..... and a dead horse

By Margriet de Moor and Johan Wagenaar, 1995

The question is whether it is feasible or not. Casting an animal is technically impossible, unless it is dead. I can choose from four dead horses. Deposited in the large hall of the abattoir, the carcasses are remarkably different. This is not due to color or size as much as to the position in which they died. It is important to analyze this position, the moment the animal hits the ground, because I don’t want the expression of the future cast to be dramatic and even less to suggest a cruel death. Serene like a dead fly, which has stopped its fruitless spasms on the window sill and seems to have frozen in the clear light. The preparatory activities require respect. The animal has to be rubbed with grease or Vaseline. My hands are stroking a dead animal. Each of the four legs, the neck and the mane need an extra thick layer, because otherwise the moulds won’t come off loosely. Another problem is the fact that the hair tends to stick and clot, which makes at difficult to produce a sharp cast of this part of the horse’s body. The sound of my hands. In order to determine the location of the moulds I have to divide the animal into three sections. This division is related to the concept of ‘loose cover parts’, a technical term which refers to the need for the moulds to allow easy removal from the original. One loose cover part points downwards, one covers the middle-side section and others point upwards. In the end they fit in like a jigsaw puzzle. This way of dealing with death is strange to me. At first a stiff animal is frightening, but the fear doesn’t last; it only fills the mind for a short time. Before the mould parts are actually applied, we place the horse on a large plastic sheet, to prevent the bottom parts of the mould from sticking to the ground. If they did, this could lead to serious problems during the removal and cause the mould parts to break. Lifting a horse of such a weight is not an easy job, and in this case even quite precarious as it is very difficult to move the horse back into its original position. An effective solution is to lift the horse in a cloth rather than by its legs. The walls that have to be installed around the horse are primarily intended to delineate the bottom mould parts, determining the thickness and weight of the loose cover parts. For this purpose we use clay walls, which require support from cross bonds to counteract the strong pressure of the liquid plaster after it has been poured in. Casting a dead horse is a fat process. We have little more than a single day to complete it. Owing to the vegetable material still present in the horse’s belly, it starts to swell as soon as it has died, at such a rate that two days later a lifelike cast can no longer be made. Although it is technically possible to release the gases through an opening in the abdomen, it is better to start working within one day after the horse has died. I am assisted by three people, which is enough to meet the appointed deadline. The job requires a well-balanced division of tasks, so that it is possible to cast various mould parts at the same time. By working in two shifts we reduce the waiting time for the plaster to harden before the next layer can be applied. The hardening process can be sped up by using lukewarm water or adding salt. The first is the preferred method, because it does not significantly affect the structure of the plaster. The bottom layers applied to the ground are poured between the clay walls and the horse. As usual in plaster casting, a splash layer is applied manually first (‘splashing’). The central and top mould parts cannot be poured and have to be applied manually, too. After the first layer a polyester mat is applied to reinforce the whole. Slowly the brown body of the horse turns white, and more and more of it is covered by the mould parts. The large chunks of plaster sometimes contrast violently with the elegant forms of legs and trunk. The last part to be covered is the most sensitive one, the head, with its glazed eyes that no longer see. The plaster takes on the horse’s shape, sharply and firmly. Provided that it is prepared properly, plaster is strong an reliable and, above all, accurate. During the night the last mould was cast. The large belly mould and the one for the head will be done last. The process in reverse is bizarre. Peeling a horse as if it were a piece of fruit is revealing, though, and we begin to work slightly feverishly. The three of us together wrench off the large moulds. We cannot lift the heavy belly mould without the help of a small crane. I do the small ones myself, for example the ear mould, carefully and trembling. Every - thing, flawless. Later we are deeply moved when the animal is finally destroyed in the machine

This text by Margriet de Moor was written in close conversation with Johan Wagenaar, 1995

©Johan Wagenaar