Friday, May 09, 2008

On the Luxury of Self-Righteousness

From the hyperbolic, apparently world-wide, email misleading people about Guilermo Vargas Habacuc's "starving dog" piece to the response by certain members of PETA, In Defense of Animals, and The Animal Liberation Front to the exhibition at the San Francisco Art Institute by Adel Abdessemed (titled "Don't Trust Me") that was closed after a coordinated, sometimes threatening campaign to stop it, there seems to be momentum building, under the guise of "protecting animals," to declare artistic explorations of how humans treat animals so off limits that it is, quite frankly, approaching fascism.

The controversy erupted because Abdessemed's exhibition included one installation which included "six video monitors of images recorded by the artist of the slaughter of farm animals at the point of their deaths. These events occurred in a rural community in Mexico where the animals were raised, purchased, and professionally slaughtered." [image above from SFAI's website.]

Artnews blog and others covered the Abdessemed controversy early last month, but now The Art Newspaper has published a thought-provoking (if at times somewhat difficult to follow) commentary by president of the San Francisco Art Institute Chris Bratton:
The response to “Don’t Trust Me” points to an animal rights movement that applies a code—as philosopher Charles Taylor calls it—without moral boundaries, a utopianism so insistent and frenzied that it disregards all constraints on action. Here we move out of the world of censorship to the world of security: condemn your opponents as the authors of crimes. Post photos of them along with home and email addresses. Further cue your constituents with language meant to incite outrage and “direct action”. Caricatures that render them so Other that they no longer even appear as human.

Is it any wonder, then, that the languages of torture, mutilation and murder followed so relentlessly after? This was luridly and violently elaborated in threatening emails, phone calls and letters, all echoing themes of surveillance, control, and violent punishment, addressed to numerous board, staff, faculty, and their families.

Even the most evidently self-authored emails that reached the school had a striking consistency all their own. One referred to “genital mutilation in Darfur”, another to “the exploitation of children in the Third World”, “sex tourism” and many to “pornography”, all as somehow related to the exhibition. One local critic said in reference to the exhibition that responses “to inflammatory materials presented as art are local, not global”. These associative chains tell us otherwise, that in the end this is very much about a world, but one that is seen as absolutely elsewhere, where other people and cultures are understood as savage and sexualised.

The universalising claims of animal rights groups like IDA and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals further obscure the highly specific cultural assumptions that underpin this controversy.
Now there are those on both sides in this controversy who exhibited what I'd consider the worst kind of political spin. Many among those supporting SFAI labeled, with out distinctions, the activist organizations as "extremists." Many supporting the cancellation of the exhibition, presumably without seeing it, labeled the video "snuff films." Neither side has cornered the market on objectivity here in my opinion, but the result of the battle was that the exhibition was closed and the rest of us were unable to see the work and make up our minds ourselves because others had decided for us that we shouldn't. That, as a free man, I cannot let go unchallenged.

I have a really simple solution for people who are offended by artwork that explores how animals are slaughtered: don't go see it. Unlike the Vargas piece that was contrived, because it included a live dog in an installation, the Abdessemed work recorded a practice that does indeed happen around the world on a daily basis. In other words, he was merely presenting a truth. Perhaps it's a painful truth for some. Perhaps it's so upsetting that after witnessing the work certain people would change their lifestyles, become vegetarian, send contributions to PETA, or whatever. But there is no question whatsoever in my mind that the mindless violence threatened by those who didn't like the idea of the exhibition is a far greater crime (against humanity, against nature, against reason, against free speech) than the presentation of this work. There was nothing about the protest that would bring the animals back to life, so it clearly wasn't in their defense the activists were working.

Indeed, having traveled to countries where witnessing the slaughter of animals is not only a daily family occurrence, but an act of actual survival, I find the arrogance of those pampered protesters who would close down an exhibition (to what? keep themselves from having nightmares? permit them to continue to imagine these acts are not commonplace? go about their merry self-righteous way without having actually helped anyone in any concrete way) much more offensive than the unpleasant way in which our food dies. At least that reality of life has the integrity of honesty about it. How many of the protesters threatening violence against SFAI staff went off to eat meat or walked away in leather shoes or benefited in uncountable ways from a lifestyle and economic system built on the fact that humans are animals who eat and use other animals because they can. Should the tide of evolution shift to where cows could easily exploit us, I'm quite sure they would.

Of course, there is no end to the corners of such debates that one can flesh out. The potential tangents are mindboggling (because, in short, this topic is about nothing less than the circle of life and death, survival of the fittest, and the search for a higher meaning). Still it behooves any human, regardless of how passionate they are about certain practices, to engage in the debate with respect for human life and freedom of speech. Otherwise, we're less than animals. We're barbarians.

Labels:

105 Comments:

Blogger Donna Dodson said...

i am not sure the place of the subject matter of animal rights in art- how was it handled in the exhibition? was it treated with any imagination, vision or transformation? it sounds more like a documentary than a contemporary art piece but even shows by leon golub upset people by their depiction of human brutality or judy chicago's holocaust project on the other hand take chris marker's films for example that premiered with the case of the grinning cat- many were meditative and sublime works of art- Cat Listening to Music, An Owl Is an Owl Is an Owl, Zoo Piece, Bullfight in Okinawa, and Slon Tango

5/09/2008 09:22:00 AM  
Blogger Sunil said...

“I have a really simple solution for people who are offended by artwork that explores how animals are slaughtered: don't go see it. “

Well said, Ed!

This is somewhat akin to the current fad where our news media have taken it upon themselves to insulate the populace from supposedly gory images for fear of offending our carefully orchestrated sensibilities...

5/09/2008 09:27:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

Ed, This was a really eloquent post. I enjoyed your Swiss-like fair take on the whole thing.
I have watched the enraged viral emails go by in my email box and have been amazed at the phenom that this exhibit (and others like it) have caused in the wire.
Vargas, Abdessemed...good for them. Art that makes people think should not be such a novel idea!
Art that just hangs pretty on a wall doesn't work in this century like it did in the last. It's just another facet of the elusive and changing definition of art.

5/09/2008 09:37:00 AM  
Blogger Donna Dodson said...

i think it's a valid investigation by artists on a subject where the point is to lift the veil on things that most people would rather not know existed take for example AA Bronson's image of the AIDS-emaciated in the whitney biennial back in 2002 but the point where i question the validity of the investigation is when the work is advancing the subject matter (or the cause) rather than advancing Art

5/09/2008 09:45:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

shock or art? I guess motive is important to me.

5/09/2008 10:01:00 AM  
OpenID twhid said...

I'll join the chorus for Ed. Your post almost exactly matches my own thoughts.

I'm wondering... does the case of Maurice Agis, the British artist whose inflated sculpture killed and injured people, touch on this issue at all?

5/09/2008 10:38:00 AM  
Blogger This Broad said...

I'm kind of confused. As a vegetarian and an animal rights supporter, I applaud anyone who tries to bring to light human civilization's institutionalized abuse of animals. (FWIW, I personally don't consider it abuse if animals are raised and slaughtered for food in a humane manner. I am not going to subject myself to the cited video, but I presume it must be pretty abusive.) Why didn't animal-rights organizations support and even hype this show?

5/09/2008 10:48:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ed, excellent post. I wouldn't go see the exhibition at SFAI, but then I don't go see a whole lot of movies that other people consider pretty tame because the level of violence upsets me and does give me nightmares. I can't handle a lot of documentaries, but I don't try to extend my queasiness into any kind of censorship. The one place where I potentially disagree with you (I say potentially because it is unclear what actually happened there) is on the exhibition with the live, starving dog. If there was indeed a starving dog tied up in the gallery, I think that constitutes a crime being perpetrated, not just depicted, and I feel that the show should have been shut down. Not "censored," but shut down just as a child prostitution ring should be shut down.

Oriane

ps I think it's thoroughly appropriate that people who eat meat, wear leather shoes, etc., not be protected from seeing how these consumables are produced.

5/09/2008 11:01:00 AM  
Blogger Kate said...

There is a certain strain of people that will take almost any drastic action necessary to avoid facing a truth about themselves.

The end of the film "Fast Food Nation", featuring slaughterhouse footage, changed many of my life choices.

I wish I could see this piece: it sounds like it has so much to say about our complicity. Not just in the way our society deals with animals, but all kinds of other atrocities that happen every day out of our sight and out of our minds.

5/09/2008 11:02:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

If there was indeed a starving dog tied up in the gallery, I think that constitutes a crime being perpetrated, not just depicted,

We agree on this. I thought it was a crime (or should be) as well.

My objection is to the way some folks recounted that story, with all kinds of unsubstantiated declarations of how it indicted the art world, was being repeated, was considered a "masterpiece," etc., all as a means to advance their own agenda. I would protest that piece being repeated myself, but I equally protest the hyperbolic reporting and exploitation of it.

5/09/2008 11:06:00 AM  
Anonymous Sus said...

I'm with Anonymous @10:01am. I think the comparison to Fast Food Nation may have some truth to it. Is this more documentary than it is art?

5/09/2008 11:08:00 AM  
Blogger Christopher Howard said...

Well said.

5/09/2008 11:19:00 AM  
OpenID twhid said...

If there was indeed a starving dog tied up in the gallery, I think that constitutes a crime being perpetrated, not just depicted,

and then Ed..

