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Gavin Toye is an artist and friend I met whilst studying at the RCA. He recently had a crit in his studio where he showed a painting stretcher covered with wool. The following text conversation was prompted by that artwork. He told me it is now destroyed for artistic grounds – not ethical grounds, and that he is not a vegetarian or vegan.

Peter Walsh: When I saw the wool piece at your studio crit I brought up the issue of animal ethics but you didn’t want to discuss it at the time. I’d like to ask if you are aware that the production of wool is a very cruel process?

Gavin Toye: No I wasn’t. What happens in the production?

PW: The sheep are kicked and knocked around, they are sheared as quickly as possible resulting in cuts or worse. They are often sheared too soon in the year and are left freezing cold, sometimes freezing to death. Maggots form in the folds of their skin because they have been artificially bred to produce excess wool, many lambs have huge slices of skin cut off their behinds in a cruel process called mulesing.

GT: That sounds awful. Is that the case in all wool production? And is any of that legal? I mean, do different countries have different rules? I probably won’t use wool again in art, but mainly for artistic reasons. But I would like to know if there are ways of getting wool that is produced less cruelly, like a kind of “free range” wool, because those things of which you speak aren’t necessary of the production of wool are they?

PW: It’s the case with the majority of wool, with around 30% or so coming from Australia. There isn’t really totally ethical wool because it always involves the exploitation of animals. I’m glad to hear you probably won’t use wool again in art  – but why not for ethical reasons?

GT: Well I’d certainly like to know about the minority that are less cruel so I could make my own decision. I don’t see that information being available. As for my reasons for decision making in art that’s an interesting one. My criteria isn’t based solely on ethics like yours might be but it could be influenced by things like that. So I’d consider an alternative.

PW: Would you use a product that was cruel but ‘less cruel’ than the ‘most cruel’ in your artwork?

GT: I would prefer to wear wool that I believed to be from sheep that were treated with respect and certainly wouldn’t intentionally wear wool from the sort of production you spoke of before. It comes down to our definition of cruelty. I was going to say that it’s the same in art as in personal life but I’m not sure that’s true now as in art your intentions have to be more explicit and therefore ethics play a stronger role (not that they shouldn’t in personal life but that’s not what we are talking about). So by my own definition I wouldn’t use anything ‘cruel’ in art but by your definition then perhaps I’d prefer to use the lesser cruel option.

PW: Yes, would you say that in art the viewer is looking at your ethics as well as your art? If something is cruel in the making of the work then that is part of the narrative.

GT: The viewer may not be looking at the ethics of a work (or of the artist but that is implicit) if that is not their concern but it is there in the work, yes.

PW: I am interested in your definition of cruelty, but also, is it only actual or direct animal cruelty we should object to in art? We don’t often speak of a racist image or a sexist image as being cruel. Do you think we should also consider the speciesist image in art as objectionable?

GT: How would you define the speciesist image please?

PW: Let’s say an image of the animal that would be likely to normalize and reinforce our beliefs that it is all right to exploit animals.

GT: So you would say that it is objectionable because it might directly or indirectly cause people to go out and exploit animals or do you object to it purely as an image (and what it represents)?

PW: Both, just as we would treat the racist image or the sexist image.

GT: Of course I object to the sentiment (rather than the image per se) behind the normalisation of the exploitation of animals. But that’s normal, I suppose. As for the representation of those things in art I wouldn’t necessarily object. I think that’s a whole different matter and should remain open to debate. But certainly I think that the debate should happen. So here’s a start (for me)! Thanks.


image courtesy Andre Ford

image courtesy Andre Ford

Ex-RCA Architecture student Andre Ford has made a proposal for an intensified, industrialised chicken farming system. The animals would be packed together in maximum concentration throughout their adult life, with tubes used to provide food and remove excreta. In order to side-step the problem of welfare, the chickens will have had their cerebral cortex removed, rendering them unconscious. The proposal is made as a response to a perceived increase in demand for poultry over the next few decades. Impossibly impractical, at least in our present time, I would however like to look at the theoretical moral implications of this Centre for Unconscious Farming.

