Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Modern shock art rides again

In the course of clicking around, I discovered a "libertarian" blog by an attorney in NYC. He was extremely exercised about an art exhibition in Sweden that involves photographs of dismembered animals. Apparently the artist, Nathalia Edenmont, humanely kills small animals and then uses their heads and other body parts as subjects for her art. This provoked a comparison of the artist to Osama Bin Laden. I thought this was a bit over the top, but apparently his outrage is the norm, not the exception; the galley has posted a apologetic notice explaining to enraged viewers why they have chosen to display Edenmont's work, there is a typically amateurish web petition against Edenmont with many signatures, and some web forum participants have joked about hunting down Edenmont and making her into art. That reaction appears to be fairly representative.

But why is aesthetic and intellectual use in art an insufficient moral justification for humanely killing an animal? (I will assume for the purpose of argument that Edenmont kills the animals as painlessly as possible and only kills animals which do not have loving owners.)

As long as Edenmont isn't sneaking into your house, stealing your cat, beating it to death with a stick, and then plopping its head on a vase, why do you care more about that than you do about the thousands of animals gassed in your local animal control facility? Why are people so outraged by a photo of mouse skin finger puppets when they are probably complicit in the deaths of dozens of animals for their wardrobe and pantry contents? Some people say it's just different, but they can't articulate why. I suspect there is no reason, only a visceral reaction that they have conditioned themselves to avoid when contemplating their own usage of animals.

I love animals. I get mushy whenever I see a dog on the street. I believe that animal suffering is to be avoided. But I just can't get outraged by someone using animals for art instead of for some more conventional method of sensory gratification.

UPDATE: KipEsquire is not pleased by my disagreement. Apparently I am an "obnoxious, snotty little ass" and "sophomoric."


A few points:

-No, I am not on Moot Court.

-I didn't accuse KipEsquire of being non-libertarian. I found his position surprising, given that title, but I don't claim to own that term. KipEsquire says Edenmont's work is not art. I refrain from judgment on that issue, as I don't own that term either.

-The petition is amateurish. It lacks any real argument and is poorly written and is thus unlikely to persuade the gallery to remove Edenmont's work. The point of such an exercise is to make the signers feel good about asserting their moral superiority.

-Many shelters are not no-kill. I based my assumption that the animals were humanely killed on this article. Of course, the gallery owner's word may be doubted.

-The point of a jacket is to keep warm. The point of food is to nourish. Picking leather over cloth because it's "cool" or hamburgers over salad because meat tastes good means you are intentionally choosing to consume goods which require animal death for their production, no matter how secondary and incidental. Just because most of us don't think about this "distress and discomfort" doesn't make it less real.

Clearly someone (the gallery owner and any buyers of her photos) thinks that Edenmont's work is more than just moral pollution. I choose not to get outraged about their choice to consume photos of dead animals, just as I don't sign petitions to outlaw hunting and taxidermy. If there was evidence that Edenmont tortured the animals, I might feel differently. Absent such evidence, I will file this with other strange preferences that other people have and that I can't rouse the energy to condemn.

UPDATE II: For those of you who believe Edenmont is a monster for creating this, could you please distinguish the following (or explain why they are equivalent):
A taxidermied raccoon
A bearskin rug
A beaver fur coat
Damien Hirst's "Flock"
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