Fighting Dogs – Cruelty or Art?

The Guggenheim Museum in Manhattan is about to run an exhibition called Art and China after 1989: Theatre of the World. It is a multi-media exhibition that was to include a seven minute video of a “performance” entitled “Dogs That Cannot Touch Each Other” by Huang Yong Ping that had been staged in a museum in Beijing in 2003. A (distressing) five and a half minute version is available here.

Following multiple protests, the museum has removed this and two other works featuring live animals, not because they acknowledge the abuse inflicted on the dogs, but because they felt threatened. They stated: “Although these works have been exhibited in museums in Asia, Europe, and the United States, the Guggenheim regrets that explicit and repeated threats of violence have made our decision necessary.” They add “Contrary to some reports, no fighting occurred in the original performance and the presentation at the Guggenheim is in video format only; it is not a live event”.

That’s OK then, according to the Guggenheim.

Morally, if this is acceptable then so are snuff movies, images of paedophilia and any other kind of abuse that people inflict on others.

The Guggenheim statement continues “Reflecting the artistic and political context of its time and place, Dogs That Cannot Touch Each Other is an intentionally challenging and provocative artwork that seeks to examine and critique systems of power and control…We recognise that the work may be upsetting. The curators of the exhibition hope that viewers will consider why the artists produced it and what they may be saying about the social conditions of globalisation and the complex nature of the world we share”.

Fortunately, many people recognise the sentiments for the offensive drivel that they are: the video was withdrawn from a show in Vancouver in 2007 after local protesters requested modifications.

There is nothing artistic about encouraging voyeurism, sadism and cruelty. Power and control is being exercised by the people who force the dogs into this position. They are clearly distressed and are being pushed to the limits of their endurance. It is unlikely that an ethics committee would permit this in the pursuit of research. There do not appear to be any vets in attendance.

It is not that abuse like this and far worse does not occur elsewhere, but that right-minded people sanction its public display in the name of art. What is sickening is that the people who acceded to this cannot recognise the abuse that they are perpetrating. I am not a congenital idiot, so I can work out that there are problems with the social conditions created by globalisation and the complex world that “we share” without abusing animals.

I suggest that those who have the choice protest directly to the Guggenheim and boycott the exhibition.

Of course the abused dogs had no choice.

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