Originally commissioned by The Photographers' Gallery (London), Horizontal Humans is a timelapse 3D scan animation. The work follows a series of taphonomic experiments, charting the decay of pig carcasses in a field in rural England.
Anatomists call the pig “horizontal human” because of what we share inside1
Humans and pigs are anatomically and physiologically incredibly similar. They share a similar muscle to fat ratio, similar organ position, a similar skeletal arrangement. Our skin is similar to their skin2, so much so that tattoo artists train on pork joints from the butchers. Talk of pig to human transplants and blood transfusions has created tabloid headlines and been considered by commercial biotech companies such as PPL Therapeutics, famous for cloning Dolly the Sheep3 4.
Our similarities do not rest at the physical; our affinity extends to the personality and cognitive abilities of pigs. They are said to exhibit complex emotions, and infamously fill the 'human' role in Orwell's Animal Farm5 6. Historically they themselves (not their owners) have even been held accountable for crimes and punished in accordance to our own laws7. Their flesh is the most readily eaten by mankind, constituting over a third of all meat consumption8. It is also said their flesh tastes most similar to human flesh, owing to the human cannibals of New Guinea calling their victims 'long pigs'9.
It is the similarity of their flesh and ours that make pigs perfect human substitutes for the study of decomposition. At TRACES (University of Central Lancashire) pig carcasses are monitored from the moment of death to eventual decomposition. This process helps us understand our own bodily decay and crucially assists in pinpointing the exact moment of death when a partially decayed human body is encountered in crime scene investigations.
An array of bizarre, staged scenarios unfold across a piece of Lancashire landscape, where close to one hundred pig carcasses are monitored annually. The pigs' bodies are framed on concrete plinths, hung from scaffold frames, half buried. They are hidden in plastic wheelie bins, in suitcases, under tarpaulins. They are shot, burned, tattooed. They lie with plastic bags on their heads, or with the tell-tale scars of a forensic autopsy along their torso. Each act is carried out with clinical precision, under strict guidelines and with acute scientific rigour. Every act is a replication or a simulation of a possible human demise.