We agree on this. I thought it was a crime (or should be) as well.

Not trying to be argumentative, but I don't understand this position.

Why is leashing a dog in a gallery a crime? The 'starving' bit is a red herring as the gallerist and artist both say (AFAIK) that the dog was fed once it was brought into the gallery.

5/09/2008 11:26:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

It's cruelty to an animal, in my opinion, Twhid. Leaving aside the conceptual failure of the piece (which I outlined my feelings on ad nauseum here) and regardless of whether the dog was actually fed or not, tying it up in a space where it knew no one was cruel. A wild dog used to roaming the streets would spend the entire period unsure of what its fate would be in that setting. It's tauntamount to torture, in my opinion.

5/09/2008 11:32:00 AM  
Anonymous George & Allison said...

A lot of times in politics you have people look you in the eye and tell you what's not on their mind.

5/09/2008 12:07:00 PM  
Blogger zipthwung said...

Like whats your agenda bro.

Oh I dunno, overexposing non events, killjoy, bland ambition, cures worse than diseases, millitary juntas, being tough on crime, real tough, blocking your sun, casting a long shadow, blaming you, doing nothing, putting a bandaid on the owie.

5/09/2008 12:30:00 PM  
Blogger Sean Capone said...

This might sound overly romantic or bourgeois, but art's role in illuminating injustice or tragedy has the foremost responsibility to create compelling, strong images that stay in the mind for long after. The risk of bearing witness in such a case is that the artist will be subjected to ridicule, abuse and accusations. It is the price that artists, documentarians and other politically-minded image-makers face every time they put their eye behind the viewfinder (or whatever). They have to step outside of their presence and humanity temporarily in order to make an image that will haunt the corridors of history long after the 'crisis' has faded from memory.

Making aesthetic choices in the presentation of problematic subject matter is paramount, even if in the short-term it is deemed exploitative. Making an aesthetic, strong statement is how an image reveals the entire meaning of the horror. "It did not happen thus, and yet it did. What artifice is this?" It's not the only way, to be sure, but as an example, David Woj's touching photos of the just-deceased Peter Hujar (and the Benetton ad of the stricken AIDS patient from about the same period), could not have been easy images to make but will forever stay with me as art which touchingly merges the political with the personal.

5/09/2008 12:33:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The rise of groups like PETA is symptomatic of our society's ever-greater separation from our food.

Animal or plant, life should be celebrated - and above all, any life given for the sustenance of another should be revered and given thanks - a modest ceremony, even contained quietly in the diner's mind, would do - a daily practice of gratitude- so that wasting millions of pounds of recalled beef (for example) would be a horror so vile as to not be possible. Ritual thanksgiving has been lost, to our detriment, and with it has been ignored a gracious part of our humanity where reconciliation has place.

5/09/2008 01:25:00 PM  
Blogger Aaron Wexler said...

Have you seen the new show at Pace?
Holly Hide!!!

5/09/2008 01:41:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't know....I think these recent examples seem relatively "tame". The SFAI piece....seems more like something that an animal rights group would put on themselves - rather than call for boycott. Don't they generally like to hold the mirror up to society - like this piece may be doing? As for the dog - I agree with what has been mentioned already.

But what about more aggressively "abusive" works? Marco Evaristti immediately comes to mind for me: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/3040891.stm

Even worse - an artist like Nathalia Edenmont - who used various animals for her works which include among other things - mice carcasses used as finger puppets: http://getunderground.com/underground/galleries/gallery.cfm?Album_ID=547

5/09/2008 02:39:00 PM  
Blogger Joseph Giannasio said...

So whose bringing this show to NY?

5/09/2008 03:40:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

actually, i changed my mind. i'm anon 2:39. i take back that this was "tame". i think we do lose a lot when we sit here and try to intellectualize this. when we go to critique its merit as "art" or not art or if it is ethically or morally acceptable to do so. i think as someone who is emphatically for animal rights [not PETA, but in the way that most of us are] that part of the reason people wish to protest and to boycott is that they feel they have to DO something. if they're in PETA they probably already don't eat meat. they buy vegan shoes. and to society as a whole they're mostly irrelevant - or at least a kind of pariah. what can YOU DO? i think it's more of a grasping for a way to "take it back" which we all know is impossible. i think we should be ashamed if lived somewhere where an exhibit like this went on and nobody blinked an eye. when we rationalize this - that's essentially how we're "supposed" to react. You ate a cheeseburger, or you wore a leather belt - therefore you can't empathize with what's being portrayed? that's crap.

after posting my comment i actually tried to find the videos. i couldn't. i'm glad i couldn't. at best i found stills and varied descriptions of the premise of the "work". from this post i thought it was animals that had been used for meat and was a standard procedure how this was going on - whereas some other reports are saying they were raised for meat but purchased by the artist and killed in this manner - which is not necessarily the method that's typical. i think it's one thing to document a common practice - but another thing to intercept that process and inflict your own "interpretation" for scandal. i guess i can't really say anything without hearing the exact premise for sure. either way i'm sure my POV will be dismissed as one of the sheep here in america who bemoan animal rights but then eats a burger.

whatever. i think it is irresponsible for these false settings under artistic principles to try and claim to be a platform to 'pull back the curtain' so to say on what happens. if it was a document it's one thing and i think that would not have caused such a stir. it's the theatricality and the "falseness" that comes with making a spectacle in the name of 'art'.

5/09/2008 05:48:00 PM  
Anonymous Bambino said...

We went to see Pace last night, loved it, loved it, loved it

5/09/2008 05:53:00 PM  
Blogger zipthwung said...

i thought the rickshaws were the best part of the show. Go Chinaman go.

5/09/2008 07:22:00 PM  
Blogger zipthwung said...

I mean rickshaws are always good. What was in the coat check area?

5/09/2008 07:33:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

China Syndrome

toot toot

5/09/2008 09:14:00 PM  
Blogger Brklynstories said...

I think the misleading term here is "ART". None of this is art: it's total bullshit calling itself "ART". Art "lifting the veil" is, in this context, ridiculous since it's not a creative expression but rather a savage act. All of this stuff, from the Starving Dog onward, should be lumped in with war photography, or political forms of ethnic cleansing that have occurred in places such as Darfur, Auschwitz.

The artworld is already overloaded with so much crappy art.

5/09/2008 10:07:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

I think the misleading term here is "ART". None of this is art: it's total bullshit calling itself "ART".

That's not for you to say, actually. Your defintion of "art" can guide your artmaking but no one else's. Unless, of course, you're a totalitarian sort. In which case...oh, nevermind...

All of this stuff, from the Starving Dog onward, should be lumped in with war photography, or political forms of ethnic cleansing that have occurred in places such as Darfur, Auschwitz.

Ok, then.

Skip that. Let me put the snark aside.

Are you intentionally trying to prove Bratton's point here or merely prone to hyperbole? The spectrum of things you're willing to lump together defies logic, you realize, no?

5/09/2008 10:17:00 PM  
Anonymous Franklin said...

So disqualifying something out of the category of art due to moral outrage indicates totalitarian leanings. Are you trying to prove Bratton's point?

5/09/2008 11:12:00 PM  
Anonymous I don't know much about Rohe said...

In this first film Donald Duck wears his signature sailor’s suit, which remains unchanged right through the years. But he wears no pants, which caused censorship problems in Sweden!”

5/09/2008 11:39:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I disagree with Ed's assertion that as a result of animal rights fascists there is some sort of "momentum" afoot. If there is some momentum I think it is slight at best. One exhibit shut down and one chain email does not represent proof of any significant momentum to me. I have yet to see (thankfully) any galleries firebombed that are exhibiting the work of Hermann Nitsch- last I checked Tom Otterness is still getting rich despite his horrific "Dog Shoot" piece. I'm sure I could think of some more inhumane "art" involving the mistreatment of animals (though thankfully it tends to be rare)- where given the nature of his cruelty the consequences for the artist seemed minor. So I'm just not seeing this "momentum" Ed is talking about.
Anyway, as a vegetarian this is one exhibit I wouldn't have a problem with. I'm all for people seeing animals slaughtered for food. The more people who see it the better as far as I am concerned- set up a television camera in a slaughterhouse and broadcast it 24/7. I feel the same way about executions. If people say they favor the death penalty- broadcast it on prime time tv. Let's see if they have the courage to look at what they claim to favor.
That being said, I wonder how Ed would feel if I made a art piece where I went to Pakistan or Iran and videotaped convicted homosexuals as they were being stoned to death? Would he show it in his gallery? Would he defend it if it was shown under the guise of being a work of "art" at this space in San Francisco? If gay activists in San Francisco decided to protest it and shut it down, claiming I was a homophobe cashing in on a gullible art world while needlessly exploiting the suffering of a fellow human being, would he come to my defense and say I was justified in lashing out at them and calling them fascists?
I think many animal rights activists view themselves as modern day abolitionists. They know their views are unpopular but it doesn't matter- they have taken what they consider to be a ethical stance. The abolitionist movement had it's John Browns- but he was the exception, just like the folks making threats about this exhibition are the exception when it comes to the animal rights movement.

5/09/2008 11:42:00 PM  
Blogger Donna Dodson said...

