PETER WALSH SPITTING BUDDHA

This is an art of mine called ‘Spitting Buddha’.  Some years ago I witnessed a schoolboy spitting on a pigeon in the street. I found the act strangely shocking and obscene. The boy was walking along the street and confidently spat on the pigeons without looking around to see if anyone was watching. It was as if anything could be done to them without consequence, as if they had no standing or rights. I tried to recreate what I had seen and used a ceramic Buddha ornament with a timer pump mechanism inside it to spit water onto two ‘pigeons’. The pigeons, bought online, were lifelike polystyrene models covered in feathers. It was quite some time after making the art that I realized (of course) the feathers were obtained by a cruel and speciesist process. Nowadays I would not use feathers or show this work.

But what if the feathers were found and collected, having naturally fallen off a bird? What if the bird was lying dead by the side of a road? In these cases I still think it’s unacceptable to use the feathers. The reason being that animals are not our resources and surely we should be just as sensitive as to how we portray another species as we would another race or another sex? It is this  questioning that lead me to write to animal activist and taxidermy artist Angela Singer.

Dear Angela Singer,

I would like to ask you a couple of questions about your artwork specifically the use of animal parts in your taxidermy, botched taxidermy (or reversed taxidermy). I understand that all the animals you use are donated, already used parts, that would otherwise be thrown away and that you never have an animal killed for your art. I am interested that you describe yourself as an animal activist and that your motivation in many of your artworks is to provoke the viewer into considering the speciesist relationship that exists between humans and non-human animals. It says on your website that ‘Ultimately, for Singer, the main purpose of her works to ‘make the viewer consider the morality of our willingness to use animals for our own purposes.” But isn’t this exactly what you are doing? You are using the bodies of animals for your own art. I understand your art is to raise awareness of animal suffering but that doesn’t remove the speciesism that is taking place.

Elsewhere you talk of including Catherine Chalmers in a show you curated and said the artist was, ‘responsible for the death of the insects and mice’.  Surely this inclusion is also a speciesist act, but one that was considered less important than the  making a successful exhibition?

I would also like to ask you how you feel about showing your work alongside twenty or so other taxidermy artists, most if not all, I would assume are not animal activists?

Personally, I don’t think we can decide from work to work, artist to artist, when it is ok to use animals and when it is not. Either sentient non-human animals are our resources or they are not. I consider myself an anti-sexist male artist but can you imagine what it would be like if I kept making paintings out of cut up naked women to make a point about how bad sexism is?