8 months ago

Art EXTINCTION: The Ethicality of Using Animals in Our Art

"Mother and Child (Divided)". Damien Hirst, 1993.

Nature is beautiful. That is a sentiment most people can agree with. Oftentimes, we wish we could capture that beauty and keep it with us forever. Whether we do that through taking pictures, growing vibrant plant life in our homes and gardens, collecting rocks and fossils, or simply holding onto our memories of seeing something extraordinary. But no matter how beautiful we think something is, there is a limit to how far we should go to preserve that beauty. Nature and art have been intertwined since humans began creating, so it’s no surprise that as we continue to create, we continue to push the boundaries of what the intersection of art and nature can truly look like. Recently, however, the ethicality of using nature in art has been called into question. Specifically, the use of animals in our art.

In July of 2022, a German art museum dismantled an installation created by controversial artist, Damien Hirst, after the animal rights organization, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) filed a complaint. The complaint was in regards to Hirst’s 1990 piece titled, A Thousand Years, the design of which is meant to mimic the life cycle of a fly with the insects hatching on one side of a partitioned glass box and flying to the other side to be burned by a light. Hirst is no stranger to featuring animals in his artwork. From his Natural History series to his Kaleidoscope Paintings series, Hirst has used nearly one million animals (many of them being insects) in order to create a variety of different pieces.

While the unconventional exhibition may have received praise in the art community (its even rumored to have drawn the attention of famed artist Francis Bacon), there is something morally questionable with Hirst’s creation. Not only does the installation breed and subsequently kill thousands of flies, but it also contains a severed cow’s head that purposefully draws the flies to their deaths. And if the death of millions of insects doesn’t disturb you, some of Hirst’s other art exhibits might.

One of Hirst’s popular art installations titled The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living is a gruesome example of the kinds of works Hirst creates using dead animals. The 1991 piece features a lifeless tiger shark that was caught in Australia, preserved and suspended in an enormous glass tank filled with a formaldehyde solution. The exhibition began to deteriorate due to poor preservation techniques, and in 1993, the gallery altered the installation by gutting the shark and stretching its skin over a fiberglass mold. Hirst said in regards to the alteration, “It didn’t look as frightening…You could tell it wasn’t real. It had no weight,” according to ,The New York Times. After learning of a potential sale of the piece, Hirst offered to replace the shark with a different one and worked with a scientist and curator and London’s Natural History Museum to better preserve the new fish.

According to ,The Nature Conservancy, tiger sharks are regularly hunted for their fins and for liver oil. Tiger sharks have a low reproductive rate, which makes overfishing a major threat to the longevity of the species. Due to the decreasing population, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has listed the species as near threatened.

Like the tiger shark, many animal species are being added to endangered species lists due to human interference in their natural habitats or behavioral patterns. With overhunting, global warming, deforestation, and so many other factors contributing to the plummeting of animal population numbers, I find it abhorrent that animal’s lives are being sacrificed for the sake of entertainment. Artists like Damien Hirst may be pushing the boundaries of art and creating one-of-a-kind pieces, but the cost is far too high. There are more ethical ways to incorporate nature into art to ethically preserve and capture the beauty of nature that surrounds us. We have to do better.

Samantha Fencil, Editor

Angie Pantaleon, Layout

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