I also had the thought that why all this 'reality' type stuff is showing up in the art world, in your face, lifting the veil, is because of the fascism of the world of journalism- it may or may not be art but the art world 'is not censoring it' oops meant what if the art world is not the last frontier of absolute freedom- then what is left? youtube i guess and flickr... sigh

5/09/2008 11:58:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

On the one hand, Chris Bratton wants to paint himself and his staff as victims of these crazy animal rights wackos who have been terrorizing them. And yet he uses his piece to rail against said wackos and essentially pick a fight with them- sorry, not buying it. Yes, a animal rights group that was disgusted by the piece contacted the local media- so? If they have a problem with it, and so long as they didn't misrepresent it, more power to them. And how does Bratton justify laying the blame on animal rights activists for the threats- seeing as how the local media ran with the story there were probably more than a few average Joes who listen to talk radio who got pissed off. Finally, did the artist purchase these animals so he could film them being slaughtered or did he film them as they were being slaughtered for food- makes a difference.

5/10/2008 12:34:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Seems like there may be more to this piece than what Chris Bratton says. From the comments at The Art Newspaper:
"What the writer is obscuring with his 'art-speak' is that the videos featured animals being battered to death, in some cases by the artist, in the name of art."

I think folks might want to look a little deeper into what was involved with this piece instead of parroting what Chris Bratton said.

5/10/2008 12:39:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The piece featured the artist bludgeoning six animals to death with a sledge hammer. A doe, a pig, a horse, and a sheep were among the animals. Hooray for art!

5/10/2008 12:51:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

How dare people who find what this artist did morally repugnant use their voice and contact the local media. Don't they know this is ART. It's ashame those culture hating fascists will never see the ART in bludgeoning six animals to death with a hammer. It's ART. Why is it so difficult for you poor undereducated people to see that? Then again, no matter how much education you have only a privilege few can ever really GET IT.

5/10/2008 01:13:00 AM  
Blogger the reader said...

these last three anonymous comments need to be substantiated. please give the sources of your information that these works involved the bludgeoning of animals with a hammer or retract your comments. Unless these comments can be substantiated this type of claim only does a horrible disservice to those who genuinely campaign for animal rights by generating a popular perception that activists are willing to grossly misrepresent certain events to generate widespread moral outrage.

5/10/2008 04:12:00 AM  
Blogger George said...

The San Francisco Art Institute threw in the towel on this issue, shame on them.

Ed said, ... the exhibition was closed and the rest of us were unable to see the work and make up our minds ourselves because others had decided for us that we shouldn't. That, as a free man, I cannot let go unchallenged.

I agree with Chris Bratton's headline, “I see a new, pervasive and global condition of fundamentalist violence directed against dissident images and thought”

I agree with crystal's comment to Bratton I am appalled by the gestapo-esque methods used by seemingly left-leaning groups to threaten a truly liberal organization that should be seen as an ally in these times when Culture and Freedom of Art/Expression are being dismantled slowly by the self-proclaimed arbiters of morality--no doubt a product of our current administration.

The San Francisco Art Institute threw in the towel on this issue, shame on them.

5/10/2008 07:11:00 AM  
Blogger George said...

Those here who want to suggest Abdessemed's work is not art are not addressing the issue at hand.

What is the real issue?

Is it that death is offensive? Is it that killing an animal is offensive? Is it that killing an animal with a sledgehammer is cruel, therefore offensive?

We eat meat. To eat meat we, or our agents, kill animals.

If we say, "you cannot eat meat" then we kill people by starvation.

So, no matter how repugnant we find the killing of animals for food, it is a necessary aspect of human survival.

5/10/2008 07:59:00 AM  
Blogger George said...

Considering the moral differences between Abdessemed's and Habacuc's actions.

Habacuc act becomes immoral when he inserts himself into the life path of a stray dog and exploits its suffering even though he is in a position to alleviate the suffering. If the dog was going to die on the street anyway, that is the life path of the dog without Habacuc's intervention, it is just a life path. By bringing the stray dog into the gallery, Habacuc changed the dogs life path by binding it with his own life path, thus accepting a moral responsibility for the stray dog. He failed in this assumption of responsibility and chose to exploit the suffering of the dog for others.

Abdessemed's case is significantly different. it is the ritual slaughter of an animal for food. I use the term "ritual" here to indicate that in addition to causing the death of the animal so it can be used for food, the process is documented for others to see, hence partake in the mediated experience of the animals death.

Compared with Habacuc's acts of neglect, Abdessemed's ritual killing of these animals is heroic. Abdessemed knew he was going to cause the death of these animals, it was not done for sport or as an act of intentional cruelty. He was aware that he was going to kill the animal by a direct act and took the personal responsibility for it. He made the choice directly, and I am willing to assume that Abdessemed experiences the horror and pain of causing these animals deaths by his direct action, that he is not emotionally disconnected from his actions.

Abdessemed's images are graphic, they make the viewer recoil in horror because the viewer intuitively identifies with the human, not the animal, and is doing so internally recreates the emotional experience of the act without being able to cause it to stop. This is art.

It becomes a painful visual experience and as a result affects the viewer in ways I cannot extrapolate but would suggest makes them more aware of cause and effect when selecting a plastic wrapped rib roast from the supermarket meat cooler.

If Abdessemed's actions, his ritual killing of these animals, was intended to cause pain for his own personal gratification, then I would say his actions were immoral. I do not think this was the case.

The termination of this exhibition by the SFAI was a serious blow against freedom of expression and should be condemned.

5/10/2008 08:24:00 AM  
Blogger George said...

That last sentance should have read:

The termination of this exhibition by the SFAI was a serious blow against the freedom of expression and should be condemned.

5/10/2008 08:29:00 AM  
Anonymous Franklin said...

Based on the scant information I can find on Abdessemed's piece, I concur with George. I feel similarly about various news organs' decision not to republish the Mohammed cartoons, another capitulation of freedom of speech to the growing ranks of the offended.

For the record, you do not have the right to not be offended. And if you don't believe in the right to hate speech, you don't believe in the right freedom of speech.

5/10/2008 09:34:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

George,

"If Abdessemed's actions, his ritual killing of these animals, was intended to cause pain for his own personal gratification, then I would say his actions were immoral. I do not think this was the case."

I don't think the intent here on the part of the artist is what makes his actions moral or immoral. It's whether he documented the ways animals are killed for food (moral) or purchased these animals to kill them for his video (immoral). I guess there are shades of degree in there. Maybe he purchased the animals from a slaughterhouse, stepped in and did the killing, then returned the deal animals, for meat, to the slaughterhouse. I really don't know the details because of all the hyperbole embedded in people's reactions to the piece.

I'm not sure what Tom Otterness' intent was when he killed a dog for an art piece, but whatever they were, I remain repulsed and outraged that he was never held accountable for his actions (meaning never prosecuted for a crime) and that he is accepted in the community of artists and not considered a criminal.

But George, the way you put the question is not logical. What if he had killed humans on tape? Would his intent have determined the morality or lack thereof of his act? No. (Well, again, we would have to know the details. A photojournalist covering a war could film humans killing other humans and that would be journalism. But setting up a killing for a video; that's a snuff film, and highly repugnant to most people's sensibilities.) I mean, at least Carl Andre was tried and acquitted of murder. Whether or not you agree with the verdict (and none of us were there, so we can't know; it wasn't filmed) he was dealt with by the criminal justice system. His reputation in the artists' community seems to have survived intact, but you can't legislate that.

But Ed is right that such a hysteria grows around these events that we never know for sure what the actual circumstances of the piece were.

Oriane

5/10/2008 09:35:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

ps

I don't condone the closing of the exhibition on the grounds of censorship, but I sympathize with an organization who closes an exhibition or stops publishing images because of death threats. It's very easy for people who are comfortable and secure and not receiving death threats to expound on how other people should stand firm and not knuckle under, but according to Chris Bratton, people at SFAI had their families threatened. If you were an SFAI trustee or curator or employee, would you really trade the safety of your children to keep this exhibition open? Have you ever had a gun held to your head? If not, I don't think you can condemn SFAI's decision.

Oriane

5/10/2008 09:43:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Is this guy killing a horse? C'mon this if F'd up. We as Americans have our own sense of what's right. Why do we always have to defer to the opinion of the foreign? Especially in an 'art' exhibit in our country.
I don't know anything about this work, but the sledgehammering of a horse is NOT ok! Whether or not it is art, I don't really care.

5/10/2008 10:39:00 AM  
Blogger George said...

Anon, 9:35 this is obviously a difficult issue which needs careful thought

I disagree. The question is how and where is the morality of an action defined? If we say it is defined from the outside, by the observer not the agent, then how does the observer get the right to decide what is immoral and what is not? If the responsibility of the observer is transferred to society, then we might be able to form some consensus over the morality of an act, even though there will often be disagreement in the conclusions. The morality of society serves as a guideline.

Ultimately, it is the individual which must make the decision about what is moral and what is not. This inherently implies that such decisions may be in error even when the agent believes them to to be correct, but the only way we can make these judgments is by comparison to the societal moralities. Further, the agent can only gauge his moral decisions by comparing them to the societal moralities The agents responsibility for the morality expressed by their action is defined by their knowledge and their intent.

