to remove the beak or mouth of an octopus during preparation for culinary use

At first it fills you with horror, a gruesome act you can hardly bring yourself to carry out. So horrendous you hope you are alone and that nobody witnesses your actions. But once popped, the warm feelings of satisfaction rush over you, it happened and it felt good. It literally felt good, euphoric sensations rise up from your finger tips and race across your arms before shooting tingles up your back, neck and scalp. That gooey warm sensation released after applying just the right amount of pressure, a careful consideration, a precision movement to induce the slow popping of the beak, out from the core ball of mouth muscles. Like a swollen spot or sore, you know you mustn’t, you shouldn’t, but you just can’t stop yourself. Squeeze the beak out and savour that moment, by yourself, a private moment you carve out for yourself from a busy day.

“Whhhhyyyy?? What happened? Where am I?”

“You’re stuck here, that’s’ it. There’s no way out, welcome to the abyss”

“It’s not so bad, we are together here. We can share and talk”

“I don’t understand, I can hear you but I can’t see you?”

“No, you’ll never see me, we are just voices now.”

“We are just voices but together we can speak up and change things.”


All those beaks, sloshing about in sperm whale stomachs and intestinal tracts. Some recent arrivals feel confused and scared, other more veteran beaks are bitter and some are at peace with their situation. All the beaks are chatting away, arguing, crying, and shouting warnings to others.

I can taste metal, or is it blood?

The sharpness of my steel blade seems to accentuate the smell and taste of blood here; blood and steel go hand in hand.

Through repeated movements and muscle memory, my knife becomes an extension of my fingers. Guiding the blade over bone and cartilage, along spines, through muscle tissue and sinew, together we dance with the bodies we work with and we move with elegance and grace. My body morphs into tools and clothing and these in turn become part of my body; a collection of things, inanimate and living combined into one fully conscious, autonomous and unified being.



Guts in my hands, feels like their moving in the water, always looking to reside anywhere other than my hands, wanting escape down the plug, getting tangled in the plug holes, looking for a way out through the drain system and back out to sea, home again.


There is so much life and movement here, in these bodies. These bodies need a director, a conductor to organise and make sense of the chaos, the heads, limbs, fins and legs all sprawling in different directions.


Working on bodies, working with bodies: this is intimate work. It’s sensuousness and tactility connects me to the physical world. I allow it’s visceral nature to develop by speaking less to people and doing more with my hands and head. The dirtiness of the work does not embarrass me or make me ashamed; I revel in it. It’s true and speaks of life without censorship, without an unhealthy obsession to make everything clean and safe and hygienic. I serve my client’s bodies, as would a massage therapist, with respect and care amongst the steel, the blood, the guts, and the chatting beaks.



For over 10 years Sam Curtis has used his day jobs as platforms or starting points from which to develop practice and projects. This has been a useful way for him to navigate precarity and has become a vehicle for inhabiting the grey areas and permeable boundaries between art and life. Informed by two years training and working as a fishmonger in Harrods, his practice often involves fishmongery in some form and he runs the Centre for Innovative and Radical Fishmongery, an organisation that explores how fishmongery can intersect with art, individuals and society.


Developed with support from the Artsadmin Artists’ Bursary Scheme

Thanks to: Amy Bluett, Eleanor Morgan, AJ Barlow fishmongers