June 2-5, the world's pork producers and the usual assortment of groupies and hangers-on will be descending on the Iowa State Fairgrounds for the 20th annual World Pork Expo. They'll listen to speakers, attend seminars and events and hobnob with other movers and shakers in an industry that's optimistically expecting to produce just under 100 million metric tons worth of pig flesh for human consumption in 2009. The speakers and topics aren't up on the site yet. Maybe the editor of National Provisioner will kick things off by whipping the attendees into a frenzy with one of her diatribes against the sinister animal rights activists. PR experts will conduct role playing seminars on how to feign moral indignation when the next undercover slaughterhouse video surfaces. The attendees will need to unwind a little too. Along with music and a golf outing, the website says there's going to be a clay target shooting competition. There'll also be plenty of memorabilia, like the commemorative toy tractor. Of course no World Pork Expo would be complete without the breathless reporters from National Hog Farmer Magazine taking photos of the VIP's as they arrive.
Not so predictable is the PigCasso art show. You know at the very top of the achievements section of some ambitious PR executive's resume it says, "Came up with the name PigCasso for the Annual World Pork Expo art competition." Meanwhile, this executive's rival, whose LichtenSwine was the runner-up, is left to curse fate and a naming committee whose superficial knowledge of art history biased them in favor of the bigger, better known names.
Last year, Herbert Goodwin, of Gary, Indiana, won Best of Show for his painting, "Pork Producer." He won $400 and a ribbon. What is it with pig slaughterers and their ribbons? It's kind of reached fetish proportions. Ribbons for winning paintings, ribbons for soon-to-be-slaughtered 4H club victors. How is it that they arbitrarily landed on the ribbon as the ideal way to honor the artistic rendering of the slaughter and the emergence of a new generation of slaughterers?
Michael Frakes, a PigCasso judge, called Pork Producer,
visually engaging, with the use of wonderful details, colors and shadowing ... we had a lot of talent this year. It was a challenge to pick the best in each division.
Each division? As if discovering an art competition is part of the World Pork Expo weren't paradigm-shifting enough. Now we find out there's multiple divisions. It turns out the artists can enter the following categories: Oil, water and soluble PigMents (another coup for the punning PR executive?); Drawings, prints, pastels; sculpture; textiles, fibers, crafts; and photography. Why not break it down even further into style and movement? impressionism, dada, surrealism, post impressionism. Jackson Pollock-type abstract expressionism might be the ideal way of rendering the spattering of blood when the heroic pork producer raises the stun bolt to the head. (The entry form for this year's PigCasso competition isn't on the site yet. The PR release about last year's competition is here.)
Here's the most amazing thing of all: people actually enter this competition. You think of artists contemplating the cosmos, trying to find their place in the world. You go down a list of the artist's themes -- love, redemption, despair, rapture ... pork production? When these artists bought their very first sketchpad, did they have any inkling that at some point in the future they'd be painting helpless pigs confined in crates, dying in train cars, brutalized, shackle hoisted, stun bolted? But maybe those aren't the "wonderful details" judge Michael Frakes was praising in Pork Producer. Maybe like so many of their contemporarites, the World Pork Expo judges have discarded realism in favor of more post-modern sensibilities.
The works with the most detailed rendering of pork production are in the short film category. It's not an official PigCasso category, but if it were, the winner hands down would be the undercover video shot at the Hormel supplier farm in Bayard, Iowa. Frakesean details suffuse the entire film: metal rods, wooden palettes, hard cement floors. Anyone who's seen this video would have to agree with the judge, Satan, who awarded it the first prize ribbon.