Your inferences about the artists intentions seem incorrect. It does not matter whether or not the animal was purchased from a slaughterhouse, this only abrogates the issue by saying the animal was going to die anyway. If we are willing to accept that killing an animal for food has a different moral weight than killing an animal for sport, just for the sake of the hunt but not for food, then when in the timeline of events the decision is made to use the animal for food becomes important.

If this decision is made before the fact, before the animal is killed, then the intent is to use the animal for food and it changes the morality of the situation. It does not matter precisely how this decision is made, only the timing matters. In our particular case, if the animal is "rescued" from the slaughterhouse only to be killed for food tomorrow, there is no difference between that and just killing an animal for food tomorrow. (here we are assuming it's a different animal, but it really doesn't matter) What matters is that the animal is being used for food and that this decision was made prior to its slaughter.

Further, documenting the killing of the animal has no relationship to the morality of the actual act of killing the animal. The morality of the video, or other documentation, lies in its use. Documentation is inert, it has no morality, only its use by a human agent can create a situation where society must make moral judgments.

To use anon's example "what if he had killed a human being?"

Society judges the killing of human beings as being immoral, but society is also confused over how to apply this moral judgment universally and the results are extremely conflicted. Still, allowing for all the exceptions, we can assume that the killing of another human being is immoral.

If the agent acts to kill another human being, this is an immoral act within the constraints mentioned above. The immorality is in the act.

If the artists documents the killing, the act of documentation may be considered immoral or not. Regardless, the actual physical documentation is inert and therefore has no morality.

If the documentation is used, presented to the public, then each case of its use may be subject to a different moral assignment. The obvious cases, titillation or incitement, would draw a different moral judgment than the use of the documentation in an educational or legal venue. You can make up your own set of conditions here, some will be immoral and some will not, in all cased the results are the direct cause of a human agent and their intent.

In this particular case, Abdessemed's presentation of his documentation as part of a work of art is a moral act. While the information presented may be viewed as sensational, offensive and repulsive it is presented with the dignity of artistic intent and not as a glorification of the killing of animals.

The SFAI is wrong on this matter and should reinstate the exhibition.

5/10/2008 10:40:00 AM  
Blogger George said...

Correction:

The immorality is in the act should read:

The immorality is in both the intention and act. This allows for situations like self defense.

5/10/2008 10:46:00 AM  
Anonymous Richard Bruce said...

My belief is we will, in fact, be greeted as liberators.

5/10/2008 10:58:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Okay, so knowing what I now know about the piece I think it would be more analogous if my filmed art piece dealing with the stoning to death of homosexuals (in countries where it is accepted) actually involved me picking up a stone and participating. Would you be okay with that Ed? Would you call the gay rights activists (and others) who would undoubtedly protest my piece "fascists". In fact, to be even more analogous to what the artist did I would probably need to find some homosexuals, report them to the authorities, and THEN participate in the stoning. What the heck, they were bound to die anyway. To the people commenting, I encourage you to read up on what this piece actually involved. I think Ed has misrepresented it, probably unintentionally, by not revealing fully just what it entails.

5/10/2008 11:51:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"these last three anonymous comments need to be substantiated. please give the sources of your information that these works involved the bludgeoning of animals with a hammer or retract your comments."
To "the reader". Why don't you take five minutes and use Google to read up on what this piece actually entailed. What anon said is true. So I'm assuming you will now condemn what this "artist" did?

5/10/2008 11:59:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Okay, so knowing what I now know about the piece I think it would be more analogous if my filmed art piece dealing with the stoning to death of homosexuals (in countries where it is accepted) actually involved me picking up a stone and participating. Would you be okay with that Ed?

You're an idiot.

5/10/2008 12:31:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

So disqualifying something out of the category of art due to moral outrage indicates totalitarian leanings. Are you trying to prove Bratton's point?

I read that three times. The first time dismissing it as sloppy. The second time thinking you might have a point. But the third time convinced that you're misreading me.

The ability to provoke moral outrage is not a measure of whether something is "art" or not, no more than its ability to provoke tears, or laughter, or ambivalence. The only valid determination of what is "art" that I recognize is what an artist tells me is their "art." My only role in that declaration is deciding whether it's good or not-so-good art.

In a system where one values self-determination and freedom of self-expression, that is the only valid determination in my opinion. To question or impose upon the self-determination and/or freedom of self-expression of anyone, but particularly of artists, is a hallmark of totalitarianism.

Therefore, I'll stick with my assessment, reject that I'm in anyway proving Bratton's point, and ask how you reconcile the implications of this:

"So disqualifying something out of the category of art due to moral outrage"

with this:

"you do not have the right to not be offended. And if you don't believe in the right to hate speech, you don't believe in the right freedom of speech."

5/10/2008 12:42:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"You're an idiot."
Thanks for the thoughtful and profound response Ed. If someone managed to point out my position was full of shit I might be tempted to respond the same way. Then again, probably not. No hard feelings.

5/10/2008 01:04:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"My only role in that declaration is deciding whether it's good or not-so-good art."

Well what is it Ed? Is bashing animals brains out in front of a camera "good" or "not-so-good"?

I'm not sure I would care either way based on the subject.

5/10/2008 01:40:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

If someone managed to point out my position was full of shit I might be tempted to respond the same way.

Oh...is that what you feel you've done here? My mistake. I've over-estimated you. You're not an idiot. You're an imbecile.

Or maybe I'm missing something here. Maybe you're a horse or a doe or a pig or some other non-human species. That would explain why you'd equate the stoning of a gay human with the slaughter of a farm animal.

Short of that improbability, though, I'll have to revert to my original assessment.

No hard feelings.

Really? Equating gays with animals is your way of saying you want to be friends?

Get out of here.

5/10/2008 01:55:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

George, I'm sorry but your 'all or nothing' view is wrong - or at least misguided or misunderstood. There is a difference depending on the circumstances of what happened here. I don't know of any slaughtering outfit that bludgeons animals to death with a sledgehammer. What Oriane said:

"It's whether he documented the ways animals are killed for food (moral) or purchased these animals to kill them for his video (immoral)."

which is what I agree with wholeheartedly. It's completely different to document an already occurring event - than to insert your own interpretation of said event. Not to try and transfer this argument to a different situation but what about dogfighting? Why do we keep shutting down dogfighting rings? Usually dogs that have been used in fights have to be destroyed anyway. So why bother to stop them - since they're going to die anyway?

But then again, what's your stance here? Are you arguing that the artists' actions and subsequent "work" is valid in and of itself? Or just the censorship of the exhibition? Or both? I'm not much for censorship - but I do not agree that the actions that Abdessemed took should be considered acceptable.

n

5/10/2008 01:56:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Well what is it Ed? Is bashing animals brains out in front of a camera "good" or "not-so-good"?

Not having seen the work, I'm not in a position to say. Which is my ultimate point here.

5/10/2008 02:12:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

I don't know of any slaughtering outfit

But how many slaughtering outfits or techniques worldwide are you actually familiar with?

I know only of a few.

I have heard of using a sledgehammer though. I don't have any real sense of how prevalent that is, but I have heard of it.

After just a little research, though, I found this in a pdf file about slaughtering beef:

"Kill the animal as humanely as possible. If a rifle is used, exercise recommendations for safe use of firearms. The proper place for the bullet to strike is at the intersection of two imaginary lines extending from the right horn or anima, edge of poll to the left eye and from the left horn or edge of poll to the right eye (Figure 1). A sharp blow at this point with a sledge hammer will also stun the animal. [emphasis mine]"

This is the realm of honest dialog that I understood this work to be exploring. Is it pretty? No? Is it so beyond the pale that it warrants threatening the lives of the Art Institute's employees? Absolutely not. To my mind it's not even so beyond the pale (it's clearly a simple matter of fact) that it warrants canceling the exhibition.

I agree with those who feel that an opportunity was missed here to further the cause of animal rights organizations. If folks who saw this work left a bit more conscious of how a burger ended up on their plate, this would have been a good thing, no?

5/10/2008 02:32:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Maybe you're a horse or a doe or a pig or some other non-human species. That would explain why you'd equate the stoning of a gay human with the slaughter of a farm animal."
Why the offense Ed? Because you're gay? Because you're human? Believe it or not Ed, there are people who love their pet pig or their horse more than they love many people- even though these animals have almost no rights. They'd probably be outraged by this work and complain about it- they're some of the folks you have referred to as fascists, while you apparently have given no thought to your own speciesism. We're talking about sentient beings Ed- beings that squeal and cry out and suffer and feel pain. Not a piece of chalk or charcoal. And yet you have the nerve to call me an idiot? You're on here defending someone who purchased animals for the sole purpose of bashing them to death on camera and I'm the imbecile?!
And as far as my work of art not only depicting but also involving me actively participating in the stoning to death of homosexuals (only in cultures where it is acceptable of course) I think you have misunderstood the meaning of my "artwork". I merely want to hold a mirror up to society and show it the horror involved with stoning a homosexual to death (unfortunately a despised minority with no rights in much of the world)- in the same spirit as what I assume this artist did in beating a animal to death with a hammer. So yes, I will join the mob and cast a stone (after all, the condemned homosexual is going to die anyway), just as this artist picked up a hammer and did the bashing. Is filming the stoning to death of a homosexual the same thing as bashing a animal to death with a hammer. No. But is it analogous for those of us who try and have compassion for all life and have a difficult time drawing firm distinctions between the suffering of other living beings- YES. How you can fail to see the outrage that MOST people would have about this (not just animal rights activists) is beyond me. So keep calling me an idiot and a imbecile Ed. I'll keep reading your blog because I respect your opinion and have learned quite a bit. But on this issue I disagree with you. And if you think in my attempt to point out where I think you might be wrong that makes me an idiot- so be it. I'll still keep reading, even if you don't want me to. :)

5/10/2008 02:40:00 PM  
Blogger Donna Dodson said...

