Response to Readings Artist|Animal & Bee Art
By Mona Luo (05/19/14 01:15:04)
Related animal: Bee

The reading from Artist|Animal raised many uncomfortable and possibly unanswerable questions and concerns. But that was the point. Steve Baker does not outright condemn the two artists in this introduction as many people are wont to do. Instead, he opens his mind and the readers to consider what can be learned from these highly controversial pieces. To dismiss the pieces for being unethical would be both a poor display of faith in the artist as well as unproductive.
Both Rat Piece and Helena addressed the issue of audience intervention. Kim Jones remarked that if the audience had intervened the piece would not have been a failure. The fact that they did not says much about both art and human nature. If you had asked any audience member before they had seen the piece if they would have stopped a man from setting rats on fire, I’m sure you would have had a unanimous response that they would. And yet, in the heat of the moment, not one of them did. The position of audience member, the context of performance art, and the persona of artist all worked towards effacing the sense of responsibility in the viewers. It is easy to stand back a wag a finger at the artist, but it is also necessary to consider the audience as well. Physically, they could have stopped the act, but psychologically they were in no condition to do so. In many ways this harkens back to the infamous Milgram experiments regarding authority and diffusion of responsibility. Rat Piece gives insights to the ugly truths of human nature that would not have been unearthed except in the face of such inhumanity. I found it surprising that Evaristti received such backlash for Helena when he was not the one who switched on the blender. Although he may have thought that to kill was excusable for art, so too did whoever pressed the switch. Helena brings us face to face with the capacity for atrocity in the name of art.
The question of whether it was worth it, or necessary, or just to sacrifice these helpless animals in the name of art calls into question other practices as well. Bryndis Snaebjornsdotter makes this point when addressing the use of animals in science and for food as well. I don’t think it is fair to condemn one without considering all three. Is it fair to kill a cow so that a person can enjoy a burger when an artist is punished for leaving goldfish in blenders, giving insight to the capacity of humans for cruelty? Art has often been considered a luxury, but it is more than that. It is a medium which has the power to call into question the current state of affairs. It is not about complacency or norms, it is about challenging thought. Steak is a luxury. It is easy to dismiss these two artists as cruel or perverted, but then other “cruel and perverted practices” in the “noble” realm of science should be condemned as well. And perhaps they should. But since I enjoy eating meat, I feel I have no right to reprimand artists or scientists because I have likely been condoning activities that are as bad or worse than those listed in the introduction of this book.
As for Bees Making Art…the article was less controversial, but also raised some interesting points pertinent to this class. For instance, the question of what is a collaboration. The article begins by addressing artists working with bee byproducts such as wax. In this instance, the bees have no say whatsoever in the final work of art. Then artists using the bees to build the artwork itself. And yet, the bees still had almost no say in how the final work looked (not to mention they were still not present in the installation itself). Then the bees themselves as the art in instances of bee bearding. The bees were induces to swarm by the artist, but they were otherwise free to do as they chose. And finally works that really worked at considering the needs and natural behaviors of the bees themselves. This seems to be the zenith of the collaborative examples given in this article. Both the freedom of the bees is relatively preserved, while onlookers are welcome to admire their behavior in an artistic context. I don’t know how I feel about this as collaboration. It seems instead like an educational exhibition in a natural history museum.

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