Have you got the stomach for this?

But is it art?

The cultured and the curious have been visiting a north Norfolk beauty spot this week to watch a silent, young woman slowly scrub and wring out cows' stomachs in a basin of dirty seawater before pegging them on a clothes horse to drip.

Elena Italia's three-day show is part of the Salthouse 11: Ad Limina contemporary art festival based in the coastal village's St Nicholas' Church.

An EDP straw poll in the area yesterday showed a mixed reaction to the unusual event, ranging from accusations that it was a load of tripe to those who found it moving.

Called 'Untitled', Ms Italia's performance aims to remember and honour those who died in the devastating East Coast floods of 1953 and remind younger generations of potential future disaster.


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Between 10am yesterday and 5pm tomorrow, she plans to wash cows' stomachs 307 times – once for each life lost – walking occasionally down to the beach to collect fresh sea water for her basin.

Ms Italia, 19, a first-year student at Norwich University College of the Arts (NUCA), had chosen cows' innards because so many cattle were also lost during the disaster, representing a huge economic loss to a largely-agricultural community, according to exhibition curator Laura Williams.

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'The piece is intended as meditative, or an almost holy performance. It wouldn't make sense out of the context of the church,' said Ms Williams.

'This type of performance art has been going on for hundreds of years,' she added. 'But people are not as used to seeing it as art, as they are paintings or sculpture.'

Salthouse farmer Robert Gray, 18, who was driving a tractor through the village, was unaware of the performance taking place nearby but did not think he would be visiting.

'I see plenty of cows every day. If I want to wash one's belly, I can just get an old rag and get scrubbing. It sounds strange – a bit rank really,' he said.

Mike Reed, 44, from Blakeney, was enjoying a pint in Salthouse pub The Dun Cow, after visiting the exhibition.

'lt reminded me of some contemporary Maori art,' he said. 'There was something which kept catching me about the repetition of the motions and the fact that everything was very considered.'

But Dun Cow regular Graham Jones, 66, from Holt, was sure he would not benefit from viewing Ms Italia at work.

He said: 'This Tracey Emin-type rubbish isn't art. It's a waste of time and space. There's too much of this sort of stuff going on round here. It doesn't do the locals any good. I couldn't watch someone scrubbing cow stomachs – it would be worse than tripe and onions.'

Holidaymaker Barbara Johnson, from Market Harborough, visited the exhibition and thought Ms Italia was washing dirty rags.

'It was quite absorbing. For me it pointed out the futility of housework, and life in general,' said Mrs Johnson.

On learning that the 'rags' were cows' stomachs and related to the 1953 floods she added: 'I think that makes it even more moving.'

alex.hurrell@archant.co.uk

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