Does anybody remember the videos, Faces of Death? We watched alot of those in college- really brutal stuff- and yes- I have also seen the ones about animal slaughter that would make anyone want to become a vegetarian- but on that note, there any many shades of gray- eating vegetarian versus vegan, wearing or not wearing animal products, buying or not buying products made from animal products, to speaking out- participating in activism against animal testing in laboratories for scientific research- I think without seeing the video in context of the installation its impossible to answer what was he using that particular video to say? what was the whole statement of the multi-channel video piece? presumably it was an artistic statement that has now become publicity for the animal rights cause/censorship- one comment about east versus west coast- i feel like the west coast remains somewhat throttled by political correctness in ways that p.c.isms blew past the east coast and broke up somewhere over the ocean- whew!

5/10/2008 02:51:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sorry, but I don't see this as ok. I believe in rights for all animals and don't eat them, but even in the scope of all beliefs in this country, the snuffing of a horse is equal to the killing of a family pet: unacceptable in a public institution in the United States. For the same reason dog fights and bull fights are not legal (we only murder animals inhumanely for profit in this country, not for sport.)
IF these animals are bought legally for killing in another country and IF he films it and calls it art and IF it is shown in a private gallery, then fine, as repulsive as it is I suppose it must be allowed to exist BUT at SFAI it's a problem. No one condones the threatening of lives, but you can't pin a few anonymous phone calls on PETA or other activist organizations, lets remember what the protests are about, non-violence... and remember what Ghandi said:

"The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated."

5/10/2008 03:16:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

And yet you have the nerve to call me an idiot?

No I changed my opinion and called you an imbecile.

Seriously, get out of here.

5/10/2008 03:25:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Seriously, get out of here."
It's your blog. I'll go.

5/10/2008 03:49:00 PM  
Blogger Balhatain said...

I can understand why people get upset, but I don't understand why people resort to death threats and other idle threats over these issues-- what does it accomplish other than making an otherwise stable individual appear to be a lunatic? True, an animal is a living being, but I don't think making threats against the life of another living being is acceptable. If you go to the forums on myspace involving Guilermo Vargas Habacuc's hoax exhibit you will know what I'm talking about. Some of the comments are brutal. As for laws, that is a sticky area in the United States and elsewhere. We have laws that protect certain living beings, but we have other laws that state that it is acceptable to terminate certain living beings.

5/10/2008 03:55:00 PM  
Anonymous Franklin said...

The only valid determination of what is "art" that I recognize is what an artist tells me is their "art." My only role in that declaration is deciding whether it's good or not-so-good art.

Having wrestled with this problem, I regard this as a sound position, and for many years I took it as well. Forget totalitarianism - I find it logically impossible to disqualify something out of the art category once its maker or presenter has classified it as art. As you say, that leaves talking about its quality or lack thereof.

I see a problem in this, though. If mere fiat classifies something as art, why can't mere fiat declassify it? Something seems asymmetrical about permitting an artist to declare anything as art, but forbidding a viewer to declare the object as bullshit. And I mean bullshit in the sense that Harry Frankfurt defined it via Max Black's rendering of "humbug": deceptive misrepresentation, short of lying, especially by pretentious word or deed, of somebody's own thoughts, feelings, and attitudes, which fits amazingly well regarding art. I think the characterization of certain works (and possibly the one under discussion) as bullshit have exactly the philosophical weight of the artist's characterization of them as art.

An artist runs the risk of his effort lapsing into bullshit by working at the categorical fringes of art. As a painter, I would have to make something catastrophic and wrongly presented to get it completely outside of the category of art. That looks like a fair tradeoff - people won't view my work as cutting-edge or pushing the limits of art, but they likely won't view it as bullshit either, at least not bullshit as opposed to art. Whereas artists who work out at the fringes may win recognition for doing so, but if they don't pull it off, then they open themselves to fair and deserved criticism of their work as bullshit rather than art. Now we have a symmetrical arrangement that doesn't privilege one party over another. It also doesn't conflict with the right to freedom of speech. Regarded this way, the viewer's power to disqualify an object out of the category of art has the hallmarks of egalitarianism, not totalitarianism.

5/10/2008 04:18:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

If mere fiat classifies something as art, why can't mere fiat declassify it?

in my opinion...in a word: authorship.

Something seems asymmetrical about permitting an artist to declare anything as art, but forbidding a viewer to declare the object as bullshit.

There is nothing asymmetrical here if you approach this from the role of each player. The viewer's role is to appreciate the work presented. Not to make it, or edit it, or censor it, or destroy it. To appreciate it.

That includes judging it.

But once you allow that the viewer can declassify it, you conflate the role of the author and the viewer.

5/10/2008 04:28:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

That seems a bit like a semantical argument. In the general lexicon to call something "art" is to pay a compliment. In the context of the artworld its' "artness" is not what is in question but the determination of it's value in terms of good or bad or varying degrees in between.

You can still say a work is "bullshit" in terms of a value judgement.

5/10/2008 04:37:00 PM  
Anonymous Franklin said...

Declaring a work as bullshit doesn't qualify as making, editing, censoring, or destroying. You might even characterize it as appreciaiton, if an extremely negative version thereof. ("Judgment" probably fits better.) I think a viewer could fairly judge that an object has too many deficiencies to qualify as art. I think the viewer has every right to do so.

5/10/2008 04:40:00 PM  
Anonymous Madrigals": Rounds and Cannons said...

The Beaten Path
Posted by ben on 10 May 2008 at 01:03 pm | Tagged as: music, essays

I just ran across a wonderful series of essays on New Music Box covering the history of percussion in American music. Considered in Europe to be a non-essential, accentual part of music, it was largely American musicians who brought percussion out of the shadows in Western music. The author, Nicole V. Gagné, identifies three strains in the development of American percussion: the rise of multiculturalism and “world music”; the increasing reliance on percussion in jazz and other popular music; and the more philosophical “all-sound music of the future,” in which John Cage’s break from harmonization was the watershed moment. Of course these strains are not independent; jazz drummers incorporated African, Cuban, and Indian percussion, just as the “all-sound” musicians had their flirtations with popular music.

5/10/2008 04:55:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Declaring a work as "bullshit" though is not synonymous with declaring it "not art." So yes, here we're talking value judgment, but not definition.

I think a viewer could fairly judge that an object has too many deficiencies to qualify as art.

I disagree. First, I don't see how it could be a quantitative thing. Second, again, we're not talking here about judgment but definition. Who defines the product as "art"?

Logically I cannot wrap my mind around the notion that there's any validity to some sort of shared authority to asserting that definition one way or the other (i.e., that there's a spectrum point at which the product is seen by both the artist and the viewer as "art" and so thus jointly declared as such but "not art" if it doesn't fall far enough along the line of the viewer's expectations).

Your approach requires agreement on the part of the viewer, regardless (I assume) of the viewer's point of view, agenda, or authority on art. For this to be valid, the viewer would have to have insight into the mind of the artist declaring that this or that product is their "art."

As we know they don't, then, the only valid role for the viewer is to accept the stated definition and then pass judgment on the quality.

In the general lexicon to call something "art" is to pay a compliment.

I think that's a whole other topic, though.

5/10/2008 04:56:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think that gets back to the semantical argument. To say that something doesn't "qualify" as art is to place the word ART itself upon a work is in fact a value judgement. In terms of art and the art world it's not a matter of art or not but in good or bad. It's like a critic reading a novel saying that the book was so bad that it doesn't even qualify to be a book. And that's ridiculous. A book is a book is a book. Similar with art while not a standardized form to decide if it is "art" or not is not important.

But that goes back to whether or not you assign a level of importance to the labeling of something as "art". It's not "art" vs "Art". If it's art, it's art - that doesn't make it good though.

n

5/10/2008 04:56:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

p.s. Ed you beat me to it - i didn't see your post before that one I just made.

"In the general lexicon to call something "art" is to pay a compliment.

I think that's a whole other topic, though."


that's what i meant

5/10/2008 04:59:00 PM  
Anonymous Franklin said...

For all the wonderful flexibility of the word "bullshit," I used it in a particular way above that provided a positive classification for "not art."

But fine, you want to distinguish definition and judgment. So the artist defines something as art. What deprives the viewer of the right to refuse the definition? I do this with political language all the time. (We have smart, evil people in this country working hard to define "torture" so it doesn't include waterboarding. Which it clearly fucking does.) Definition and judgment overlap at some point unless you automatically accept all definitions and applications thereof as true.

Here's an improbable scenario: An artist makes a bunch of work and exhibits it in a gallery show. Cards go out, e-mails blast away, a goodly number of folks come and admire it, a critic writes it up. Halfway through the exhibition run, the artist declares that none of the objects in the exhibition, by his definition, are art. He was just kidding, or something. If authorship validates his declaration of those objects as art, does it validate his retraction? I say instead that he's entered into a system of agreements that overpowers his ability to apply or withhold his definition.

