Billie: With Ventri, I transform cow stomachs from organs to leather. By doing so, I test the value of making objects from a material initially treated as a by-product in the food industry. I investigate how I can create awareness of the importance and potential of these overlooked materials. The leather goods of Ventri tell the stories of materials in transformation: the history of the stomach as a cow’s organs and the new life, context and function which it is granted within the project.
When I saw a cow’s stomach for the first time, I did not know what I was looking at. I saw a skin-like material with different structures like honeycomb netting, thin ruffles and folds and textures reminiscent of fur and scales. I found the aesthetics of this material mysterious and so compelling that I spent the past several years working with the stomachs, resulting in the project Ventri.
Cow stomachs are considered waste in the Dutch food industry, unfit for anything but dog food. For me, the rich, organic textures make these organs a fascinating material to work with. The four stomachs of the cow have different properties, each one shaped by its own function. Some are like winding landscapes; others are almost reptilian. Through the tanning process, I transform the raw, natural aesthetics of the stomachs into leather products, each object with its own special look and feel.
With Ventri, I question the separation of waste and value in our society, creating a cycle of products in which new life is granted to the stomachs after the industrial process. But not only the material changes; we and the industry can change too. I believe that awareness about the journey of changing materials can also allow for imagination and better care for our environment. Preparing the stomachs for tanning with the help of the meat processing workers requires close attention, care, and more time than the workers would usually spend with organs on the production line. As a consequence, their relationship to the “waste product” changes. My work enables me to interfere in this industry by bringing poetic associations; the production line becomes slow for once, making an exception to its usual fast pace and efficiency. Small scale and slowness create attention to the process, the workers and the materials. Through this alternative working method, room for dialogue appears, allowing for identification, rituals and new relationships with the material.