Can Art Go Too Far?
- United Poultry Concerns - http://www.UPC-online.org/
11 May 2013
Can art go too far?
Please listen and COMMENT on this audio piece on CBC Radio: The Current
"Everyone became a critic at Alberta's College of Art and Design when a student
killed a chicken as part of an art project. But the most powerful critic was the
school -- and it swung the axe. Was it performance art or an act of
Mary Britton Clouse, Executive Director of Chicken Run Rescue and Justice for
Animals Arts Guild, posted the following comment yesterday after listening to
this radio broadcast featuring a freelance art critic and an artist who encases
slaughterhouse blood in Plexiglas. Both defended the killing of a chicken by a
student at the Alberta College of Art and Design on August 18. A third artist
who spoke near the end of the program challenged their callousness toward the
chicken and their flippant attitude about art.
"Art Should Go Farther" by Mary Britton Clouse
Art is about ideas. Animals are not ideas. They are as real as we are. Their
suffering and deprivation are psychologically and biologically indisputable, in
the present, and mean the world to each individual animal. No act of
self-expression is worth the life or liberty of another.
Self-censorship is exercised by artists every moment of every day. The species
used in violent art almost always conveniently fall into categories of animals
afforded the least, or no, legal protection and consideration: animals used for
food or experimentation, and "pests." Violence toward another human being would
never be mistaken for free expression, and neither should this.
The opinion of art critic Blake Gopnik and artist Jordan Eagles that the killing
of THIS chicken (as opposed to A chicken) is not a problem, but that destruction
of inanimate property in the context of an upcoming Hirschorn exhibit is
worrisome violence, defies the imagination.
The lack of critical thinking on the part of the student who committed the act,
the students who failed to stop him, and the teacher's apparent approval of it,
are stunning. What is being defended is deeply ordinary, run-of-the-mill,
unremarkable, unexceptional, average, mediocre, pedestrian, prosaic, lackluster,
dull, bland, uninteresting, mundane; hackneyed, trite, banal, clichéd,
predictable, stale, tired and unoriginal. Show me something new and farsighted
beyond the hole humanity has dug for itself.
Which, if any, of the following exhibits involving animals would Gopnik and
Eagles not have approved of on ethical grounds, and if there are any, for what
- live fish displayed in a blender with a fully operational power switch
available to museum guests. Trapholt Art Museum in Denmark, 2000.
- live chickens caged and tacked on a wall at the Minneapolis Institute of Art,
2000. (No Live Animals Policy instated, 2001.)
- video tape of a cat tortured to death to be exhibited at a gallery in Toronto,
2001. (Exhibit cancelled.)
- chicken beheaded in an art class at the University of California, Berkeley,
- chickens, mice, cats and rabbits from shelters decapitated and photographed
within moments of their death in Sweden, 2004.
- predator and prey species housed together at the Walker Art Center in
Minneapolis, 2005. (No Live Animals Policy instated, 2006.)
- starving street dog chained in a gallery with food just out of reach until he
dies in Managua, Nicaragua, 2007.
- video of a horse, a pig, a goat, an ox, a deer and a sheep bludgeoned to death
at the San Francisco Art Institute, 2008. Exhibit canceled. Humanitarian Art
Ordinance, passed in March 2009.
- a proposed exhibit of chickens confined in a public space, subjected to the
stress of constant relocation, throats slit in a public ceremony, and eaten in
Lawrence, Kansas, 2012. NOTE: Lawrence's city attorney pulled the plug on this
proposed exhibit on the basis that it violated animal cruelty statutes and the
exhibit instead became a meaningful discussion about the value of THESE
The fact that Gopnik and Eagles are utterly indifferent to suffering and death,
but are ready to turn this student butchery of a chicken for "art" into a
campaign about the tenure rights of the instructor, Gordon Ferguson, who was
fired by the Alberta College of Art and Design for his role in the violent
performance, speaks volumes about the self-serving closed society that art
marketing has become. Given the fierce competition for increasingly scarce arts
funding, there exists an irresistible incentive for outrageous acts to be
rewarded for being close to the limit of conventional, but "legal,"
An artist must have the right to express, verbally or non-verbally, an abstract
idea. Yes. Does this right trump the bodily integrity of another living being?
No. To paraphrase: one's right ends at the other's nose. Art institutions must
adopt "No Live Animals" policies or become irrelevant. Animal experimentation
requires the oversight of Institutional Animal Care and Use Committees (shams
that they are) before animals can be requisitioned. Why should self-proclaimed
artists get a free ride (and the fringe benefits of notoriety) with no
responsibility for their actions?
The artist's choice of subject/performance for shock value reflects a cynical
disrespect for intellectual integrity.
The line that cannot be defended is to place the importance of art above the
real, palpable interests of THIS chicken. This was her only life. If the world
never sees any more art, it will survive. The suffering of a living creature is
real and in the present, and her life meant the world to THIS chicken.
It was painful to listen to the myopic ramblings between Gopnik and Eagles, but
I am extremely grateful for the introduction to artist Joe Zammit-Lucia who
articulated respect for both artistic integrity and for THIS chicken. Now I have
something new and farsighted to look forward to seeing.
Mary Britton Clouse
Justice for Animals Arts Guild - http://www.brittonclouse.com/jaag
Chicken Run Rescue - http://www.chickenrunrescue.org/
For more information about the Calgary, Alberta chicken-killing-for-"art"
episode on Thursday, April 18, see:
United Poultry Concerns is a nonprofit organization that promotes
the compassionate and respectful treatment of domestic fowl.
Don't just switch from beef to chicken. Go Vegan.
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