It's like a critic reading a novel saying that the book was so bad that it doesn't even qualify to be a book. And that's ridiculous. A book is a book is a book.

If literature and its aficionados sanctioned efforts that didn't use words, they would find themselves in art's boat, and it might fall to some critic to do exactly that. People don't declare things into the category of literature by fiat.

5/10/2008 05:33:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Here's an improbable scenario: An artist makes a bunch of work and exhibits it in a gallery show. Cards go out, e-mails blast away, a goodly number of folks come and admire it, a critic writes it up.

That is actually not all that improbable. See here.

What deprives the viewer of the right to refuse the definition?

We're going in circles.

Again, to my mind, the fact that the viewer is not the author of the piece.

5/10/2008 05:56:00 PM  
Anonymous Franklin said...

So if I read you right, you say that the author has the power to define his work as art against a viewer's judgment, but he lacks the power to retract that definition against a viewer's judgment. I don't think so.

5/10/2008 06:10:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

So if I read you right, you say that the author has the power to define his work as art against a viewer's judgment, but he lacks the power to retract that definition against a viewer's judgment. I don't think so.

Not quite what I wrote.

Yes to the first part, but my objection to the second part is not about the artist's power to retract, but rather a question of compensation. If someone purchases a work of art and the artist wishes to then retract authorship or declaration that it's his/her "art," I feel it's only right the artist reimburse the collector at current market value.

I've never questioned the artist's right to declare the work no longer "art."

5/10/2008 06:15:00 PM  
Anonymous Franklin said...

That's at least consistent. But let's go back to the improbable scenario: this stuff, which is no longer art by defintion of the artist, sits in a gallery, with people admiring it, having enjoyed a critical review. People are using this as art, and now its up to you to disqualify it from the category as art. As I said earlier, I have not found a way to do this.

I think we have a usually unspoken system of agreements between makers and viewers, or in other words, shared fiats. But that presupposes the freedom on both sides to declare fiats as each of them sees fit. Otherwise we really do have a totalitarian system, in which we have to accept whatever artists define as art for us. (And I trust you don't accept Alberto Gonzalez's definition of torture simply because he authored it.)

Again, we end up with these consequences as a result of working at the categorical fringe. Things don't become literature by fiat. People who enjoy and produce literature agree that it ought to use words. The categorical center of art (painting, drawing, and sculpture using the various plastic mediums) works this way as well - things belong to it by virtue of commonly understood properties, not by fiat. At the fringe, things become art by fiat according to the artist, so say you. If you then deprive the viewer of the right to disqualify something as art, then you don't have a fringe - art potentially includes the entire universe, limited only by any one artist's megalomania. I think that would be a stupid way to look at art.

5/10/2008 07:05:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Maybe not the universe, but the entire world has already be declared as art: http://www.orbit.zkm.de/files/socle_du_monde.jpg

n

5/10/2008 07:15:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The entire world declared as art? People have been dealing with authorship for a heckuva long time:
'omnia per ipsum facta sunt et sine ipso factum est nihil quod factum est'

5/9, 1:25

5/10/2008 10:15:00 PM  
Blogger David Cauchi said...

'No I changed my opinion and called you an imbecile.

'Seriously, get out of here.'

I'm sorry to say that this seriously affects my opinion of you, Ed.

As people have already pointed out, freedom of speech necessarily involves freedom to repugnant speech. I think Noam Chomsky said about David Horowitz something like 'I disagree with everything he says but will defend his right to say it.'

The poster could have made their point less provocatively, but they did have a point - an argument that should be assessed on its merits.

However, rather than do this, you resorted to repeated personal insults and insisted they not speak at all.

This is not an acceptable way to hold a debate.

Don't you worry, I'm getting out of here as well.

5/10/2008 11:36:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm not speaking for Ed here, but as a fellow commenter I would like to point out that when someone is being intentionally provocative, particularly an anonymous someone, sometimes they will hit their target and will provoke. Ed sometimes responds emotionally to a particularly personal kind of barb or taunt and that is understandable and it is his right to ask anyone to leave. Yes, it's a little unnerving when he says "get out" but I'd rather know that we're dealing with a human being here, with emotions and personal reactions, than a robot. He is providing a forum for conversation, at his own considerable time and expense (meaning he could be spending this time on financial pursuits) and when something especially offensive is said, he reacts as a host would in the real world. He is not censoring speech, he is saying he doesn't want that kind of speech in his house. If someone said something very offensive and intentionally provocative in my home, something like, "how bout if I helped stone to death one of your people, and filmed it, how would that be?" I might very well ask them to leave. This is not Ed's home exactly, but it's somewhere between his place and a public meeting room where he is the manager. He takes the responsibility of keeping the discourse civil and not letting it devolve into a nasty name-calling argument. Because he is providing us with this space, that doesn't mean he has to put up with every offensive remark. Sometimes I don't understand his virulent reaction to a particular event (Pretty Lady's alternative Biennial comes to mind), but in this case I do. Perhaps he will come back and react to those comments in a less emotional way later, or perhaps not. Think about how a similar comment, made in a racial context would sound, if a white person said to a black host, "how bout if I participated in a lynching, huh?, how would that feel to you?" As a member of an oppressed minority, the host might tell the questioner to go to hell and get out of his meeting hall (or worse). We're human beings, guys.

Peace,

Oriane

5/11/2008 10:15:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

I'm sorry if how I expressed my feelings about such a repugnant analogy leads you to feel you can't comment or read here David, but the notion that I should engage someone's argument when it's predicated on accepting the notion that I am the equivalent of a farm animal is so pointless that its offense is magnified and deserves a swift and unrepentant dismissal, IMO. Surely my freedom of speech in this instance is as valid as anyone else's.

Had the anonymous commenter responded to my first dismissal without repeating the offense, then I would have engaged him/her on the merits of the argument, but he/she only magnified the offense, and so I see no point in pretending I give a flying f*ck what they think. Such a position is offensive to me in every way.

But, for the record, here's why that analogy is so beneath debate that it warrants only dismissal:

1. The predominant goal of stoning a gay is part punishment, part spectacle (with the goal of discouraging others). There are no parallels to either in the slaughtering of a farm animal.
2. There is no parallel in the aftermath of such an action, in that the people stoning the gay do not eat his flesh or use his body parts as clothing or other objects. His death is the end goal, not a means to some other purpose.
3. Whereas the most influential spiritual thinker in the West (Christ) cautioned us to consider our own situations before stoning another human being, by all accounts he wore sandals (we are left to assume leather ones) and ate fish, which indicate that he too, when a human, saw nothing amoral about behaving as an omnivore.

And yet, with these failings, I'm supposed to ignore the intentional offense (anonymous could have chosen a wide range of analogies that didn't indict me personally, such as a death row inmate or any of the other situations for which people are stoned to death in parts of the world) and discuss the merits of the argument?

Life is too short.

5/11/2008 10:27:00 AM  
Anonymous The New York Ripper said...

A seriously comic look at Washington’s political strategies during elections. Meet the Cast of little girl in bloom.

5/11/2008 11:04:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You create a post titled "On the Luxury of Self-Righteousness", yet are completely incapable of recognizing your own blind spot.

5/11/2008 11:25:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ed has requested on many occasions that participants refrain from "getting personal".

I am with Oriane here: hosting a blog is like being a host in any other circumstance. This is not a town meeting: Ed has every right control the content in any way he sees fit, and those who don't like the way the blog is run have every right to leave and not come back. It is tiresome to see flamers enter a communal discussion, inject poison into the discussion, then insist on their "freedom of speech".

This blog requires a great deal of work, and is very generous gift that most readers appreciate.

5/11/2008 01:07:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

You create a post titled "On the Luxury of Self-Righteousness", yet are completely incapable of recognizing your own blind spot.

Assuming you're sincere and your point is simply hard to parse, I'll ask: is my "blind spot" one of self-righteousness? In other words, am I full of myself because (what?) I should be able to identify with pigs or other farm animals because I'm gay? I honestly don't follow you.

I'll note that IMO this entire analogy should offend everyone, and those arguing that I'm wrong to shut down in response to it are the ones missing something here.

Debating on its merits something so fundamentally illogical, offensive, and clearly hand picked to provoke an emotional response on my part (and that's the ultimate irony here, someone asks me to consider the issue from a personal/emotional point of view, and then when I respond emotionally, folks are aghast) only serves to lend it legitimacy. Why would I do that? Why would anyone?

When someone writes something so idiotic, and then repeats the offense, they can expect the same sort of response from me.

5/11/2008 01:09:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

Anon n said, I don't know of any slaughtering outfit that bludgeons animals to death with a sledgehammer.

I think if you research this a bit you’ll find that slaughtering is frequently done with an air-hammer inflicted blow to the head which bludgeons the animal to death. A later comment also covers this.

"It's whether he documented the ways animals are killed for food (moral) or purchased these animals to kill them for his video (immoral)."

I believe this is logically false. It confuses the issue by introducing the act of ‘documentation’ into the decision process concerning the morality of killing the animal.

Without documentation, I suggested that killing the animal for food, however pernicious we find this act, can be considered moral. The morality is attached or bound to the agent who slaughters the animal, not the act itself.

