Sunday, 25 November 2018

On the Subjugation of Animals for Human Entertainment.

An open letter to the curator of the exhibition held in Studio 24, Leeds, 16th & 17th November.

This letter was sent to the Curator of the exhibition on Saturday the 17th November. As of today, Sunday 25th November, I have not had a reply so am publishing without a response. Should I receive a reply I will update the post to include it.

I visited the Orwell Room 103 exhibition on Friday evening and for the most part really enjoyed it and appreciated many of the pieces of art on display. There was however one piece that gave me great concern and that I want to raise with you as curator.

Sadly I am unable to remember the artists name but the piece was I believe titled "Goldfish Bowl". At first I was struck by the powerful yet simple symbolism. I also assumed that the fish was fake, an illusion created by clever painting or resin pouring, a projection or even a well made puppet. But then I realised it was in fact a live fish. That was when my appreciation of a clever piece of art became horror and disgust.

The bowl was tiny and entirely unsuitable for housing a fish of that size as it does not allow for free and natural movement. It also didn't have a filter in to provide suitable oxygen for the fish to breathe and there was no cover again restricting natural behaviour and increasing stress. This is essentially a method of slowly torturing a fish. There is plenty of documentation available about the correct care and housing of fish of this type and size, and the days of a goldfish in a tiny bare bowl as the norm are long gone and criticised by the pet industry and aquatics enthusiasts alike. This would imply that the artist conceived of the idea of using a live animal as art and either did no research on proper care and animal ethics or did do the research and dismissed it in favour of making an artistic statement.

The piece then takes on a significantly different meaning - it highlights that we as a population, as a species, as people are content with the subjugation and ill treatment of living creatures as long as we can justify it with lofty terms like "art" and "symbolism" or even a more simply "entertainment". This itself is a critique of humanity in line with Orwellian ideology and a cruel reflection of ourselves, but to subjugate and mistreat an animal in an Orwell exhibit would seem to go against the man's own ethics and beliefs.

Even if that was the intention I can not agree with it. It would be one of those ideas that is wonderful in theory but that can not be put into practice because of basic ethical considerations. If the artist was cognisant of this and that sort of statement was intentional then to display the piece without commentary, explanation or at least a disclaimer about the care of the animal is irresponsible.

It may be that every evening the fish is removed and placed into a suitable environment but I and many others would argue that even temporary deliberate cruelty toward an animal is still not acceptable. Again to do so without any disclaimer or explanation is also irresponsible as it spreads the message to people that fish and other animals are essentially disposable and to be used as any inanimate object for the will of humans without thought or care.

While much of my complaint focuses on the decisions of the artist, as curator I believe you also share responsibility here. You choose to include the piece in your show. You chose to do so without requiring disclaimer or commentary. In doing so you give implicit support to this practice. From a legal perspective there is strong argument that this breaches the Animal Welfare Act of 2006 which requires need for a normal environment, need to be able to exhibit normal behaviour patterns, and need to be protected from pain, suffering, injury and disease.

I understand that this is a very short exhibition and you may receive this message to late to be able to make alterations or remove the goldfish. However I would appreciate it if you give my comments proper consideration and issue a public statement on the matter to ensure that the use of live animals in art without the proper care or information is not considered acceptable.

I would hope that the artist is given proper feedback and critique so that this piece is a one off example and not repeated elsewhere.

Thank you for your time and I sincerely hope you understand that I appreciate and enjoyed the rest of the exhibition and that my critique is entirely meant to be constructive and informative as well as conveying my personal ethics and opinions.

Yours sincerely

Robin Tynan

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