“Art should provoke, disturb, arouse our emotions, expand our sympathies in directions we may not anticipate and may not even wish.” – Joyce Carol Oates.
Generally, I would agree with Joyce Carol Oates but recently I found myself arguing against artistic freedom. The discussion was provoked by two German Art students from the Berlin University of the Arts who plan to guillotine a sheep; should the internet will it. They have created a website which asks the question “Should this sheep die?” and invites you to vote ‘ja’ or ‘nein’. One of the students, Materne, said of his work that “the anonymity of the internet lures the perversity out of some people,” and described it as a criticism of contemporary morality. An interesting and valuable point, to be sure, but I couldn’t help my reaction: why threaten to kill a sheep to prove it? An investigation of the seedier areas of 4chan and reddit (to name but a few) would have provided you with the same information.
These two students are far from the first to kill or attempt to kill animals for art. In 2000 Marco Evaristti invited members of the public to test their sense of right and wrong by killing goldfish placed in blenders. Earlier this year Amber Hansen was prevented from setting up chicken coups around Lawrence, Kansas followed by a live slaughter and a chicken dinner and just this week another German artist was stopped from performing his “Death in Metamorphosis” in which he would have strangled two puppies to death on stage.
So what is acceptable in the name of art? Does the fact that it’s art negate the responsibility to behave in a humane manner? Does the message justify the actions taken?
Each piece has a provocative and interesting message behind it. Marco Evaristti said of his work: “It was a protest against what is going on in the world, against this cynicism, this brutality that impregnates the world in which we live.” Amber Hansen was protesting the meat industry in Kansas and “Death in Metamorphosis” wanted to highlight the plight of sled dogs in Alaska and hunting dogs in Spain. All these pieces are clearly more than just animal cruelty for cruelty’s sake. Is that justification enough?
In general the response of the public seems to have gone against these artists with little consideration of their message, only their methods. The Danish police attempted to fine Peter Meyer, the director of the gallery where Evaristti’s goldfish were exhibited for animal cruelty when several of the blenders were turned on by members of the public. However a court later ruled that the goldfish died instantly without feeling pain. Hansen and Death in Metamorphosis never even managed to exhibit. As the news of “Die Guillotine” and the sheep has reached further into the internet the sheep has gone from being safe to dead and back again. Marterne’s comments about the perversity of the internet are, so far, not quite true. They have also lost the support of their university who also insist that the pair will not kill the sheep if it comes to it and the backlash is already growing as daily mass newspaper Bild called the project ‘twisted’.
Why, then, do artists keep resorting to killing animals to make a point? Peter Meyer defended his inclusion of Evaristti’s work saying; “It’s a question of principle. An artist has the right to create works which defy our concept of what is right and what is wrong.” It is undeniable that there is merit in challenging the way people think through art. It should ask the uncomfortable questions and make us examine our hypocrisies. The way we treat animals is a particularly thorny issue for many people. We kill animals for meat, for make up, for science, for sport and, apparently, for art. Where should we draw the line? I eat meat so do I really have the right to criticise artists for humanely guillotining a sheep or slaughtering chickens?
In my opinion however, killing animals live on youtube or in a blender in a gallery isn’t the way to address these issues, important though they are, because killing animals to make your point is just lazy. Of course hurting animals is shocking. How could it be anything else? What thought did it require to come up with that stunning revelation? Is killing something really the only way we can provoke a reaction? We ought to challenge artists to be better than this because if animal cruelty is the only way to provoke a public reaction we have more problems than even I had previously imagined.
In 2010 Sarah graduated from the University of Sheffield with a BA in history. Her focus was primarily modern history and in her final year she wrote a dissertation on the feminist movement in Britain in the 1970s having specialised in Violence and Non-violence: Radical Politics in Western Europe. At university she edited a student history magazine called “New Histories” which interested her in writing and editing. After graduating she went travelling for three months, visited Peru and worked on an archaeology project there. Since returning to England, she has moved to London and has begun work for a communications agency.
This entry was posted on Friday, May 18th, 2012 at 10:33 am. It is filed under Culture and tagged with 'Death in Metamorphosis', 'Die Guillotine', 'Should this sheep die?', animal cruelty, animal experimentation, art, artistic freedom. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.
The aim of Freedom To Discuss is to critically and openly explore and debate world issues be they development, governance, conflict or human rights related, or more simply the issues that affect many of us day in, day out.