Blood Processing

The first time I set foot on the industrial area of Ekro – the biggest calf slaughter and processing company in the Netherlands – was in 2017. I was shown around in their hide-processing area, later on, I went back to get a tour through the slaughterhouse itself. The immensity of these spaces struck as an absurdist, hidden and grotesque part of our daily lives. Visits to industrial slaughterhouses are part of my research-based artistic practice which revolves around systems that perpetuate a constructed hierarchy between human animal and non-human animal. Fieldwork in the industrial slaughterhouse revealed systems and constructions that keep the animal as Other as possible in order to ensure profit. Such a system is the narrative the industry presents to the outside world. The chaos, ambiguity and abjection of killing are filtered away on their websites, promotion reels and the way their products are sold in clean plastic on clean supermarket shelves. In this text, I propose a different way of thinking about the slaughterhouse and the deceased non-humans it produces. Based upon a theoretical basis of new materialist thinkers I re-imagine the slaughterhouse through the blood that is very visible inside but very invisible outside of it.

A pound of deceased meat

The French ethologist Vinciane Despret remarks on how language surrounding death reveals a hierarchy between human animals and non-human animals. “When dead, humans are bodies, corpses; animals are carcasses or cadavers, if they are not destined for consumption. The human cadaver exists, of course, but this designation covers specific situations. In the most general terms, if I go by the news or crime novels, for example, cadavers designate transitory states still ‘awaiting’ resolution.”[1] We use different words for different deaths. This is a method to put these deaths in different categories. The animal as carcass, cadaver, the human as a corpse or deceased individual. Using different words for the same phenomenon in different species pulls them apart and classifies them as different. Despret mentions that dead animals we use for consumption aren’t even carcasses anymore, they become kilo’s and pounds. It is hard to imagine the numbers of deceased people being signified by how many kilos of dead meat they are.

To think bloody is to think non-binary

The animal is stunned, but still alive when it is hung upside down and cut. The blood is important in the killing of the animal but often concealed by the industrial slaughterhouse that is killing it. The animal products we consume and encounter on a daily basis are sterile and controlled, stripped of anything that might remind you of the animal it came from. The blood that is necessary in the killing is concealed in an attempt to not remind us that death was necessary to create this product. This blood carries agency, a strong tool to face the responsibility that comes with the act of killing. Blood is non-binary, fluid and non-conforming to species, hierarchy or gender. If blood is defined as a liquid that carries life and is in constant motion within an organism, then almost everything on this earth is bloody. The slaughterhouse imagined through this blood becomes a very different space. Blood runs through the veins of both the butcher and the butchered. When you focus on this, the individuals in this space will not be defined by their categories anymore. Instead, they will be individuals with all the complexities that come with it, resulting in a non-hierarchical space. Of course, it makes sense to question if the act of slaughtering is possible in a space like this. However, imagining it is crucial. To invent different systems, imagining them different is a first step. Donna Haraway refers to this as storytelling. Through storytelling, unique knowledge is created and transmitted, made possible through the imagination.

How to be vulnerable

The industrial slaughterhouse is a space that is not made to be sustainable, it’s main goal is to make profit. Rather than thinking about the products we need, and how to make them in a way that ensures the well-being of the planet. The industrial slaughterhouse thinks about the way they are able to survive in an industry that is built upon constant growth. To keep a slaughterhouse running it needs to sell a lot of meat, to be able to produce this meat they have to grow, to pay for this growth they have to sell even more meat and so on. To think beyond a system like this it should be imagined different. Allowing time and space for discussion, reflection, and emotion is a way to do this. Death is always present in the slaughterhouse and instead of censoring or ignoring it, it can be used to think with. How do we deal with death, loss and, grief? Despret notes that a way to transform the way we deal with non-humans is to let ourselves be vulnerable. To allow for bonding and exchange to happen which makes vulnerable for loss and grieve. “This vulnerability emerges from active involvement in a responsible relation, a relation through which every being learns to respond and from which he learns to respond: it is through the grief one undergoes that life comes to matter; it is by accepting this grief that it counts.[2] She gives an example of the vulnerability of small-scale farmers who give their animals names and hang pictures on the wall of the ones they lost. They allow themselves to bond with them, making every decision regarding their animals an important and difficult one. This bond with their companion species makes industrialized farming and killing impossible, for it is impossible to have this bond with millions of animals that go through the industrialized meat system.