I contacted Andre Ford requesting an interview but after the first round of questions and answers I was unfortunately unable to make any more contact and so I have published the interview,  rather one-sidedly, with my second questions and any further communication left unanswered.

Peter Walsh: What is your motivation for making the proposal for the Centre for Unconscious Farming?

Andre Ford: The project is a pragmatic response to the expected increase in the demand for poultry meat over the next fifty years.

PW: If it was just that, we wouldn’t have much to talk about, any more than if the project was a response to the demand for sugary foods, or medication. But in talking about the project you bring in ethics and suggest that it is in some way good for chickens, and by extension animals and us. This is why the project is interesting to me and why I have so many questions.

PW: You say we cannot provide adequate welfare of chickens and therefore welfare should be removed entirely by rendering them unconscious prior to farming. I don’t understand the reasoning here. If we are concerned about cruelty to animals wouldn’t it be more logical to go the other way and not eat them at all?

AF: If one was concerned about cruelty to animals, then it follows that one would choose a lifestyle, the consequences of which would not result in the maltreatment of animals.

The statement “we cannot provide adequate welfare” was referring to the intensive farming systems which constitute the majority of the broiler chicken industry. This sector of the industry is set to grow in coming years. The project looks at addressing the problems with this method of farming, namely the lack of welfare. This project proposes that one solution to the problem would be to remove welfare by rendering the animals unconscious.

PW: I’m still confused with your reasoning here. The last part of your paragraph seems to confirm the first and yet you choose a different outcome from your own selected one. If the problem with this method of farming is the lack of welfare then surely what you are saying is that animal suffering matters? Therefore one is concerned about cruelty to animals and so it therefore follows that one would choose a lifestyle that did not include that cruelty ie veganism.

PW: From what I can see on websites it looks as though you have used fake models rather than real chickens in your installation. Do you think a work (artwork, model etc) can be speciesist when an artist or designer uses an animal’s image in order to say something about their own work or ideas?

AF: One would hope that any artist or designer using an image of an animal would be happy to reciprocate if an animal wished to express any ideas of their own.

PW: Well, that’s why it’s speciesist, it’s a one-way street as far as making use of images is concerned. Humans make images of animals to express their ideas, usually to the detriment of animals. Animals don’t do this, although live animals may well express their desire not to be in the artwork. I see the machine as having a further reach in its affect on us than simply removing consciousness and therefore the necessity for welfare. When we present the image on the animal in this way – the fake chickens in the machine we are saying that it is ok to exercise control over non-human animals, that we have a moral ownership of animals. The effect is to make it more likely that we will see no problem with using animals in other areas of our life, such as wearing leather or wool or consuming dairy products which are all part of a cruel process.  In this way I can see the model actually doing immediate harm to animals even before it ever comes into production.

PW: You say we should stop referring to the animals we eat as ‘animals’ but instead ‘crops’. Is there a similarity here within the history of human genocide where particular groups of people where seen as less than human or non-human?

AF: Animals bred for consumption are not afforded the same rights as the animals in our homes and the natural environment. Their short existence and the manner in which they are regarded, or disregarded, is more akin to that of a crop than an animal.

PW: Yes. Am I correct in saying that you see the elimination of suffering as an ethical move that makes eating these animals no longer objectionable?  Does this reasoning also extend to humans? If we could remove suffering from human ‘crops’ would you condone the farming of humans for food or perhaps for spare body parts? What about using one particular race? Do you see a morally significant distinction between humans and non-humans?

PW:  When meat eaters object to your work you refer them to Jonathan Safran Foer’s Eating Animals, What do you say if a vegan objects to your work?

AF: Vegans, as an empathetic people could ask themselves the same question in light of the fact the world demand for meat is increasing year on year. How would you like to be farmed?

PW: Why is it ‘..great if it causes someone to reflect on his or her dietary habits’? Do you think we shouldn’t be eating animals?

AF: I do not think that we need to eat meat on a nutritional level and there many environmental reasons why we should not. However, on a cultural level it appears to be engrained.

