Friday, May 10, 2013 at 2:32AM
In 1996 I was in my second year at ACAD. During that year, one of my pieces was a short film in which I compared a fish out of water, gasping for oxygen, with a windup toy goose, running out of spring tension. It was “classic” art school film stuff, in the worst way. I haven't looked at it since then, mostly because it wasn’t all that great. After the film was shown I remember the conversation afterwards had a wide range of opinions, from people who understandably were horrified that I killed a fish for my art piece, to my instructor, Blake Senini, who said (I remember this very vividly) “An artist shouldn't have to make excuses for the decisions he makes in making his art.” Gord Ferguson was also a part of that discussion, I'm sorry I'm not able to remember what remarks he had that day. I truly wish I could now.
I came away from that critique thinking two things: First, I questioned my previously held belief that there was a level of animal that was more or less deserving of being killed for an art piece. For some reason at the time a fish dying seemed reasonable, in my eyes, but a mammal of some sort would have been too far. The fact that I had upset my peers caused me to think about the decisions I'd made in the creation of the work, and my attitudes towards “lower” animals. This is what happens with open discussion of controversial works; minds sometimes get changed, conventions are questioned, we move on.
My second takeaway I had from that class was that the art community looked out for it’s own. Blake's assertion that I shouldn't have to make excuses for the work I made let me know that I was now a part of a supportive family. We wouldn’t always agree, there would be fights over the dinner table, so to speak, but that in the end we all lived under the same roof, and because of that we should be looking out for each other.
ACAD failed to look out for its own today. In fact, it did exactly the opposite.
This is where I should say I haven’t researched this matter inside and out. I don’t know the details, and I haven’t talked to Gord, the artist, or anyone at the school. The next paragraph is pure conjecture based on my own assumptions.
I assume that there was some sort of litigation that was averted by Gord's dismissal. Whether it was a civic matter or possibly some student who threatened to sue, or if maybe even some donor was going to withdraw funding, I have no idea. But it seems to me that Gord was offered up as a sacrifice to someone who just couldn’t let the debate over whether that student needed to kill a chicken for his art just *be*. ACAD laid the student’s “sin” on Gord and cast him out like the Azazel goat of ancient Israel. Because apparently ACAD now uses ancient religious beliefs as school policy.
Finally, for those of you who are horrified that the student even did what he did, I’m not going to debate whether the way humans kill animals for food is necessary or not. Or even if killing an animal for art is cruel or not. The artist apparently told people that he was going to prepare and eat the chicken. (I assume though, that since the police were involved it instead went to rot.)
When I was a kid, during my summer breaks, I helped out on my grandmother’s chicken farm. Sometimes, I’d have to get up before the sun came up, and groggily walk out to the barn, where my grandmother had already gathered the mature chickens in a separate pen. I’d help grab the chickens and hold them while their heads would get cut off. We'd have to hold onto the body after the head was removed, of course, because otherwise it would just flail around and damage itself. The heads would fall into a burlap sack, where they would gasp for air, and look at each other as their tiny brains were starved of oxygen. Like a fish out of water.
After this happened the bodies of the chickens would then be gutted, plucked, scorched, checked for pinfeathers, weighed, and finally frozen. Obviously anyone who thinks that what happened to that chicken in that cafeteria that day is different from what happens to every chicken they’ve ever eaten, is sadly mistaken. Legally, the only thing I can imagine the artist is actually guilty of are health violations. Which, I can’t imagine is more than a couple hundred dollar fine. Instead, his teacher, possibly the person that stuck up for him because he felt that they were all in it together, (and that possibly felt ACAD should be more about debate and art than just churning out more website designers, but again, I’m making assumptions), had his 32-year career taken from him.
Mason | Comments Off |