Animals have served as inspiration for art since the dawn of time... In spite of themselves.The past few years, numerous artists have scandalized public opinion using animals for their work, in complete contempt of their moral and physical integrity.Stuffed dogs, tattooed pigs, fish in blenders... These works of "modern art" based on animal sufferance are completely unnecessary.As Jean-Baptiste Jeangène Vilmer explained in an article titled,"Animals in contemporary art: the ethical question," there are three main figures in the debate: animals who are already dead, whose bodies are exploited by the artists, those killed for the work, and finally those killed, whose agony is the center piece of the work.
From the work of Jan Fabre, who suspended stuffed dogsin the Hermitage Museum in Russia, to Iris Schieferstein, a stylist whose morbid creations were the subject of a petition, to the number of contemporary artists who use animal skin or organs to create their exhibitions.In 2005, Schieferstein created a pair of boots made from the hooves of a goat obtained after he was killed in a slaughterhouse. While the work was made from the remains of an animal, and therefore didn't directly cause his death, the measure caused disgust and shock.
Worse still, certain artists use live animals to express their "creative genius" in the name of art, which seems to forgo any moral guidelines and which bases its success on being increasingly provocative in their vulgarity.
Incontestable acts of animal cruelty, whose only objectives are to respond to the artist's egocentric needs and thirst for notoriety. What else can you call those who mistreat, unequivocally, dogs, cats or pigs and will sometimes go as far as to deliberately cause their deaths for the sake of art?
In 2007, the Costa Rican artist, Guillermo Vargas (known as Habacuc) showed a skeletal stray dog in a gallery in Nicaragua. The animal died of starvation a few hours later, while the artist decried the "hypocrisy" of public outrage since "no one cares about dogs in the streets." Revolted, an Internet petition collected more than two million signatures against the author of this despicable work.
The Belgian plasticien, Jan Fabre, found it acceptable to throw felines - consumed with stress - down a flight of stairs of the Anvers town hall building to demonstrate that a cat "will always land on his feet." Responding to the outcry afterwards, he declared that the owners of the abused cats had given their permission and that no animal was hurt.
These shameless abuses of the term modern art, which accord a huge importance to sensationalism, offer lessons on our society and its values. First of all, the fact that it's still allowed - from a legal perspective - to exploit and maim an animal in the name of art or entertainment, and that the violation of the physical integrity is still morally tolerated.
This demonstrates that there is an arbitrary hierarchy of animal species, who are not at all treated the same. Acts of cruelty against cats and dogs - who share our daily lives - creates instant indignation which is much more powerful than when the same acts are committed against other animals, wrongly considered as less intelligent or sensitive, and whose rights have been trivialized by the agrifood industry.
No surprise, to the dismay of speciesists who work to create recognition and equality for all species of animals, the use of fish and insects sacrificed for art are less alarming to the public. Jean-Baptiste Jeangène Vilmer explained:
The outrage is speciesist and anthropocentrique: it depends on the species and diminishes as the animal concerned distances from man.
In 2012, close to 9000 butterflies died for the needs of the exposition In and Out of Loveby the British artist, Damien Hirst, at the Tate Modern in London. The colored insects were trapped in two rooms without windows were they flew frenetically in every direction, creating in themselves a frenzied energy. The reality is less lustrous however: in these conditions, the butterflies died by the dozens each day and the rooms had to be "restocked" with up to 400 butterflies per week.
Same story for Marco Evaristti, a Chilean artist who, in 2000, for a work intended as a social experiment, showing goldfish in plugged in blenders. In the context of the exposition, the public was authorized to cause the death of the fish by pressing the button. Several goldfish were killed, and Evaristti was charged with animal cruelty before being acquitted as he "didn't cause extended suffering."
At a time when more and more citizens are beginning to question animal cruelty inflicted by the agrifood industry, and are turning to meatless diets, causing suffering for animals in the name of art seems more of an aberration than ever.
While it's still accepted by the majority of public opinion to sacrifice animals for food needs - corresponding to an initial human "need" - rare are those who would defend animal suffering in the name of beauty research or to spread an artistic message.
Certain pragmatic spirits will attempt to justify the sacrifice of living animals for modern art in underlining their capacity to incite individual conscienceless in a cathartic (and perhaps therefore more effective?) manner.
While art does possess an extremely strong accusatory power and is devoid of the moralizing counterpart which the militant approach often adopts, it can no longer, in 2017, be exempt from any ethical considerations.
Even if original intentions are good and the work looks to reveal animal sufferance which many consumers refuse to face, it fails when it applies a doctrine which consists of fighting bad with bad.
That's the message of the NGO, Justice for Animal Arts Guild (JAAG), who "oppose the harm or exploitation of animals in the making of art." An initiative supported by other animal rights organizations like PETA.
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