PW: I think it is quite short sighted to say that a particular eating trait is ingrained. Our present culture is a tiny snapshot of our evolutionary timescale. Surely if we talk about ethics we should seek real change? Even in recent history groups of men have thought that our desire for slavery was ingrained, or the lesser status of women, or religion.

PW: Why would you ‘never become a vegan’?

AF: Dairy products and eggs can be produced using methods which agree with the animals ‘natural’ behaviours.

PW: This is certainly not the case at the moment, and I don’t see how it ever could be. The dairy industry is incredibly cruel. Do you have a feasible example to give for the dairy products and eggs you talk of?

PW: Prior to ending up in the machine, where does fertilisation and the early growth of chicks take place?

AF: There would be on site chick farms and hatcheries.

PW: How would this work with conscious chicks being able to live a natural life?

This proposal claims to remove suffering from factory farming but I could find no details about how the chicks, being born into on-site hatcheries and shortly to be lobotomised, would be free from suffering. To this extent, the Centre for Unconscious Farming (CUF) should more properly be viewed as a functionally welfarist proposal.  By this I am certainly not suggesting that the welfare of these sentient animals is in any way taken into account but that in common with all other animal welfare projects, animals suffer and people are encouraged to feel better about eating them. Gary L Francione explains that animal welfare has a negative effect, or no effect at all, on the three different types of meat eater.

The first group do not care about animals and are never going to become vegans. As the CUF chicken meat will be more expensive than the current, most cruel battery chicken, they will not choose it. The second group are concerned about animals and would go vegan immediately if a good argument was presented to them. The effect of CUF will be to persuade them that they do not have to be vegan, thinking instead that they are acting responsibly by eating this food. The third group is concerned about animal ethics but will not go vegan immediately no matter what argument you present to them. This group could have been encouraged to choose vegan meals more regularly but again are unlikely to do so if they believe they are making an ethical choice by eating welfarist meat.

It’s important to realize that even if no suffering whatsoever took place the CUF would still be speciesist and objectionable on moral grounds. The speciesist animal image of the proposed machine has a negative effect on all other non-human animals because it  promotes the concept that non-human animals are the property of humans. Keri Cronin of Our Hen House explains that the way we depict animals has a direct effect on how we treat animals. For example, after the classic 1961 film, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, featuring Audrey Hepburn and Orangey the cat, pet stores and animal adoption centers were reportedly inundated with people wanting to own an orange cat. In another example, early 20th century souvenir postcards in American National Parks showed people feeding candy bars to bear cubs. This dangerous action – for both bears and humans – was difficult to stop so long as the postcards remained popular.

Speciesisminart AlexVanGelder

Yesterday I visited Hauser & Wirth, Savile Row to see Alex Van Gelder’s Meat Portraits. The artist spent a year photographing the dismembered remains and discarded animal body parts found in a slaughterhouse in Benin. The press release says that he ‘upends traditional notions of portraiture’ but this is slightly confusing as Van Gelder says that he considers these photographs to be still lives, maybe it is more difficult to upend traditional notions of still life.  Sometimes he will photograph the body parts as he finds them on the market floor other times he will arrange them into a composition. In common with taxidermy artists, Van Gelder also likes to inject a ‘playful turn’ into his animal compositions with entrails reconstructed to form a face or an image that looks like rags in a bowl. This playfulness suggests a certain complicity with the slaughterhouse which made me wonder what motivated him to transform the dismembered and disembowelled animals into art.

As I was considering the photographs a beautiful, real-life, black dog came bounding into the gallery, I thought the young man invigilating would try to calm the dog but instead he took the ball from the dog’s mouth and threw it for her to catch. It soon became apparent that the dog knew the invigilator, and the dog’s owner, a well-dressed woman, was a senior member of staff. Everyone in the gallery loved the dog and wanted to play with it, no longer interested in what was on the walls. Another woman gallery goer said to the dog (but loud enough for us all to hear), ‘you are a piece of art yourself’, and repeated herself,  ‘you’re just as much a piece of art as anything else here, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise’. It was strange because although it was seemingly meant as a complement to the dog, it was as if the woman was saying that art in general was somehow above animals, but in this case the dog had achieved the status of art. The dog however, was impatient with the pep talk and wanted to get back to playing, the scene reminded me of a passage in ‘Six Years’ where Lucy Lippard explains how she turned down an award for ‘honorary artist’ because she was happy enough with her status as a writer.


