speciesisminartPaolaPivi2

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.