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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 cruelty?”

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 reason?

- 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, 2003.

- 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 chickens' lives.

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," self-expression.

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
Chicken Run Rescue

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For more information about the Calgary, Alberta chicken-killing-for-“art” episode on Thursday, April 18, see www.upc-online.org/entertainment.

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