Immanent death doesn’t end life

The death in a slaughterhouse is ignored as much as possible, only a small, isolated part of it is dedicated to the actual killing. A few people in this space have to deal with the transformation from alive to death with all its complications. Braidotti writes about death: “The proximity of death suspends life, not into transcendence, but rather into the radical immanence of ‘just a life’, here and now, for as long as we can and as much as we can take.”[3] Life itself doesn’t end with the death of an individual, thinking about your own death as the ending of ‘just a life’ and not ‘the end, period’ puts death into perspective. Therefore, the death of another living being can be grievable but at the same time an immanent material to work with, not a transcendent entity floating above our heads. This is also a way of challenging the abjection of the corpse, the carcass. Abjection of the carcass is about the confrontation with your own mortality, if your own mortality becomes an immanent material to work with it becomes more manageable of a confrontation. And the abjection of the corpse becomes immanent as well, not in a way that hides it but, in a way that you can work with it.

Make kin

Blood is very visible inside the slaughterhouse and very invisible outside of the slaughterhouse. It is filtered away to protect consumers from confrontation. Imagining a slaughterhouse through the blood means making it visible, transparent. Something that is visible is something you can talk and think about. A blood-oriented slaughterhouse is one with windows, perhaps a visitor’s centre, space for education and thinking-with. A place with an identity that doesn’t hide behind smart marketing techniques. The bloody slaughterhouse fits in a world Donna Haraway imagines and describes as the Cthulucene. “”My” Chtulucene, even burdened with its problematic Greek-ish rootlets, entangles myriad temporalities and spatialities and myriad intra-active entities-in-assemblages—including the more-than-human, other-than-human, inhuman and human-as-humus.”[4] She describes the Cthulucene as a world where infinite beings and life forms connect in an infinite number of ways, endlessly complicated but immanent. Her slogan for the Cthulucene is ‘make kin, not babies’. Kin traditionally refers to family and relations, Haraway wants us to imagine kin as bonds we have to recognize and acquire amongst all creatures. To make and invent your own blood relatives other than the need of having to produce your own offspring and continue a literal bloodline. Kin is to be found in the slaughterhouse as well, it is a matter of discovering and recognizing them.

In conclusion, imagining the slaughterhouse through blood transforms the industrial slaughterhouse into a blood-oriented space. Blood-oriented thinking inside and outside of the slaughterhouse is about recognising kin, making vulnerable and transparency. It is a challenge to the industrial slaughterhouse to evolve transform and imagine beyond its current system. Blood is non-binary and thus moves beyond hierarchies related to the categorizing in opposites.

‘Blood Processing’ was originally part of the research paper ‘Awash in Blood’. For APRIA, it was slightly revised to read as a text on its own.


[1] Despret, Vinciane. What would animals say if we asked them the right questions? Translated by Brett Buchanan. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2016, p.83

[2] Despret, Vinciane. What would animals say if we asked them the right questions? Translated by Brett Buchanan. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2016, p. 87

[3] Braidotti, Rosi. The Post-human. Cambridge: Polity Press, 2013, p.21

[4] Haraway, Donna. Staying with the trouble. Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2016, p.101

Anna de Vriend

Anna de Vriend is a young artist based in Arnhem. In 2020 she will graduate from BEAR (Base for Experiment Artistic and Research)  at ArtEZ University of the Arts in Arnhem. Her artistic practice focusses on the embodiment of constructed hierarchies between human animals and non-human animals. As a research-based artist, she uses specific case studies such as the industrial slaughterhouse and the zoo. In these spaces, it becomes painfully obvious how non-human animals are oppressed. This becomes tangible for the viewer through her installation works where elements of these spaces are mimicked, showing the absurdity of holding on to constructed binary and hierarchical systems which perpetuates a structure of oppression.