I recently saw Paola Pivi’s exhibition ‘Have you seen me before’ at the Whitechapel Gallery. The feathers on her polar bear sculpture seemed to be real and I sent her an email asking her if the question of animal ethics in the gallery space was something she is concerned with in her work. I got a one-word answer back, ‘Yes’. I followed on with some more questions but heard nothing else. In the current edition of Art Review Oliver Basciano gets a longer interview. Mid conversation he asks, ‘Are you a meat eater’? She replies ‘Oh yes, I love meat. I would eat it exclusively if I could’. This caused me to stop and think; can you be concerned about animal ethics in art if you eat meat? I suppose you could answer by saying you consume so called happy meat and believe in animal welfare i.e. hoping to improve the living conditions of animals before eating them and therefore feeling better about it. But if you eat meat (or dairy products) it seems all the more unlikely that you would appreciate that the representation of the animal can have a detrimental effect – on the animal. After all, if you see nothing wrong with using animals’ bodies as food then it’s unlikely you would find it wrong to abuse their mere image for artistic ends.

Paola Pivi photographs zebras in the snow, a donkey floating in a small boat, a leopard in a studio full of coffee cups, she expresses a desire to put a live giraffe on top of a skyscraper, an elephant on the Arc de Triomphe. These amazing, incredible animals are nothing more that props for the artist to exercise power over. Her megalomania reveals a breathtaking ignorance of animal suffering, in Art Review she tells us that,  ‘A trained elephant from, for example, a circus, travels on the road in a container all his life, so it could easily hang out up there and not be stressed out by the experience.’

There are no limits to her imagination, or mine, I often imagine that if artists who used animals enrolled on even the most basic animal biology, animal physiology or zoology evening course, and learned a small amount about the natural history of the animals they used, they could save themselves a quite a lot of time with their investigations into the animal/human, spare us 90 percent of their ignorant and uninteresting art, and most importantly reduce the amount of animal suffering in the world. Giraffes and leopards don’t want to be in her art they want to be in their natural environment. So when we see a Zebra in the snowscape we should see that the artist has put that animal there against its will in order to make their artwork, in order to ‘prompt a childlike sense of wonder’, ‘blur the boundary between reality and fiction’ etc.

speciesisminart pigeons

Artwise, the ‘London based curatorial collective and ideas studio’, who curated the show Beastly Hall, describe their role as, ‘matching clients with some of the most innovative thinking around today’. Disappointing then that eleven out of the 26 featured artists are using animals (living or dead) or animal body parts and include some of the most familiar and least innovative art; taxidermy. Regardless of whether the animal was roadkill, found taxidermy, died of old age or any other excuse given to justify using animals bodies in their work, these artists are contributing to animal suffering. This is because they have assumed the authority of the owner of the animal’s body and image which is then used  to the detriment of the animal and for the gain of the artist.  A fox in an unnatural position lying on a bed snarling (Nina Saunders), a bulls heart with a sword through it (Damien Hirst), the head of one species on the body of another species (Thomas Grünfeld), pigeons fixed together in a mass to make a more ‘interesting’ sculpture (Polly Morgan).

The exhibition hand-out says of Nina Saunders, “Her work is jovial and fun, whilst laden with contemplative ideas.”  Sarah Lucas whose photograph, ‘Sex Baby’, includes a dead chicken is, ” Never one to shy away from controversy, Lucas’s work is known for being provocative and humorous”.  Also humorous is Carina Weidle, her “Olympic Chickens inject some humour into the beastly theme of this exhibition”. Also never-shying-away is Claire Morgan, “never shying away from difficult and decaying material”

Living animals in their natural habitat are already amazing and funny, they are not ours to own or to use in a derogatory way in art.


