June 04, 2012

Cat Helicopters?

My cats will never be made into helicopters.

Maybe it was supposed to be funny or cute when Dutch artist Bart Jansen turned the corpse of his dead cat into a remote-controlled helicopter. Normally I wouldn’t give this a second thought, but today I’ve seen it mentioned in the L.A. Times, the Huffington PostYahoo news, the Guardian (U.K.), the Washington Post, Daily Mail, and USA Today. So whether I like it or not, it’s officially in the news.

Apparently Jansen taxidermied his cat and fitted it with with toy helicopter parts so it could fly. He then released some statement about “honoring his cat” by making its corpse able to fly with the birds or something like that. Right away it reminded me of the smart-ass guy I vaguely knew in art school who made a large ceramic crucifix but his Jesus had an erection. He hung it in a prominent place, where everyone could see it. But instead of getting the attention he wanted, I think he creeped everyone out. Nobody wanted to say anything because they thought it would just encourage him.

Yet the cat helicopter is getting the kind of attention the other guy could have only dreamed of. Thus, in some minds, Jansen’s dead cat helicopter could be seen as more successful. Still, Damian Hirst and Maurizio Cattelan don’t use their own pets. Right?

So here’s the big question: is a remote-controlled helicopter actually art? If it is, then is it good art? Will it ever sit in the Louvre, or will some rich drug dealer buy it just to freak out his girlfriend?

Cats should not be made into helicopters — or should they? Image: chris cobb

If all he wanted was his name in the papers, he got it. And if you asked Jansen, maybe all the attention is worth the potential bad publicity or charges of being disrespectful to the dead.

But being famous for art made with a dead animal can backfire — just ask Brooklyn artist Tom Otterness, who had a $750,000 contract with the San Francisco Arts Commission canceled last year. It was for 59 bronze sculptures at the Moscone station of the proposed SF Central Subway project. He made similar sculptures for New York subway stations.

But when the SF Examiner reported that in 1977 he had tied a dog to a fence and filmed himself shooting it, all hell broke loose. In the 1970s his continuous film loop, called Shot Dog Film, helped make his name, but since then Otterness has had to apologize for it again and again.

Of course the French call this sort of thing le succès du scandale, or “success from scandal.” But come on, did he really need to kill that dog to become famous?

It makes me wonder what people consider success these days. Being in the news? Being in a magazine? Being on TV? Being loved? Being hated? Or is it all the same?


Comments (8)

  • Nick, I’m OK with food animals going extinct. Breeding them for the purpose of eventually dismembering them (sometimes while they are still alive) seems pointless at best. In any case, this is an academic point. I wish there were enough vegans in the world that extinction of farm animals was a real, looming possibility.

  • Sadie, maybe I didn’t explain myself clearly. To continue with the analogy that you made, I’m saying that as long as millions of Jews are still being killed in an on-going holocaust, we should make it our priority to stop that holocaust from continuing, and we should not be distracted by a single murder that happened years ago and can’t be un-done.

    We, all of us, have limited time, money, and energy. If we set ourselves the goal of helping animals, then we should use our resources in a rational, optimal way. I would much rather perform actions that help animals TODAY vs. doing something that may, in some sense, bring justice to a single animal killed decades ago. Life is short, and you can’t do every single worthwhile project — you have to choose those projects that generate the highest return on investment.

  • Going vegan to help the animals only works if enough people continue to eat them that it’s still economically feasible to raise meat. Otherwise there’s no reason for anyone to raise animals at all. It’s not like any of those animals live in the wild. They’ve been domesticated so much that they depend on us for food, lodging, and reproduction.

    Should we eat less meat? Absolutely. Should we treat our meat humanely? Absolutely. But we can’t forget that the purpose of those animals is for human consumption. If we don’t eat them, we risk losing the breed or species forever.

    When I eat meat, I try to eat heritage breeds whenever possible. The best way to ensure their survival is to eat them.

  • Alex, you should be applauded for all the hands on work you’ve done to help animals. You say you love animals more than anyone, yet the fact that Tom Otterness adopted a dog from a shelter and blew its brains out for an art project means nothing to you. That’s like saying that we shouldn’t feel bad about a single murder of a human because 6 million Jews were murdered in the Holocaust so that makes one murder inconsequential. There are many of us who don’t want Tom Otterness’s sick legacy of animal cruelty bestowed on our community in a permanent fashion. His record of being an animal abuser will never go away. He will always be known for it. Protesting animal cruelty of any kind, past or present, even on a single animal, represents protesting cruelty to all animals.

  • Chris Cobb says:

    You are correct. According to the Humane Society between 3-4 million pets are euthanized each year in the United States. So in ten years that’s between 30 – 40 million – mostly cats and dogs. But each year, according to wikipedia, about 150.4 million cattle, bison, sheep, hogs, and goats are slaughtered in the US. On top of that 8.39 billion chickens are killed each year, or 23 million a day. If giving up chicken meant this kind of mass slaughter would stop, it would be a small price to pay.
    I have a feeling if someone started a company that provided free tours of the slaughter houses a lot more people would become vegetarian.

  • I don’t think it’s fair to compare the catcopter to Jesus with an erection or the intentional shooting of a dog. This isn’t project desired to provoke, offend, or scandalize people.

    As for the “is it good art” question. Sturgeon’s law says that you can dismiss this as crap with a 90% chance of being correct. For my view, it’s a bit of sillyness. If it’s going to be in a museum, I’m more interested in what the curator chooses to say about it.

  • I live in Rochester, NY — and I don’t care one way or the other about Tom Otterness.

    Otterness has been the focus of some controversy in Rochester. The Memorial Art Gallery here in town commissioned him to create some large outdoor sculptures. Lots of animal lovers are upset about it. I have a different perspective.

    I do animal rescue both as a job and as a hobby. I live with more rescued animals than I care to mention here. And I traveled to New Orleans to help save animals in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Nobody loves animals more than I do. And I’m here to say that I have no interest in Tom Otterness and the controversy that surrounds him. This is a non-issue to me. It’s true that he did a horrible act, but it happened once, 34 years ago, and he has apparently expressed remorse about it.

    We have so many real, ongoing problems that it’s a shame for us to get distracted by non-issues. Let me give some examples of real issues. We have a huge problem with pet overpopulation, particularly with cats. Breeders and pet stores sell the products of puppy mills. Low-life thugs use dogs and roosters for fighting. Some cities are enacting breed-specific legislation (which is irrational and harmful) to ban pit bulls and other allegedly vicious breeds.

    And then, of course, there’s animal agriculture: Around 9 billion animals are slaughtered each year in the US. These animals, while they are being raised, are generally treated horribly and they also release enormous amounts of greenhouse gases that contribute more to global warming than the transportation industry. And the manure causes environmental devastation on a more local level. And eating those animals may contribute to people’s heart disease and cancer.

    These are all big problems that deserve our attention. Tom Otterness is inconsequential to me, and we should save our moral outrage for other, more important issues. I’m not in favor of (or opposed to) forgiving him. Forgiveness isn’t ours to give. His sins should be a matter for him, his conscience, and his deity.

    The single best way to help animals is to go vegan.

  • We don’t want Tom Otterness in our town either. ~Rochester, New York

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