This is an old story, but as this blog is called Blood and Porridge, I thought I had better put some blood in it. (The porridge will appear later.)
Last year, a couple of friends of mine in France thought of a novel way to illustrate the vast cost in human lives of the wars, conflicts and genocides of the past century. In history books, these losses can only be presented as multi-digit numbers. However, seeing 100,000 or 1,000,000 or 10,000,000 printed on a page hardly gets across to the reader the sense of massive carnage — a long sequence of zeroes is unlikely to convey the horror of slaughter conducted on an industrial scale.
Instead, my friends decided use blood to communicate this loss of life. First, they made a huge amount of fake blood. Then they gathered together an array of common kitchen receptacles and filled them with it, making sure the quantity in each was in proportion to the numbers of deaths caused by a particular conflict in recent history. And then they assembled the blood-filled vessels on a kitchen table and photographed and labelled them: Armenia, Cambodia, Iraq, North Korea, Sudan…
Once you get past the visceral, visual impact of the blood itself, you start to make unsettling comparisons. The death toll of the 9/11 attacks is represented by a tiny red bead. The bead is dwarfed by a crimson bowl that looms over it, representing the atrocity of Holodomor in 1932-33 — the ‘terror-famine of Ukraine’ that claimed something in the region of 3,000,000 lives, engineered by Joseph Stalin. I knew about 9/11, of course. With shame, I must admit that I hadn’t heard of Holodmor before I saw this.
For more information, check out the 100 Years of World Cuisine website at: http://100yearsofworldcuisine.com/.
On a less serious note, I should mention that a few times I’ve been in the room where this was put together. It belongs to two of the artists’ parents and is both a charming and (as you’d expect in France) a well-equipped apartment-kitchen in the heart of Paris. Seeing it transformed into a scene that resembled the trophy room of a vampirical serial killer was a shock. Not surprisingly, to create this display, they chose a weekend when their parents were away from home.
(I suspect this shows the cultural gulf between Paris and where I come from. The Parisians used their parents’ absence from the premises to make an artistic statement about the utter hideousness of human history. In the past, in Scotland, when my parents were away for the weekend, my immediate instinct was to commandeer the house for a debauched party fuelled by Southern Comfort, beer and AC/DC records.)
Incidentally, if you want to know how to make your own fake blood, here is an instructive clip by Mark Gatiss of The League of Gentlemen. I’m told that my friends followed much the same recipe, although they heated the mixture to make it thicker and used ‘maize-starch’ instead of ‘corn flour’.