‘Taking matters into our own hands’, 23rd January – 8th March at Richard Saltoun and Karsten Schubert focuses on feminist performance art made in the 1970’s by London based artists Rose English, Rose Finn-Kelcey, Alexis Hunter and Carolee Schneemann. Rose English’s video, Quadrille, has women dressed as horses wearing horse hooves, horse tails and leather harnesses. The appendages from the video are on display in Karsten Schubert. Rose Finn-Kelcey shows a photograph of a performance from 1976 where she spent two days and nights in a gallery with a magpie. Carolee Schneemann is photographed with a python.  Alexis Hunter is the only one not using animals to make her artwork about domestic tension, violence and rape.

When an artist makes feminist work that is speciesist it makes me wonder why the artist is making activist work in the first place. If you are part of a group that is discriminated against  you may have first hand experience of  injustice but I think it is also important to question why injustice is fundamentally wrong in the first place and whether all injustices are linked.  I believe It is morally wrong to use and exploit any sentient creature, be that a non-human animal, a women, a person of a different race or sexuality or anyone else simply because they are part of a different group to our own. All sentient animals suffer, they all have an equally valid claim on life and want to go on living. We don’t have a right of ownership over animals any more than we have right of ownership over other people.

These four artists are well aware of issues of exploitation of the ‘other’, they make intelligent questioning work and have thought about their use of animals. Rose English’s Quadrille looks at how women and horses are both fetishised and she gave considerable thought to her use of animal parts when the work was originally made, nearly 40 years ago. Carolee Schneemann challenges male stereotypes of women with her images of heterosexual erotic power. Rose Finn-Kelcey’s performance uses the association between magpies and witches. However, after all that consideration, a decision was made at the time to use animals and again to re-show the work. So, although the matter is complex, I’m assuming that the artists stand by the work and do not see it as exploitative.  To look at it from another perspective, if animal rights activists were to use naked women to promote animal injustice they would be called sexist and inconsistent, precisely the charge leveled at PETA campaigns. We need to be aware of our anthropocentric double standards because, unfortunately, non-human animals cannot take matters into their own hands.


This is a video still of the Russian artist Oleg Kulik re-enacting his 1995 performance ‘Missionary’ in the street outside London’s Regina Gallery. He steps into a large fish tank, water pours over the side as the startled fish swim around his feet. The image shows a moment when the artist plucks a fish from the water and holds it into the air whilst talking to it. The fish eventually slips out of his hands, bounces off his face and splashes back into the water.
The gallery press release tell us;
‘…Kulik challenges common notions of what it means to be a human being’
‘The regression into an animalistic state of mind allows the artist to act out a human primitiveness commonly deemed unacceptable in today’s society.’
‘…Kulik exposes the animality of mankind and the fallacy of the concept of human supremacy.’
I would like to look at these press statements one by one.
Firstly, The dominant relationship between human beings and non-human animals is one of ownership, exploitation and cruelty. This notion of what it means to be a human being goes unchallenged when an artist uses animals out of their natural environment, frightens them and harms them. In fact rather than ‘challenge’ Kulik is actually reinforcing ‘common notions of what is means to be a human being’.
Secondly, Kulik’s ‘human primitiveness’, when directed towards non-human animals, is not certainly not, ‘commonly deemed unacceptable in today’s society’. Animal exploitation is acceptable and normal in today’s society and goes unchallenged by the artist.
Thirdly, ‘…Kulik exposes the animality of mankind and the fallacy of the concept of human supremacy.’ Surely there must have been some point where Kulik realized that he was benefiting from his own concept of human supremacy. Maybe it was when he first came up with the idea of using animals in his artwork. Maybe it was when he picked up the phone and ordered fish to be placed in a tank for his performance, maybe it was when he showed disregard for their wellbeing by splashing around in their unnatural environment and handling them. ‘The concept of human supremacy’, is indeed a fallacy but rather than expose it, Kulik uses it for his own ends – in this case his art.



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?

A still taken from website

Two male artists from Berlin; Iman Rezai and Rouven Materne are conducting an online pole from their website to decide whether to guillotine a sheep.  The public vote will be counted mid May with the majority decision determining the animal’s fate.

