Friday, September 30, 2011

Violence or Art

Today, the Huffington Post reports on a controversy brewing at Paris Fashion Week, where two dresses made out of over three thousand cow and yak nipples are going to be shown by British fashion designer Rachel Freire. Animal rights activists are outraged that Freire is using body parts from slaughtered animals as art. Freire defends her use of the nipples by saying that they are “from European cows slaughtered for meat in veterinarian-approved and checked slaughter houses.” She also says that she would “happily donate my own body to be used as art by a responsible individual,” to which a commenter on Huffpo wrote, “So can I take you up on your offer then? Would you prefer to be killed with a captive bolt pistol or slaughtered kosher or halal style?"

Using the dead body parts of slaughtered animals for art is nothing new. British artist Damien Hirst’s first major piece was called A Thousand Years (1990) and consisted of a cow’s head rotting inside of a glass case, complete with flies and maggots. Other artists have used, and sometimes killed, animals in order to provoke reactions from the public. In 2003, Chilean artist Marco Evarisitti created a piece, for example, that involved live goldfish swimming in blenders full of water. Patrons were given the opportunity to press the buttons on any of the blenders, killing the goldfish within, which the artist said was an invitation for the public to “do battle with their conscience.” More controversial was Swedish photographer Nathalia Edenmont, whose work involved actually killing rabbits, mice, chickens and cats, and then photographing their chopped up bodies alongside flowers, fruit and other objects. Like Evarisitti, Edenmont has said that her work was intended to challenge the public, and claimed that those who opposed it were hypocrites for not opposing the killing of animals for makeup or for food.

Just a couple of weeks ago, the San Francisco Arts Commission gave New York City artist Tom Otterness a $750,000 grant to create public art for San Francisco’s subway system. After the city put out a press release about the grant, local animal activists recognized the artist’s name; in 1977, Otterness adopted a dog from a humane society, shot him, and filmed his death for a film he called “Shot Dog Film.” Activists led by In Defense of Animals were outraged; IDA employee Anita Carswell said “You do not let an animal shooter put up 59 sculptures in your subway system. It’s going to be offensive to everybody that rides the subway, a reminder: ‘People who shoot dogs for stupid reasons get rewarded.’”

He may not get his reward after all. San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee has asked that the project be put on hold; as of this writing, it is unclear whether the project will be completed, or whether Otterness will be the artist to complete it. At least in San Francisco, the city of St. Francis, most people do not see such cruelty as art.