An office colleague of mine recently sent an e-mail soliciting signatures to stop Guillermo Vargas, a Costa Rican artist from repeating an installation that he did in 2007 of a starving dog. The event was scantly reported in the local press but it seems the installation involved tying a dog up in a corner of the art gallery and allowing it to starve to death by withholding food and water.
On first reading of the e-mail, I was outraged. But I did a little digging.
Peta and other reports on the web indicated that the event could be a stunt and the dog was actually fed daily and released quietly at the end of the installation.
The the artist said that the “art” was performed to show the hypocrisy of people. We treat abandon animals no better and yet we get outraged when one of them is displayed on the stage for all to see. We see his act as an abuse of the animal but yet we are no better when it comes to the treatment of strays when we see them loitering near our houses. Neither do we shed any tears when they are carted off by the city councils and shot.
I brought this to my colleague and she was angry with the artist. She sees the artist as being inhumane, exploitative and inconsiderate. I don’t blame her and the multitudes who signed the protest petition as I believe that everyone can take out different messages from an “art”, especially those that are meant to provoke.
I do not know whether the artist truly planned it that way but it did raise my consciousness towards our hypocrisy towards issues bigger than just stray dogs. If the BBC has not highlighted the plight of the unknown war in Congo that has killed more people than World War II, will the world care about it? Or are we so fixated on the global war on terror not because it has killed more people but because it is more shocking and received more airtime coverage?
Has art evolved to a point in our modern world that artists have to resort to shock art to get their messages across? Is this an example of the relativist nature of art?