The comments I have read in response to this story from generally fall into one of two groups. The first, includes statements that express some anger at the artists and their art: …This is not art… the artists should execute themselves… the artists are nasty, cruel and publicity seeking etc. The other group contains comments that fail to see a problem with this artwork and draw our attention to the hypocrisy of a meat eating public up in arms because one more animal is slaughtered for art. They remind us of the cruel industrial slaughter of animals for food and say that if anything the guillotine is a more humane death than other animals have.

I agree with both groups – in parts. This is not (interesting) art because it is so familiar and unoriginal in its putting the fate of an animal in the hands of an art going public.  I also agree that far greater animal cruelty is carried out every day on a global industrial scale and it is hypocritical for meat eaters, or more accurately, non-vegans to object to the art purely on animal cruelty grounds. However, I do not agree that we should find no problem with the art.

Here’s why. A deeper hypocrisy is reveled when we examine our relationship with other social justice issues. If we consider racism, for example, to be a morally objectionable part of society we would surely also object to ‘another racist art’ that was cruel and exploitative, making some point about racism and democracy. Similarly with sexism, no one would say we shouldn’t be offended and object to sexism as art just because sexism exists in society. So it is with speciesism. The world is overwhelmingly speciesist but that does not justify more speciesism as art. However, as we’ve already noted, it would be hypocritical for a non-vegan to object to this art which raises an interesting issue; to what extent is our criticism limited by our understanding of justice and morality? Furthermore, do non-vegans forfeit their right to critique any social injustice?

This post by   is reblogged from Flavorwire Posted on 1:30 pm Wednesday Apr 18, 2012

If you salivate at the sight of bacon, would you be OK with watching a squirming pig being tattooed? If the thought of eating animal flesh sickens you, do you hate the very idea of using live animals in art, or can you justify it if the art is good? Do you feel more sympathy for a horse, a dog, or a goldfish? Some calls are easier to make than others, but there’s a bit of an ethical grey area when it comes to live animals in art. Check out our brief survey of works and the creatures that made them possible, and find your own gradient of sensitivity. Where do you stand?

Photo credit: Martha Cooper

Miru Kim, I Like Pigs and Pigs Like Me at Art Basel Miami

Artist Miru Kim spent 104 hours in a glass-encased hog pit inside of the Primary Flight Gallery at Art Basel 2012 for her performance I Like Pigs and Pigs Like Me. The makeshift pen was livestreamed as Kim imagined the life of a pig, mingling her flesh with the animals’. Nude and on all fours, she interacted with her companions, feeding, hugging, scratching, and rolling around with them. Though the two pigs were reportedly headed to a no-kill farm after the exhibit, an animal activist alleged they were sick and abandoned.

Photo credit: Wim Delvoye

Wim Delvoye’s pigs at Art Farm Cina, Beijing

“Instead of producing art I wanted to harvest it,” explains Belgian artist Wim Delvoye, inking these pigs with Louis Vuitton logos and Russian prison tattoo-inspired designs on Yang Zhen’s Art Farm China in 2011. Though the pigs were under anaesthetic while tattooed, they are being held down in the unsettling photographs of the sessions. There are also heartwarming photos of them happily rummaging around a green forest afterward, where they “snuffle the undergrowth” and roll around in wild muck. Sure, that’s better than awaiting death in a slaughterhouse. But in the end, some of these guys are getting stuffed and some have their skin peeled to be stretched over canvases for sale.

Banksy’s elephant at Barely Legal

For his 2006 Los Angeles solo debut, world famous street artist Banksy had an elephant painted to match his installation’s wallpaper to symbolize world poverty, a vastly ignored global issue. Tai, the elephant, was literally the elephant in the room, surrounded by flashing cameras, teeming crowds, and an atmosphere celebrity hype. Even though the paint was non-toxic, Los Angeles’ Animal Services Department reportedly regretted granting Banksy the permit for the gimmicky piece, deeming it illegal and asking Tai to be scrubbed down and repainted with children’s face paint.