Further the timeline is important, categorized as events before and events after the death of the animal. If the agent slaughters the animal for any immoral reason and after the fact, after the death of the animal decides to use it for food, this does not abrogate the agents responsibility of intent (whatever it was prior to the animals death) and the act is immoral.

The timeline relationship between the decision to document the act and the decision to use the slaughtered animal for food does not matter as long as both decisions occur before the animal is slaughtered. Oriane’s statement effectively only substitutes one animal for another and the logic of the moral decision cannot discern between the two because in either case both animals are marked to be slaughtered.

Comments made by others evaluating whether Abdessemed’s piece is work of art or how good a work of art it may be, are just opinions and invalid speculations unless the commenters have seen the exhibition.

5/11/2008 02:32:00 PM  
Anonymous Franklin said...

Ed has my support here. Part of maintaining reasonable discussion on a blog, long-term, is telling the occasional developmentally disabled anonymous troll to get lost, or worse. Not every issuance of mental effluvium merits a considered discussion, particularly when the issuer lacks the stones to sign his name to it.

5/11/2008 02:57:00 PM  
Anonymous Bambino said...

Ed has been go generous with his blog for past few year to everyone here, for artist, curators, writers, art dealers and simply to everyone, who somehow involved with art world or any other businesses.
Show me any other art dealers who would write everyday: to share experience, exchange opinions, giving advices, taking criticism, and respond to them, stand up to his believes.

As every human been Ed, and every single of you entitled to have your opinion. But all of us know that it’s so easy to criticize someone, without giving any credits. And everybody who reads the blog knows Ed has been very patient and professional with his respond to any criticism to his address, either personal or professional way.

Why not to be polite and professional here, share your opinion without insulting each other, especially Ed.
Try to write posts everyday on your blog, and see if somebody comes around and leaving nasty comments. Stand up for your believes and thoughts, and don’t leave insulting comments under “anon”

I usually ignore any “anon” comments, why should I bother, and even think about someone’s opinion or thoughts, especially if the comment is negative? Why should I spend any minutes of my life to respond to someone who is afraid to publicly stand up what he or she writes? And why if you are disagree, why come back, and keep insulting other people?

5/11/2008 03:23:00 PM  
Blogger joy said...

Well-put, Bambino;

also, an anon said:
I am with Oriane here: hosting a blog is like being a host in any other circumstance. This is not a town meeting: Ed has every right control the content in any way he sees fit, and those who don't like the way the blog is run have every right to leave and not come back. It is tiresome to see flamers enter a communal discussion, inject poison into the discussion, then insist on their "freedom of speech".

This blog requires a great deal of work, and is very generous gift that most readers appreciate.


Ditto Oriane and above. I'll add that Ed has WAY more patience with flamers etc. than I do; every so often i get a live one over at newsgrist, and if they're lucky they get a warning before I delete and/or ban them. It's really annoying when commenters display this kind of misplaced entitlement.

If someone walked into my studio or a party at my place, and they acted out in a way that was offensive or calculated to provoke me, I would probably ask them to leave - at the very least I wouldn't invite them back. But genuine apologies do go a long way.

- J

5/11/2008 04:55:00 PM  
Blogger jeff f said...

In the Coen Brothers film "No Country For Old Men" the antagonist, Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem) uses an CO2 powered air gun to kill people.
It's the type of device used to kill large animals for food.
They never know what hit's them.
By the way the worse way to kill an animal for consumption is to stress it out first as the meat becomes to full of adrenalin which makes the meat kind of useless for human consumption.

I have to say that Ed is a gracious host and that this blog is a one of a kind thing. I might not always agree with him, but being rude and offensive is not the way to have a dialog.

5/11/2008 06:11:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

George said “I think if you research this a bit you’ll find that slaughtering is frequently done with an air-hammer inflicted blow to the head which bludgeons the animal to death. A later comment also covers this.”

However an “air hammer” is somewhat a vague term. If you mean something along the lines of like say….a captive bolt pistol [which has many names, perhaps “air hammer”?] – then yes – this is often used. And it is nothing like a sledgehammer. At all. Think “No Country for Old Men” on this one. They’re not even in remotely the same ball park. The term “stun” is also used in relation to this device but it is quite different than the “stun” one would receive from a sledge hammer.

As for the phrase I quoted, fine. Lets put that aside. “It confuses the issue by introducing the act of ‘documentation’ into the decision process concerning the morality of killing the animal.

Without documentation, I suggested that killing the animal for food, however pernicious we find this act, can be considered moral. The morality is attached or bound to the agent who slaughters the animal, not the act itself.”

But it was documented. And documented in a way that took a process from the environment where that process normally happens and put it into the hands of an “other” – the artist. The killing of the animal itself was not what was in question but the method and the nature of process used. If an animal raised for slaughter is treated in a tortuous manner before it is killed and later used for food is relevant. Why else would undercover investigations go into the standards and practices of plants which process livestock? There are standards not being met. Why is “free range” meat so popular lately? It’s going to die anyway, why not torture it first? Some people think that perhaps they would rather an animal have some semblance of a “nice” life rather than the one being stored in a box they can’t stand up in covered in their own feces.

“The timeline relationship between the decision to document the act and the decision to use the slaughtered animal for food does not matter as long as both decisions occur before the animal is slaughtered. Oriane’s statement effectively only substitutes one animal for another and the logic of the moral decision cannot discern between the two because in either case both animals are marked to be slaughtered.”

I don’t believe this makes sense because it’s not simply a document. It’s a removal from what actually happens and a document of that. I believe there is a difference between a document of an actual event, and a document of a staged event - regardless of the outcome - which lends to the "validity" of the act.

n

5/11/2008 06:34:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

p.s.
jeff f - you got to the No Country for Old Men reference as i was posting.

n

5/11/2008 06:36:00 PM  
Blogger David Cauchi said...

Cheers, Ed. I was wrong.

After I posted my comment, the dinner party analogy occurred to me. Much as I'd like to think I'd politely ask someone who was deliberately provoking me during a heated argument to not make offensive remarks and coolly explain why I found it offensive, I don't think that'd be the case. To be honest, I'd react very similarly, no matter how important I think it is to 'play the ball not the person' (to use a hopefully non-contentious analogy).

It's a pity, because I do see the anonymous commentator's point. The way I see it, they're proceeding from the assumption that all animals have an equal right to life (as in Buddhism) and questioning why we as humans assume we have a special right to life that other animals don't have. But, yes, they put it very badly indeed, using an invalid and offensive analogy (see points 1 and 2 of Ed's comment of 10.27am).

As for point 3, I will cite Leonardo da Vinci. He used leather and rabbit skin glue, but was a vegetarian because he didn't want his body to be 'a tomb for dead animals'.

Why do we assume we have special rights over other animals? Is it because of that bit in Genesis where God gives us dominion over them? That requires acceptance of a specific belief system, but there are people who don't accept it who hold that assumption.

Is it because we have some property that other animals don't? This seems more likely, but is a dangerous position to hold. If it's speech and reasoning that is the distinguishing property, where do you draw the line? We quite rightly do not draw it at living human beings who are capable of speech and reasoning.

Is it because 'nature is red in tooth and claw', so we might as well be as well? This also seems very dangerous.

Finally, I second Bambino's comment about anonymity. If you don't think enough of your opinion to put your name to it, why should anyone else think anything of it?

5/11/2008 06:37:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Why do we assume we have special rights over other animals?

I've never been able to successfully explain my position on this, but I'll try again and see if I can do it any better.

I don't feel I have any special rights over other animals, not even other humans, and likewise I don't feel other animals (or humans) have any specail rights over me. None of them. I think we're all equal in God's eyes actually (despite the Genesis bit) and He doesn't really think any less of humans for eating a cow than he does of a lion for eating an antelope.

But my opinion doesn't really rely on believing in God. It's simply the sense that we're all on this earth competing for survival against all the others and that currently humans happen to be at the top of the food chain. We were not always, nor will we always be so though, so while we are I intend to be grateful and enjoy it.

I think, however, that it's condescending to assume we have a role to protect other species from ourselves. That's not to say we have license to treat them poorly or waste the bounty they represent (I think all animals have a shared responsibility to take what they need from other species and leave the rest).

But because I don't feel superior, by decree, over... say... mice (and I'm convinced that were they able to, mice would experiment on humans to promote their survival), I see no reason to be unrealistic about why experimenting on them to save human life is within the realm of understandable survival.

In other words, I see humans as just another creature, fighting for survival, not the keeper of the beasts, and therefore not obligated to take pity or act as the guardian of the animals outside of the natural law that it's obscene to waste the planet's resources and treating other animals without respect will come back to haunt you.

I told you I can't explain it well.

5/11/2008 09:14:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

I would hope that one would find from the tone of the language I used in my previous comments that I personally find the slaughtering of these animals distasteful. Be that as it may, in thinking about the question of the morality of this act, I have to conclude that it is moral, though repugnant.

I used the term "air hammer," not knowing what the actual device is called. From a physics point of view, it operates like a hammer. It’s actuated pneumatically, accelerating a rod which strikes the animal dead. A sledgehammer is messier but physically functions in the same manner.

The ‘documentation’ is not an issue when considering the morality of killing the animal, it is a different event.

