Art:21 recently talked about the ethics of using animals in art, prompted over time by Joseph Beuys caging himself with coyote, Damien Hirst hatching hundreds of tropical butterflies, Banksy painting live animals and Guillermo Vargas allegedly starving a dog to death in an installation in Nicaragua.
Vargas’s You Are What You Read, 2007 installation aimed to demonstrate the hypocritical imbalance between the ethics of the real world and art world. While human and animal suffering goes largely ignored, once put on a pedestal of art, the captured stray involves the audience and implicates their guilt in his starvation. Though in reality, the dog wasn’t starving (he was fed daily) and didn’t die (he ran away), the piece caused an internet- and world-wide outrage, unlike all those pedestrian horrors we’re used to ignoring. Because fuck’em, right?
So, it was fake. Just like Yale’s Aliza Shvarts “abortion art” awhile back, the initially alleged reality of which bothered me less than that cute little furry rascal going hungry. Why do I have a near Moz-ian sympathy for animals but allowing everything but human sacrifice in art feels right? Why does it feel ok for an artist to consciously risk life and limb or primordial appendage (fetus) but roping in confused animals, even if it’s to splatter them with non-toxic paint, feels so wrong?
But the “art world” likes to keep their noses clean. Yale made sure to clear the air: allowing a student to artificially inseminate and induce miscarriage would be unethical, hence, it never could have happened, see? Are ethics in art so rigid that anything “questionable” can be considered off the bat as a narrative invention, a metaphor, “fake?”
How about a little poll, readers? Please rank what makes you most uncomfortable as a performance art piece, assuming the whole notion of “performance art” doesn’t make you roll your eyes and turn your nose…
(a) starving an animal
(b) enacting an abortion
(c) killing yourself
(d) faking it