Photo credit: Museo Madre

Jannis Kounellis, Horses, Galleria L’Attico, Rome

Greek-born Jannis Kounellis was a pioneer of the anti-establishment, anti-elitist Arte Povera movement — he chose street theater over museum shows; art, dirt, fire, and discarded metal over traditional art materials. In 1969, he tied twelve horses to the walls of a gallery in Rome, transforming the sterile space into something to be confronted and encountered. Ta-da! The viewer’s environment had been drastically transformed. The horses’ environment was too. We wonder what they thought about that.

Photo credit: Girish Shahane for the Hindustan Times

Naveen Thomas

Earlier this year, an installation piece at India’s National Academy of Fine Art gallery ruffled a few feathers when Bangalore-based artist Naveen Thomas placed a bunch of pigeons in a room rigged with copper wires and radio transistors. As the birds hopped and scampered around, they set off the copper sensors, altering the white noise that filled the room. Conceptually, pigeons making noise music is amazing. However, animal sympathizers insist that the white noise hurts the birds’ hearing and homing abilities. The artist wasn’t too concerned: ”I find it interesting to hear how the sound fluctuates every time a bird sits on the copper wire… I’m treating the birds better than they were treated where they had come from. I would even use a monkey if I could.” Please don’t.

Photo credit: The Kansas City Star

Amber Hansen

Artist Amber Hansen’s 2012 Chicken Run was the spectacle that never was, so we have no gory picture for you to ponder over. Instead, imagine this: Lawrence, Kansas. Five chickens are clucking in a public coop where visitors can get close to them, get to know them, and see them as real live beasts. Then, they watch them get slaughtered, cooked, and served. Then, they eat them.The Story of Chickens: A Revolution was meant to demonstrate that meat isn’t just food, but it was banned on charges of animal cruelty. Meanwhile, more discrete rituals of mass meat production continue.

Image credit: Paxmachina, ANIMAL

Elizabeth Demaray, Corpor Esurit

At first Elizabeth Demaray’s Corpor Esurit installation sounds horrifying: Lots and lots of ants sequestered into two chambers, one for their colony to nest in and the other, down a plexiglass tube, filled with McDonald’s food products that they’re forced to gorge on… Only, not really. Ants usually eat seeds, fruit, and plant material, and so they did — nibbling on apples, the seeds on the buns, and the insides of chicken nuggets, which are mostly corn anyway. The ants are fine. There was no outstanding death rate. That’s a relief. What would we feel had they not been fine or not been ants?

Photo credit: Denise Bellon

Salvador Dalí, The Rainy Taxi

Salvador Dalí ”tortured” some insects too. Here’s a test for any proud animal lover. These are live snails crawling over the face of a rotting mannequin inside a car in the lobby of the International Exposition of Surrealism at the Galerie Beaux-Arts in 1938. They feed on nearby lettuce. They drink water raining down through pipes above. And yet, they are live animals, displaced from their habitat and used for the purpose of entertainment. Is this wrong?

Photo credit: Marco Evaristti

Marco Evaristti, Helena

In 2000, provocative artist Marco Evaristti installed ten blenders filled with water and live goldfish at the Trapholt Art Museum in Denmark to challenge the ethics of his audience. InHelena, ”the audience members became arbiters over life and death in a situation where it was crystal clear what would happen if they pressed the button.” Two buttons were pushed, but the courts decided that the deaths were not prolonged and so, not inhumane. Does that sound comforting? Would you push the button?

Photo credit: Wikipedia, DaWire

Guillermo Vargas, Exposition No. 1. 

For the 2008 Honduras Biennial, artist Guillermo Vargas paid children to capture an unfortunate street hound, chain it to a wall and, seemingly, allow it to starve to near death until it allegedly escaped. An enraged internet media storm erupted. The artist was removed from the 2008 Honduras Biennial and charged with animal cruelty. Or that was the initial story. On the wall, the signage ”Eres Lo Que Lees” (“You Are What You Read”) was written in dog food. Apparently, the dog was only tied up for three hours a day and was fed regularly. The artist manipulated the media firestorm himself. He pointed out that no visitor tried to free or feed the dog; he drew a parallel to a recent death of a burglar who was mauled by dogs as the police stood by and watched, to point out the hypocrisy in the media. That’s clever and reassuring, but doesn’t the image of this dog, tethered, tattered and scared still tug at your heartstrings?