Thursday, July 24, 2008

Adel Abdessemed Exhibit Spurs Bill to Stop the Harm of Animals in the Name of Art

Adel Abdessemed Exhibit Spurs Bill to Stop the Harm of Animals in the Name of Art:

A committee in San Francisco’s city government has introduced a bill with the hope of stopping the abuse, suffering, or death of animals in the name of art. The proposal is a response to a video installation by Adel Abdessemed which involved documenting traditional methods of food production in Mexico. The installation contained graphic imagery involving the death of six farm animals. The installation, which went on display at the San Francisco Art Institute, was canceled abruptly after the artist and others involved with the exhibit received death threats from animal rights extremists. The exhibit involved several sponsors, including the Andy Warhol Foundation.

The bill is still in the process of being drafted. If the bill passes artists who have harmed animals-- and anyone funding or housing the work --will be charged with a misdemeanor or felony. My understanding is that the bill will make it clear that artists can be criminally charged even if the work is ‘created’ in another country where harm to animals is not considered an offense. I have also read that it will be illegal for artists to take advantage of conditions that permit the death of an animal. For example, if the bill passes it would be illegal for an artist to photograph or record a pet being euthanized by a veterinarian-- assuming a vet would allow that in the first place.

Supporters of the bill are concerned that artists will create works that involve harming animals simply to gain the same media exposure that Abdessemed accomplished-- regardless if he wanted it or not. I think the bill is a great move. However, I’m sure there will be some buzz against this bill before everything is said and done. It all depends on what exactly the bill entails-- and how it develops over time. I can see how the bill could end up-- or trigger-- more harm than good if it is not carefully observed.

For example, politicians hoping to win the favor of animal rights groups and other supporters of the bill may push the bill beyond its original intention. That is why people need to pay attention to how this bill shapes. You never know what direction a new bill can take. Will it prevent hunters from having ’trophies’ mounted? Will it prevent grannies from having Fido stuffed? Are those not forms of expression in their own right? Will the bill be strictly against artists who utilize images of abused, suffering, or dead animals that they have caused or taken advantage of as a means of expressing an idea / concept… or will it result in fictional depictions of abused, suffering, or dead animals being illegal as well? I don’t think people will be happy if a student ends up in a youth detention center because he or she drew a cartoon of a dead animal in his or her notebook.

Again, I think the bill is a good step if it is done in the right way. However, politicians tend to drop the ball at the worst of times. At the same time I realize that some people feel that attacking any form of expression is wrong no matter what ethical standards are violated. What are your thoughts on this bill and the Adel Abdessemed exhibit?

(On a side note, I contacted the David Zwirner gallery in April hoping to schedule an interview with Adel Abdessemed. I wanted to offer him the chance to give his side of the story and to discuss his motivation for the installation. Unfortunately, the Press Assistant for David Zwirner informed me that Adel was not interested.)

Take care, Stay true,

Brian Sherwin


Anonymous said...

I think it is sick that people get this upset over an artist filming and photographing something that is a part of life for other peoples. It is ok for Discovery to do it but an artist can't document that culture? Maybe it was wrong for him to do it just because he had creative aspirations in mind but it is no more worse than Discovery filming it in the name of education when you know damn well they get big bucks for doing it.

Anonymous said...

I hope this is another hoax like that starving dog exhibit. I think the bill is needed, but it could cause other art and documentation to be banned. Think of the photographers who photograph starving homeless people or people with AIDS in Africa. The last thing we need is for the government to declare that photographers are taking advantage of that situation for fame. I know those situations have a different code of ethics than filming animals suffering, but people might question the ethics of the people who document those situations since they do profit from it. If it does go from protecting animals to protecting people it would stop art involving bondage and would kill the alt porn community. That might be a good thing though. I don't think we need laws for this because galleries and museums should be responsible in what they exhibit. The artist would not have done this if there was not a space for him to show his work. When in doubt blame Damien Hirst or Charles Saatchi for this era of animal exploitation as art.

Anonymous said...

I don't believe what he did was criminal. Not any more criminal than the art work done on human beings. Human without their skins, showing muscles and bones. Native Americans have been using leather from animals since the beginning of time to paint on. Realistic artist's portray painting of animals eating other animals. Photos and painting show suffering in wars. I've seen videos of baby calfs suffering so we can eat veal. Suffering is part of the world we live in. As long as the animal was not intentionally hurt just to portray the art.

Anonymous said...

Native Americans using skin to paint on since the beginning of time. This is a really odd comment considering that the use of the entire animal in the Native American culture is very important. They think of animals as being sacred. They kill them for food and worship the meal that is nourishing them, then they use all of the animal for different reasons, such as painting on skin, or covering themselves, etc. It is all sacred, nothing is wasted. This is so far from what this topic is on this blog it is not even funny .

Sometimes artists are hurting animals to get their idea across and there is absolutely no excuse for such cruelty. Just because our world is cruel does not mean we should harm other beings in our art work. Or if an artist chooses to discuss such issues then they should be cruel to themselves instead of another living thing. If its such an important issue then they should have no problem making such a sacrifice.

I think the bill is a good idea if done correctly.

Balhatain said...

I agree that the Native American example does go a bit far in what we are discussing. However, there is a point to be made in the opinion that anonymous put forth in that maybe those traditions-- and the works from those traditions-- will be challenged as well through this bill. Especially if this bill oversteps its influence, so to speak. Again, it goes back to how the bill is handled. I really hope they don't make a mess of it.