Whether you believe in animal welfare (i.e. using animals for human purposes such as eating, clothing, research, etc.) or are a strong proponent of animal rights (i.e. want to abolish the use of animals as property), one thing that both groups can agree on is that animals should be treated in a humane way and that we should try to minimize their suffering. While animal cruelty and torture is never okay, the latest fad of torturing animals for sake of art, is especially infuriating. Let’s take a brief look at this hopefully transient trend and think about what art really is. Is it culture, or is it barbarianism?
Guillermo Vargas’ Starved Dog
Costa Rican Guillermo Vargas (a supposed artists) put up an installation at an exhibition a little over a year ago at a Nicaraguan art gallery featuring a starving dog. While it is difficult to find out the actual story of the dog, there are two versions that exist. According to the first version, the artist paid a few kids to capture an emaciated, stray dog, who was subsequently tied to the wall in the art gallery with food just out of its reach and after a few days was starved to death. The second version (the one being used by the gallery) says that the dog was present only for the 3-hour duration of the exhibit and was otherwise taken care of and fed.
The artists justification for the capture and tethering of the dog in the gallery is that he wanted to illustrate a point – that ‘tens of thousands of stray dogs starve and die of illness each year in the streets and no one pays them a second thought.’ He certainly made a point, though not the one he was supposedly aiming for. There was massive uproar in response to the exhibition and an excess of 4 million people signed a petition against it, the use and abuse of animals as art, and to prevent the Vargas from participating in the 2008 Bienal Centroamericana in Honduras.
Damien Hirst’s Lumps of Dead Animals
Hirst has been called a mad man on more than one occasion, and perhaps rightfully so. One of his most famous pieces, The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living, consists of a shark in a vitrine, preserved in formaldehyde. Commissioned in 1991, the piece was sold in 2004 and made Hirst the second most expensive living artist. What’s worse, because the original piece wasn’t preserved properly and started to deteriorate, Hirst’s team captured another 25 year-old female shark, killed it, marinated it and injected the body with formaldehyde to replicate the original process.
Among the artist’s other equally absurd pieces are, Away from the Flock, which consists of a dead sheep in a glass tank full of formaldehyde, and Mother and Child Divided, consisting of a mother cow and a calf sliced in half in a glass tank of formaldehyde. Hirst is often criticized for his art being composed mostly of ‘lumps of dead animals’ and destroying contemporary art by taking it from culture to barbarianism.
San Fransisco Art Institute Slaughterhouse
On March 19, 2008, Parisian artist Adel Abdessened opened an exhibit called “Don’t Trust Me”. Among other things, the show included something that can only be described as a snuff film using animals. The installation included six video screens showing a loop of various animals being bludgeoned to death with a sledgehammer next to a brick wall. The animals included a pig, goat, horse, sheep, and ox. As voiced in concerns from animal welfare groups, the videos were degrading, cruel, didn’t make a point, and simply showed the murder of animals for the sake of art.
The exhibition was removed a few weeks later after thousands of emails and protests in response.
Wim Delvoye Tattooed and Tortured Pigs
Another self-proclaimed ‘artist’, Wim Delvoye shaves and tortures (tattoos) pigs in Beijing for a living. Among the brandings he has performed are Louis Vuitton logos, various words (including his own name in Walt Disney-style font), smiling faces, mythical creatures, and more. These pigs are sold for thousands of dollars and collectors either keep them as pets or purchase the tattood skins of dead pigs.