Sunday, April 20, 2008

Of Art and Murder

In 2007, the 'artist' Guillermo Vargas Habacuc tied up a stray dog in a gallery. Over the course of several days, he and the viewers watched as the dog slowly starved to death before their eyes.

The Visual Arts Biennial of Central America has invited Guillermo Vargas Habacuc to produce an encore performance of this installation in 2008.

This act not only disregards ethics, morality, and international law, but it is a blatant affront to our intelligence. Freedom of expression does not apply here and I'll tell you why. "Conceptual art", by it's very nature, does not require a visual to communicate an idea. In fact, it is more clearly articulated in written or verbal form. Truly ask yourself, who looks at an installation and just gets it? Understanding the point requires either a detailed written statement or a Masters degree in contemporary art theory. "Conceptual art" is an elitist statement, with an elitist vocabulary to an elitist audience. But, I'll briefly explain it for those who aren't familiar.

It all began in 1917 with Marcel Duchamp. (Well, it began with Kant, but we'll start with Duchamp in the interest of brevity.) He found a urinal, placed it in a gallery, and entitling it Fountain, said that it was art. From Duchamp onward, the entire point of "ready-made" or "found art" is that the part of the artwork that is "art" is specifically not the object. Therefore the object, whether aesthetically appealing or not, is absolutely unnecessary. In fact, if one considers the object aesthetically it negates the entire point and the piece is therefore no longer art. Duchamp's and Habacuc's ideas would have been more effectively conveyed if they had limited it to a written form, much like Schrodinger's thought experiment with the cat in the radioactive box. If the idea is the art, and not the object.... why have the object?

Regardless of whether or not one thinks that placing an object like a urinal or shovel in a gallery constitutes as brilliant art, Habacuc treats this living creature as an object. If his point is intended ironically (irony - an overburdened and weak leg to stand on) to point out starvation, we do not require his 'great insight' to realize that starvation takes place. We do not require his insight to see suffering, pain, fascism, indifference, or death. These are all extremely obvious. So obvious in fact, that a drunken four year old could illuminate the concept for you if you're at all confused. Thus, adding to the suffering in the world only adds to the suffering in the world and does nothing to counteract it.

As social action, this piece is not merely impotent, but destructive. Now we understand that in some poorer areas of Latin America, dogs are regarded much as rats. There are thousands of them on the streets and they pose a public danger. However, in your mind, simply replace the dog with a rat. This does not negate the fact that what he's doing is simply starving an animal. Even if you remove yourself from caring about the animal, it's still conceptually banal and obvious and leads us down an incredibly slippery path.

In 2002 Damien Hirst made a conceptually similar statement in the Guardian:

Describing the image of the hijacked planes crashing into the twin towers as "visually stunning", he added: "You've got to hand it to them on some level because they've achieved something which nobody would have ever have thought possible, especially to a country as big as America.

"So on one level they kind of need congratulating, which a lot of people shy away from, which is a very dangerous thing."

You can see how very quickly how this definition of Art can become dangerous.

Short of any actual content in the "piece", the only thing left is beauty. And the only beautiful element of this entire "piece" was the life of the dog, which he destroyed. One might say that was his point - that is to say that the "Bourgeoisie" west lacks a grasp of "reality" - , and to do so, he hoped to mimic Duchamp. Overlooking the hypocrisy of such a statement coming from someone in the upper strata of an oligarchic ruling class, let's simply stick to the nuts and bolts of the argument. The goal of Duchamp's "Fountain" was to destroy aesthetic beauty and the institutions that supported it. Firstly, some philosophical idea on the nature of art is never important enough to sacrifice a life. Secondly, it negates the point of art, as art is about life. And thirdly, how many times must those who claim to be the 'avant garde' repeat the same tired stunt? Must we do this for another 90 years? Habucac's "installation" is at best, derivative, didactic, and a pathetic attempt at art. He would have to do much more for it to be anything more than the malicious act of a twisted and childish mind. In short, Habacuc has resorted to shock value due to the fact that he has nothing relevant to say.

But, I've got a brilliant idea - let's take it a step further!

Next time we'll take a homeless person, or better yet, a whole family of poverty stricken Central Americans and chain them up before a crowd of self-entitled, bourgeoisie elitists who will watch them starve while they drink their champagne and eat caviar. Or better still, let's just put the family into a pit with lions. It will be over quickly so that we don't exceed the viewers' 30 second attention spans and they can go home early and have their after-party in their mansions by the sea and croon about what a brilliant piece that was .....
oh I'm sorry, that's already been done before and it was called inhumane torture and public execution!

SeƱor Habacuc, do you understand the idea, or is it necessary for me to "perform" it to clarify?

This is wrong no matter how one defines "art".
Please follow these links to sign the petition:



Adeaner said...

Isn't it fascinating that the visitors to the gallery let it happen ?

On another note; for me the greatest problem with art in these postmodern times is the general consensus about concept, and that anything with a concept can be called art. I don't have the answers - just a whole lot of questions.

Drink, Memory said...

Yes, well people are like sheep. It doesn't surprise me, since people have allowed humans to be tortured before their eyes without doing anything. Remember the holocaust?
This reminds me of a very important short film from the late 1960's called The Lottery, written by Shirley Jackson. It deals with the evil man is capable of when he blindly follows. Of course, if this "artist" who murdered the dog is trying to prove this point, it is much better illustrated by the film, which, by the way, required skill and time to create, unlike his "exhibit" of torture. Here's a link to the film:

Drink, Memory said...

p.s. He just might win the lottery in the next life...but when he dies a slow painful death, will he be thinking in his final moments, "now this is art. I've arrived!"

Denise Williams said...

All who participated and allowed it to happen should be chained to the gallery and watched while they starve to death. Actually all should be arrested for cruelty to animals. Is art above the law?

Anonymous said...

Thanks Richard. This sickens me ... I signed the petition and called for the arrest of him and his galleries.

Anonymous said...

This actually happened? And no one interfered?

I would have gone ballistic! Over my dead body I would have let this happen.

Are the prisoners in Guantanamo "Art?"

Tyler Alexander said...

I wish I could post your statement about conceptual art on the walls of my art school! I am a black sheep there and cant stand this type of art, mostly because they are trying to shove it down my throat. Thank you so much for this and all your other posts.