The Alan Sondheim Mail Archive

July 26, 2012

Some commentary on Carrie Ahern's Borrowed Prey

I sent out the link to Borrowed Prey a couple of days ago; I'm not sure if
you've taken the time to see it. I held off sending the comments below,
since I didn't want to bias anything of course. So here they are, and they
might be of interest if you've seen the piece; if you haven't, they might
encourage you to watch it.

Thanks, Alan

Carrie Ahern's Borrwed Prey at
and her website is .

Hi Carrie, watching this now, slowly, and wanted to say a few things, that
you're incredibly brave with this piece, which I'm not saying lightly. And
it's both brilliant and harrowing, and for me, traumatic; Azure and I are
vegan / vegetarian at this point, and your piece resonates that way. I'm
not sure you're aware of recent research that shows that herd cows have
complex social relationships, and friendships; they know when their
friends are taken away and it puts them under considerable stress. There's
indications that they know they're going to die. I know from ornithology
that birds also have this sort of awareness. As far as chickens or other
confined farm animals go, their lives are so determined by farmyards or
feedlots of one sort or another, that their behavior is conditioned that
way - if you look at wild and domestic turkeys for example, the former
have a great deal of intelligence which the confined animals don't (this
study was also performed on kittens, in one of the meanest 'experiments'
around) - for myself, as feel as much empathy with a bird as I do with a
mammal (you talk about this). Knowing the conditions of farm animals -
very different from the "Old McDonald had a farm" fairy-tales when I grew
up, and the pain/suffering they go through, I can't justify to myself
eating them. You mention the research of Temple Brandin - she talks
herself about being autistic and non-empathetic, and her description of
animals follows suit - not their Weltanschauung, but their sensory
modalities and what calms them. But what goes on otherwise,
psychologically and culturally, is of a different order, and subtle - the
research on cattle friendships for example is only recent, and only
recently as well has it been recognized that birds are cultural (Azure's
been formally studying ornithology). I'm just trying to explain why your
piece resonates with me, horrifies me, and draws me in; I think it's one
of the best performances I've ever seen, because it's life-changing, and I
just want to end by thanking you for it - - Alan

Hi Carrie, I've finished, I found it harrowing. I'm from north-east
Pennsylvania, where students got days off from school for the deer season.
I've come across dead deer just left lying in the woods, all does, and I
knew that the fawns would also be starving to death. There was also the
pritual of first blood, but I never saw that personally. Killing was a
real part of the culture. I couldn't stand it. I couldn't buy into the
ideology that "hunters control deer" - when for millennia deer were
controlled by the natural order of things. But the hunters got rid of the
wolves and as you know there are even bear-hunting permits, even though
the bears are almost extinct from the woods. All of this came to mind
towards the end of the video. I think of hunting as slaughter, I can't
help it. At one period it was necessary for survival, but it's not now,
and calling it a sport to me is like hammering an infant - the man with
the gun has the power and the deer has none. I can't even fish. Azure
majored in environmental education and both she and I subscribe to and
occasionally work with environmental groups - and all the news world-wide
is bad as you know. It's reached the point where I forward Peta and other
graphic things to her because I can't handle them. Some of what you did in
the performance also related to what I was doing at Eyebeam - I don't
think you saw any of that. It was based on how to deal with, how to
present, pain, wounding, and death, in the virtual - both in the 'real
virtual' world of social media, and virtual worlds like Second Life. I
could only work with images, photographs, things I constructed; it was
ultimately all screen based. But sometime you might be interested in
seeing that work; it's been well-received.

I think this is the best performance I've seen in a long long time (along
with Foofwa's). It's uncanny, and creates silence in the face of flesh and
death; thinking falters and becomes a different kind of thinking, or
growing in the world. And I really, again, have to thank you for this.

- - Alan

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