Last month a student at the Alberta College of Art and Design (ACAD) slaughtered a chicken in the cafeteria for an art project that resulted in the police being called and a teacher getting fired.
“He just decided to slowly slit its throat while it’s wiggling, wriggling and screaming and then drained it out, popped its head off, strung it up, washed it, plucked it,” Breydon Stangland, a student who witnessed the act, described for the CBC.
Needless to say there were mixed reactions. While some were supportive, many students expressed outrage with at least one calling the police at the time, but police said the act was sanctioned by a teacher and was part of a project to perform an act of protest.
Gord Fergusen, the instructor, was fired from his position as head of the sculpture department following the incident. The college issued a statement to the effect that Fergusen wasn’t fired over academic or artistic freedom, but because of the perception about the school that the incident created.
Fergusen has since gotten his job back, but many are still left questioning the ethical boundaries of using animals in art.
While we all have varying opinions in our personal beliefs regarding the use of animals, most of us would at least agree that their suffering should be minimized. Unfortunately, there are still some who torture, maim and kill animals in the name of art, attempting to reach the ranks of the avant-garde, while trying to convince people they have created something of value.
From tattooed dogs and pigs and goldfish in a blender to more disturbing works, including Guillermo Vargas’ starving dog exhibit and Adel Abdessemed’s looping video that shows him murdering live animals in front of a brick wall for an exhibit titled “Don’t Trust Me.” Then there’s Katika Sinonse, aka Tinkerbell, who killed her cat to make a purse out of it…in order to raise awareness about animal cruelty and the way animals are used by society. Unfortunately, her cat wasn’t her only victim.
Can these acts of cruelty really be considered a form of art that has value to society? Or is it the attempt of simple minds to get away with something grotesque by trying to attach a deeper meaning to the brutality they inflict on their innocent victims?
Mary Britton Clouse, Director of Chicken Run Rescue and Justice for Animals Arts Guild, summed it up eloquently in written response to the ACAD “performance”:
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 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.
Our right to free expression shouldn’t trump another living being’s right to exist free from harm, regardless of the species. There are still many other artists who use their talents and work to engage audiences in other ways and use art as a means of expressing and inspiring awe at the natural world and the creatures we share it with… those who use art to start conversations without causing harm.
You don’t need to shoot someone in the head to start a conversation about gun violence and certainly don’t need to torture or kill an animal to start a conversation about the ways we’re already torturing and killing them …and attempt to justify it by calling it art.
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