In addition, it does not matter which animal is killed, one raised for food, or a pet, what matters is the intent of the agent who performs the act of killing the animal. In this particular case, I argued that killing the animal for food can be considered moral. If the intent of the agent is to utilize the animal for food, and this intention exists before the animals death, then I conclude that the killing is moral as long as no other moral issues contravene.

The moral question of abusing or torturing the animal is different from the moral question of killing the animal for food. They are two separate things. If we assume that intentional abuse or torture are immoral, then if these acts occur before the animal is killed, it makes the killing of the animal immoral even if there is intention to use the animal for food.

If one applies the above thought process to the spectacle of the bullfight they are immoral from my point of view, even though the dead bull is used for food.

5/11/2008 10:06:00 PM  
Blogger jeff f said...

Speaking of cruel and barbaric behavior this story out of Iraq is very sad: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2008/may/11/iraq.humanrights

5/11/2008 11:09:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

Ed said, In other words, I see humans as just another creature, fighting for survival, not the keeper of the beasts, and therefore not obligated to take pity or act as the guardian of the animals outside of the natural law that it's obscene to waste the planet's resources and treating other animals without respect will come back to haunt you.

This is debatable. Humans are not like all other animals. Humans have the ability to understand the concept of morality, and therefore understand the morality of their actions. The fact that we can debate whether or not it is moral to kill another animal, to separate out the various conditions which we might consider this act moral, is not something which is widespread within the community of animals.

If we can make moral judgements about our actions, in particular, our actions towards other animals, then we implicitly assume responsibility for our behavior. If we do not act morally towards other animals then we lose something which makes us human and distinct from the other animals. This loss is not trivial, it would essentially result in the disintegration of society, humans would act towards other humans as if they were animals.

The fact that we are conscious of ourselves, have the ability to think abstractly, and are capable of distinguishing these, make us responsible for our actions towards the other animals. Rather than just being at the top of the food chain, we are also aware that the food chain exists and we can comprehend that it has order within its complexity. Because we can comprehend that nature has order, even if we do not completely understand how it functions, we must assume responsibility our own actions with nature in order to preserve the human species.

5/11/2008 11:20:00 PM  
Anonymous n said...

"In addition, it does not matter which animal is killed, one raised for food, or a pet, what matters is the intent of the agent who performs the act of killing the animal. In this particular case, I argued that killing the animal for food can be considered moral. If the intent of the agent is to utilize the animal for food, and this intention exists before the animals death, then I conclude that the killing is moral as long as no other moral issues contravene."

but weren't these animals in reality being killed for an artwork? i mean, i know they went on to be food, but it was for the piece?

"The moral question of abusing or torturing the animal is different from the moral question of killing the animal for food. They are two separate things. If we assume that intentional abuse or torture are immoral, then if these acts occur before the animal is killed, it makes the killing of the animal immoral even if there is intention to use the animal for food."

i agree?

I don't know. maybe we are arguing moot points here that more information about the exact nature of this piece would resolve.

but then again as to the word "moral" we get into personal opinions, etc. i mean, nevermind. i'm exhausted. you're probably right. i agree with your 11:20 post. i would add that i feel that we need to treat those we share the planet with, with much more respect than we currently do.

n

5/11/2008 11:53:00 PM  
Blogger David Cauchi said...

I could well be misreading things, but I'm dubious about arguments that invoke survival as a justification for killing animals for food. Eating meat is not necessary for survival. It's a luxury.

If it were necessary for survival, then by definition there couldn't be vegetarians. You'd expect the poorest countries to have the highest consumption of meat per capita rather than the least (and that as they got richer those rates would go down rather than up), and aid agencies to hand out steaks rather than rice.

It stands to reason that it's a more efficient use of arable land to grow crops to feed people rather than to feed cows, sheep, and pigs etc. You need to be able to afford the less efficient use of land to raise animals for food. Can the human population as a whole afford that?

I'm also dubious about arguments of the 'well, if they could eat (or experiment on) us they would, so it's okay for us to eat (or experiment on) them' kind. (Again, apologies if I'm misconstruing it.) I don't see how to distinguish that from the arguments used to justify bullying at the boarding school I went to. In fact, the bullying argument seems stronger, as it uses an actual case (being bullied when a third former to justify bullying the third formers when a sixth and seventh former) rather than a hypothetical case.

There are no easy answers here.

5/12/2008 01:32:00 AM  
Blogger the reader said...

I have this romantic idea of being buried in the forest. as my body breaks down nutrients will be released and the roots of trees will find these, causing the tree to grow with greater vigor. while my preference would be the forest i could think of being eaten by a carnivore in similar terms. Both involve a reintegration into the nutrient cycle that I think is totally profound, (returning to the cycle that produced me).

Many meat-eating cultures have a strong sense of ritual (or at least the need for religious supervision) in the slaughter of animals for human consumption. I think this is another way of reflecting on the profundity of the cycles of life/death/nutrients that is implicit in this act. Having not seen the artwork in question I (like others) reserve my judgment, but if it is able to provoke some serious reflection on the gravity of killing an animal in a society that is largely oblivious to processes that bring the meat to our tables, then i think it has some merit.

(as an aside. of all the arguments for vegetarianism its ability to reduce our carbon footprint as well as our broader impact on the planet is the one that seems to me to be the most important.)

on the subject of who gets to decide what art is I agree with Ed when he says its the author of the work, but i think as soon as you publicly state that it is art (by, for example, exhibiting it in a gallery or museum) you forfeit your ability to at some future date say that it is not art. Think about the origins of this question in Duchamp's ready mades. Once he said they were art and exhibited them, no amount of elbow-grease was going to get that genie back in the bottle.

Once the author says it is art in a public forum the work's effects ripple across the art-world. it enters the discourse and any retraction will only be part of that discourse, perhaps complicating the discourse, but essentially not altering its status as art. I think this is another aspect to the social-contract that Ed talks about in relation to the Richard Prince issue.

5/12/2008 05:50:00 AM  
Blogger George said...

This is an emotional issue, and in this kind of debate, there can be a tendency to resort to emotions or to reframe one question into another which seems easier to answer or defend.

n said, "but weren't these animals in reality being killed for an artwork? i mean, i know they went on to be food, but it was for the piece?"

I’m not sure that we really know. I am suggesting that the only relevant question in this case is whether or not there was a decision to use these animals for food, AND that this decision was made before they were killed. My reasoning is that, once an animal is marked to be killed for food, it becomes a member of a specific class of animals, animals which are to be used for food. In this case, the question concerning the morality of killing the animal rests primarily on the existence of the intention to use the animal for food AND that this intention exists before the slaughter.

The fact that there also exists the intention to use the animals as fodder for an artwork is only relevant when viewed relative to the decision to use the animal for food. Again, these decisions must be made prior to killing the animal.

If I was to argue against myself, I would take this approache.

It is basically the one cauchi posits, that "Eating meat is not necessary for survival." His arguments appeal to the emotions, therefore are weak.

A simple but direct argument would be that society decides we should not eat meat, that we should not kill other animals, and that killing other animals is immoral. As long as the premise is true and that no humans suffer as a consequence, then the moral conclusion becomes valid.

The conundrum here is that if we are to convince society that killing animals is immoral and that we should no longer raise and slaughter animals for food, then Abdessemed’s piece might contribute to the politics of making new moral decisions.

I agree with cauchi, that there are no easy answers here.

Moreover, I feel that it is not morally productive to address directly the issue of killing animals for food. If we accept that changing our eating habits will not occur overnight, outrage directed at this point is deflected away and becomes ineffectual.

A better issue would be to address the manner in which these animals are killed, not just the method of killing, but also the events leading up to this moment. A discussion of what is humane in the process and timeline leading to an animals slaughter. This has been in the news lately and it has not been pretty.

5/12/2008 08:09:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

I'm not so sure that meat truly isn't required for survival in some parts of the world. Vegetarians can get the balance they need to remain healthy in industrialized parts of the world, but in regions where there are no Whole Foods, it's a lot tougher to stay healthy and not eat meat. I'm not saying it's impossible, obviously, but humans are omnivore by nature, not excess.

I live in a place where indeed eating meat is a choice, though, which is why I should clarify that my position is one of arrogance. I admit it. But it's an arrogance founded on the belief that were the situation different, I'd be some other animal's food.

5/12/2008 09:05:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

George,
"I am suggesting that the only relevant question in this case is whether or not there was a decision to use these animals for food, AND that this decision was made before they were killed."

You've said some variation of the above at least 3 times in this thread. I disagreed with you the first time, but didn't keep weighing in as you elaborated. Maybe enough is enough?

Oriane

5/12/2008 01:28:00 PM  
Blogger David Cauchi said...

You're right that eating meat is sometimes a necessity.

Before the Europeans came to New Zealand, the staple cultivated plants for the Maori were the kumara (sweet potato) and gourds, supplemented by hunting and gathering. The Maori came from tropical Polynesia, and these plants were marginal in New Zealand's climate. In any case, they hardly formed a balanced diet.

The main supplements were birds (especially moa), seals, and fish. After moa were hunted to extinction, and seals almost so, there was a crisis. Joseph Banks, the naturalist on the Endeavour, noted that the Marlborough Sounds Maori seemed to live entirely on 'fish, dogs, and enemies'.

In cases like that, eating whatever meat you can find is a necessity. Bring on the day when no-one is in any kind of similar situation.

5/12/2008 06:13:00 PM  

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