In case you have been living under a rock, or in a remote mountain cabin somewhere, here is the back story about the cancelled Guggenheim China exhibit. To many of us, the piece “Dogs That Cannot Touch Each Other,” a work by husband and wife Chinese conceptual artists Sun Yuan and Peng Yu, was the worst possible subject for an artistic exhibit. It is an 8 minute film showing 4 sets of pit bull terrier type dogs, running on treadmills, attempting to get at each other. As the film goes on the dogs become visibly exhausted, foaming at the mouth, muscles bulging, as they continue their fruitless run. Caution: here is a link to the film, but I wouldn’t suggest anyone who has a heart actually watch it….
The uproar started when the Guggenheim released a statement celebrating the up-coming exhibit. They were not prepared for the outrage and activism that instantly came to bear on them. On-line petitions, on-site protesters, and countless emails bombarded their site. The museum expressed confusion that so many people were so upset by this “art”.
When the woman artist responsible for this film was asked if she thought it was cruel, she responded that no, it wasn’t. Pit bulls are “naturally pugnacious” so it wasn’t cruel to pit them against each other, just a demonstration of their nature. Here is her complete statement on the controversy:
Were the dogs being abused? The answer should be no. These dogs are naturally pugnacious. We only separated them and let them run on the treadmill, which became a sport for the dogs. For those who consider this animal abuse, I don’t understand what they are protesting about. In fact, human nature and animal nature are the same. China hosted the Olympic Games in Beijing in 2008. What is the goal of this type of sporting event? Actually, it is a conversion of actual fighting into regulated competition. It’s agreeable to most people because most people are supportive of the convention of the Olympic Games.
Apparently she has no concept of the difference between a human athlete who chooses to compete and an animal who is forced to. An extremely troubling thought that shows a total lack of respect for life.
Eventually the Guggenheim agreed to pull this portion of the exhibit. But not for the reasons you think. Not because it was a blatant expression of cruelty, but because they feared for the safety of their staff. The moral disconnect in this statement is horrifying.
There have been many discussions, blog posts and articles written about the film, the artists, the dogs, and the museum. But there is one particular point of view no one has visited:
This film, all by itself, adds ammunition to the DBO fanatics war. Their insistence that pit bull dogs are inherently aggressive. That there are no safe pit bull terrier type dogs. I have nightmares thinking of anti-pit hysterics getting a hold of this film and sending it to every community government body which is looking at enacting BSL. It is an 8-minute validation of their point of view.
And even more frightening is the thought of the thousands of people who could have seen this film and taken away a belief that these dogs are made to kill. People who have had no experience with a beloved family goofball pibble. People who have no basis to dispute the concept of the film. We have worked too long and too hard to allow cruelty based “art” to tar our dogs with an aggressive brush.
Art by definition causes us to think. It can make us uncomfortable. That’s what it’s designed to do. But when art is based upon cruelty to others, even four legged others, it loses the moral high-ground. Animals are not here to entertain us. And causing harm or pain to others does nothing but tarnish our souls.
Sorry Guggenheim. You were wrong on this one. The right thing to have done was never book this film to begin with.