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Art or Animal Cruelty?

"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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