News

Art or Animal Cruelty?

by Howard Hurst on January 30, 2012

"Sound Installation" by Navin Thomas, (photo via Hindustan Times)

Indian artist Navin Thomas recently recieved a bunch of press for winning the SKODA prize for Indian contemporary art. Unfortunately his latest installation at Lalit Kala Akademi in New Delhi is garnering attention for an entirely different reason. His “sound installation” involves subjecting pigeons to using a copper wire perch that is actually a giant antennae in a room awash with radio chatter/white noise. According to professionals, this might be detrimental to the health of the birds. (duh)

Animal NY asks Is this a Sculpture or a Bird Torture Device? I might not go that far, but it seems pretty messed up. What makes it worst is the artists statement that, “I’m treating the birds better than they were treated where they had come from. I would even use a monkey if I could.” According to the Hindustan Times the artist didn’t obtain proper permissions from the Animal Welfare Board for his project.

Animal Cruelty Art

Sadly, this isn’t a first and probably won’t be the last. Way back in 2008, Costa Rican artist Guillermo Vargas chained what appears to have been a starving dog just out of reach of food as part of his installation “You Are What Your Read” at the Códice Gallery in Managua, Nicaragua. After a massive internet outcry, and a number of death threats, the gallery claimed the dog was only chained up during exhibition hours (to mimic the appearance of abuse?) You can read up on that whole debacle on The Guardian.

In a historicized throwback, LA’s MOCA included the Survival Research Laboratory’s “De Manufacturing Machine” (1979) in its exhibition Under the Big Black Sun: California Art 1974-1981. Check out the video of the machine, which grinds pigeons, dressed as Arab dignitaries and flings the gruesome remains at audience members. What’s interesting is that there seems to have been nothing but possitive press for the dudes at SRL. Rhizome reported pretty happily on the racist corpse eating machine.

Tom Otterness, despite a long, relatively socially conscious practice, has never seemed to quite escape the stigma he developed when he adopted a pup from the pound, tied it to a fence, shot it to death and called it art.  In fact he lost his 2011 comission with the city of San Francisco when word about the video got out.

It’s interesting to see who gets chastised for this stuff and who gets away relatively unscathed but really, the fact that this even happens makes my head hurt. Ok, so I understand the impluse to provoke outrage, but when will enough be enough? We don’t allow animal cruelty in the movies so why should our art be any different?

Dead pigeon image by karkajou1993 via DeviantArt

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  • http://www.dannyolda.com Danny Olda

    It would’ve been adequate if he could just gone about it conceptualist like – write the idea on an index card and paste it to a wall.  Don’t need to see the animals treated badly; I can imagine it just fine.

  • http://twitter.com/AusCraig Craig James

    Treating animals badly…… treating humans badly….. it’s what happens on a daily basis….. people seem so shocked however do they actually do anything about it? the people who question ethics in art, should have a good look at their own backyards before they judge…. or does judging anothers ethics deflect their own inactions and indifference… just a thought….

  • Alex Chernavsky

    I live in Rochester, NY – where Tom Otterness has been the focus of some controversy. 
    The Memorial Art Gallery here in town commissioned him to create a large outdoor sculpture.  Lots of animal-lovers are upset about it.  I have a different perspective.

    I do animal rescue both as a job and as a hobby. I live with more rescued animals than I care to mention here. And I traveled to New Orleans to help save animals in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Nobody loves animals more than I do. And I’m here to say that I have no interest in Tom Otterness and the controversy that surrounds him. This is a non-issue to me. It’s true that he did a horrible act, but it happened once, 34 years ago.

    We have so many REAL, on-going problems that it’s a shame to get distracted by non-issues. We have a huge problem with pet overpopulation, particularly with cats. Breeders and pet stores sell the products of puppy mills. Local governments are passing breed-specific legislation, banning pit bulls and other so-called “vicious” breeds. Low-life thugs use dogs for fighting.  And if all that is not bad enough for you, then there’s animal agriculture: around nine BILLION animals are slaughtered each year in the US. These animals, while they are being raised, are generally treated horribly, and they also release enormous amounts of greenhouse gases that contribute more to global warming than does the transportation industry. And the manure causes environmental devastation on a
    more-local level. (And by the way, why are there no vegan options on the menu for the restaurant that’s inside the Memorial Art Gallery?).

    These are all big problems that deserve our attention. Tom Otterness is an inconsequential nobody, and we should save our moral outrage for other, more-important issues. Needless to say, I’m not signing any Otterness-related petitions, and I don’t care one way or the other what the Memorial Art Gallery does about him.

    If people really want to help animals, then they should adopt homeless pets from shelters or rescue groups (not from breeders or pet stores), make sure all their pets are spayed/neutered — and above all, they should stop eating animals and animal products.  The single best way to help animals is to go vegan.

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