A drunken rooster, an intoxicated owl, a slewed sheep and an inebriated chicken. These are just a few examples of the animal forest that Frieke Janssens (b. 1980, Bruges) portrays in ‘Animalcoholics’. They’ve all had a drop too much. They stumble around, totter over or lie stretched out sleeping it off.

With this gigantic, surrealistic tableau Frieke Janssens presents a reflection on the meaning of alcohol today. Without adopting a didactic stance, she investigates the social, changing position of alcohol in contemporary society. There is still much tolerance for this socially accepted drug, although its acceptance is steadily declining.

Janssens found her inspiration in dozens of gin posters and in a study of the jenever distilling process. The photographer was struck by the connection between cattle breeding and jenever production. Oxes and pigs for example play a not unimportant role in the rich jenever tradition. Farmers used their manure to fertilize the grain fields for the jenever production. They also fattened these animals with distillation waste (pulp of distilled grain) that contained traces of alcohol. This led to expressions like ‘zo zat als een os’ (literally translated: ‘as drunk as an ox’) or ‘zo zat als een varken’ (‘as drunk as a pig’). The idea to work with typical Belgian farm animals was born here.

Own anti-branding campaign

The photographer likes to take human beings/animals out of context. She explores the loss of self-control and consciousness when people drink. Animalistic or primal instincts appear. Frieke Janssens shows the consequences of excessive use. The beasts are portrayed in their own worlds, yet the imagery is not overtly exagerated. The artist observed the behaviour and body language of drunk people on photographic footage and transposed their absurd, often funny postures to animals. In her panorama she poses the question whether animals, like human beings, need an escape as well?

For this production, the photographer built a fourteen meter-wide fictitious backdrop inspired by the many Flemish bars she found in the advertising posters. The setting contains many typical props like bar stools and a hatstand, and is covered in a whitish-pink paint. This monochromatic dye gives the whole an abstract, universal tone. Janssens has managed to eliminate every distraction, and focuses on the essence, in this case the moment of intoxication and the isolation that comes with it.