Art is cruel?

Last night, a friend shared a link for this petition.  It is a petition to Florian Mehnert, a German artist, asking him to stop his latest installation, which may result in the killing of a rat.  The rat is in the installation (a big, open-topped, white box on a table) and is being monitored via webcam for eleven days.  At the end of the eleven days, Internet users can choose to remotely pull the trigger on a gun Mehnert has set up at one end of the box.

My first reaction was outright anger.  Animal cruelty isn’t art.

One friend said she would aim the gun at a wall and spend all the ammo.  The problem with that idea is there would be shrapnel/ricochet and, in that small of a space, the rat would likely still be killed.  Also, guns are not perfect; your aim could be off with the intention of not killing the rat, and you could end up killing the rat.

According to this article on itv news, Mehnert says that this installation, “called 11 Days, is a protest against the use of military drones – both as weapons and as tools of surveillance.”

Another quote within that article, which is quoted from another site, says:  “A rat dies for the service of art. I would also prefer it would not be necessary. But people nowadays are so so jaded because art has to commit a transgression.”

Mehnert is going for shock value.  He seems to think that shock is the only way to get his message across and to get people to pay attention to his concern over the use of drones.

Shock value is used to death in our culture.  I think continually trying to shock people can also make them jaded.  But, hey, it’s working, isn’t it?  People are paying attention.  People are protesting Mehnert’s cruelty.

However, the more obvious goal of getting people to protest the use of drones isn’t happening yet.  Many people are jaded in the idealism department.  They feel like their voices are being ignored by government, even when they speak out.  The Occupy movement was huge, and governments are continuing to plow over their voices and others’ voices in favour of corporations and of the status quo.  It is easy to feel powerless.  It is easy to say, “someone else will protest it” or “someone with more power will change things.”  It is terrible to be ignored when you want someone to listen.  (And Mehnert wants someone to listen.)

The itv article talks about how there are animal cruelty laws in Germany but that Mehnert may not be responsible, since he will not be pulling the trigger.  Mehnert is handing people via the Internet a gun and giving them permission to kill.  He is accountable.

Just as those who are using drones to kill innocent lives are accountable.  Just as those of us who permit it to happen through our support are accountable.  Just as those of us who permit it to happen through our jaded silence, by varying degrees, are accountable.

I think Mehnert is making his point.  Perhaps by the end of the eleven days, he’ll feel content that his point is made, and he will not go through with killing a real, live animal in the name of art.  I can hope.  It seems like something a shock artist might do.  Rile people up, make your point, then grant mercy and be given publicity for doing the compassionate thing in the end; just as the artist may hope people and governments will do the compassionate thing in the end and stop drone warfare/surveillance.  It doesn’t make the artist any less of a jerk, though.

Killing to protest killing is ludicrous.  It makes you as culpable and horrible as those you are protesting.  While it may draw publicity to your cause, it will also draw people away from supporting you the artist.

3/16/15 EDIT:  Since the original petition to which I linked no longer seems to be working, here is another petition against this installation.

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