Handholds (and other kill floor mnemonics)
On the kill floor of a small U.S. animal slaughterhouse, butchers use knives to separate pig hides from bodies. In the process of skinning and disassembling, the animal’s body takes shape, becoming knowable and known in new ways. I focus in on the material interactions between hands, hides and knives to make sense of slaughter as a material-semiotic process. Though animals are unequal and unwilling partners, they take the lead at times, guiding butchers’ moves and cuts, and offering ways to get a hold of, make sense of, and manipulate the body. In the short film handholds and this companion essay, we zoom in on cuts in flesh: literal handholds in animals’ hides that butchers use to get a grip, to hold taut, to rotate, to skin, to pull a pig across a room, and to carry its head and hide to the offal bin. Here I ask what it means to get a hold of and make sense of a body using this sort of material mnemonic device.
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