments on the video’s YouTube page.
“I believe that the only true well-being is possible through self-realization, but [for this to be possible] we need the ontological destination. As long as we don’t have it, this self-realization is possible just for true individualists, [which] doesn’t mean much for the spirit of the whole civilization,” he said in a comment. “And civilization can’t last for a long time without its spirit. So it just exterminates itself through putting this consumer program in us. This extermination starts metaphysically (in culture), and afterwards everything tumbles down to reality.”
Despite the fact that cannibalism is not recommended medically (or morally), there are actually no explicit laws against cannibalism in the United States. Most of the legal parameters concerning the consumption of human flesh vary state-to-state, and actually deal more with obtaining the flesh, and not the actual act of eating it.