Thursday, May 22, 2008

Answering San Francisco Art Institute's False Accusations

Cancellation of video exhibit showing animals being killed provokes reactionary response from SFAI President

On May 8, 2008, The Art Newspaper, a British publication, ran an editorial by San Francisco Art Institute (SFAI) president Chris Bratton entitled "I see a new, pervasive and global condition of fundamentalist violence directed against dissident images and thought". It accused animal rights activists (and specifically IDA) of "demagoguery" and inciting death threats against SFAI employees.

As this is a completely false accusation based on Bratton's fractured and fearful view of animal rights activists, and because IDA is thoroughly dedicated to non-violent advocacy for animals, we posted an online response to his editorial, so readers of The Art Newspaper will know that it was Bratton's mismanagement of the outrage surrounding "Don't Trust Me" that caused the exhibit to be shut down.

Below, read my response to SFAI president Bratton's distorted claims, and get the real story behind the controversy.


I work for In Defense of Animals (IDA), one of the organizations that Chris Bratton accuses of fomenting "fundamentalist violence directed against dissident images and thought." I wrote IDA's alerts about the Adel Abdessemed exhibit sponsored by the San Francisco Art Institute (SFAI), and in no way, shape, or form did I encourage anyone to make violent threats. Nor did I post photos or home addresses of SFAI employees, or "cue...constituents with language meant to incite outrage and 'direct action.'" Check the alerts and see for yourself:



During the writing process, I called SFAI trying to get some background on how Abdessemed obtained his footage, and spoke with their media liaison on the phone. I asked him whether Abdessemed had in any way staged the footage, because I find it hard to believe that crushing animals' skulls in with giant hammers is standard practice on Mexican farms. I strongly felt that the public had a right to know whether these animals were specifically killed for a work of "art."

Though cordial, SFAI's media liaison did not have the answers to my questions, and this was days after the controversy over the exhibit had begun. Why was SFAI's official spokesperson still so completely uninformed at this point about a scandalously violent exhibit the school was sponsoring? All he could tell me was that SFAI had scheduled a public hearing to open up a dialogue; however, they quickly cancelled that meeting after allegedly receiving death threats, a claim that has not yet been substantiated by any concrete evidence.

My interaction with SFAI's spokesperson demonstrated how completely unprepared they were for the public's reaction to the exhibit. I don't know why Bratton is so surprised that people expressed anger towards the Institute's complete lack of interest in addressing legitimate concerns about cruelty to animals. His editorial mentions "a lecture by the artist, well attended and eliciting enthusiastic responses." So, not even one person at that lecture saw fit to inquire about Abdessemed's role in obtaining footage of animals being bludgeoned to death with a sledgehammer? Is the state of contemporary art in the city named for Saint Francis, patron saint of animals, now so amoral that lecture attendees accept it as a given that artists should be able to kill for the sake of creation?

If I'd been told when I called SFAI that Abdessemed had obtained the footage purely as documentation of a common practice on Mexican farms – and that SFAI planned to communicate this as part of the exhibit – I would have in fact recommended to IDA that we encourage people to support the show by going to see it. Indeed, animal rights activists routinely use video images of animal slaughter to expose violence with the hope that people will change their consumer habits after seeing how terribly animals suffer. Abdessemed's work, however, did just the opposite: removed from any contextualizing description or hint of origin, it implicitly encouraged people to accept humanity's exploitation of animals and the commoditization of their bodies as a supposedly inevitable, inarguable, and natural fact of life—an all too common assumption by society in general.

Judging from his self-congratulatory editorial, Bratton remains in denial about SFAI's role in the show's cancellation and oblivious to the fact that he bungled the handling of this controversy by deliberately obscuring the origins of "Don't Trust Me." Given the utter lack of explanation, is it any wonder that we would assume Abdessemed had in some way set up or provoked the scenes of killing portrayed on six video monitors? Bratton's shock that people would be upset by the intentional killing of animals for "art" indicates how deeply disconnected he is from public sentiment and empathy for the animals who were victimized so that representations of their deaths could be displayed in a gallery.

SFAI has still not fully revealed precisely what role Abdessemed played in obtaining his images. I believe he and SFAI meant to keep the images decontextualized to elicit shock in viewers: if people don't know what exactly they are seeing, their imaginations fill in the void with all sorts of wild speculations, eliciting even greater emotional turmoil. It is also likely that Abdessemed wanted to generate controversy, and he did: now he has bragging rights in the art world to say that his exhibit was the first one in SFAI's 137-year history to be shut down. He can boast that his work is so intense that people couldn't handle it.

Abdessemed seems to enjoy his reputation as a "dangerous" artist. Why else would he pull stunts like painting a picture while hanging upside down in the sky from a cable tied to a helicopter? Well, for the attention, of course, but my impression is he's more showman or provocateur than artist. Notably, animal rights activists were not the only ones who questioned the ethical and aesthetic merit of "Don't Trust Me": members of the art community recognized that Abdessemed sought to shock and upset people with his work, and signed a letter to Bratton condemning the exhibit.

In the end, what I find most offensive about Bratton's argument is that he has linked my advocacy work for animals with "demagoguery" and terroristic threats against people. I take strong exception to that mischaracterization, and want to point out that IDA fully condemns violence as a form of activism. My words and actions are consistent with my values of respect for all species, including human beings.

Keep in mind, however, that SFAI claims they decided to pull the plug on "Don't Trust Me" and cancel the planned public hearing not because of the public's outrage, but in direct response to threats of violence. So, if no one had made these alleged threats and I had just gone about my business of writing more alerts asking people to contact Bratton and let him know how they felt about the show, "Don't Trust Me" might have been on display for its entire scheduled run. So what Bratton is essentially saying is that terrorism works.

Yes, completely ignoring the rational, respectful entreaties of the majority and then caving in to intimidation by a tiny minority of invisible bullies – that's showing them, Bratton! Seeing as how effective these supposed threats were in the success of this campaign, I strongly suspect that more activists will start using these tactics the next time a similar situation arises. But please remember, all you animal rights activists out there, that while threats and violence may appear to result in some form of "victory," they do great damage to our cause in the long run by creating fear and resentment rather than true understanding and transformation of consciousness.

Framing SFAI and the artist as victims allows Bratton to claim the moral high ground and paint all animal rights advocates – regardless of whether our activism is peaceful and law-abiding or potentially violent – as a single undifferentiated mass that will pursue its goals "by any means necessary." In making no distinctions between my alerts and life-threatening emails, Bratton shows he is totally clueless about the diversity of the animal protection movement, and the non-violent strategies used by the majority.

Given Bratton's biased attitude, it does not surprise me that IDA's attempts to reason with SFAI were largely ignored. All we wanted was for SFAI to listen and respond appropriately to our concerns. Had someone initially given me reason to believe that Abdessemed was in no way involved in the killings beyond filming them, the tone of my communications would have been very different. Instead, Bratton irresponsibly insisted on maintaining a tightly-sealed information vacuum.

Lastly, I want to address the charge of "censorship" lodged against those who saw "Don't Trust Me" as a sickening example of "art" in the form of cruelty to animals. This was a publicly-funded exhibit – as a San Franciscan, some portion of my tax dollars was spent to put this work on display. I have the perfect right to say what I think about it, and refuse to censor my writing or apologize for my actions.

In fact, it was actually Bratton, as president of SFAI, who censored Abdessemed's work, for he was the one who ordered it shut down. Rather than standing tall like a strong leader, he laid down on the ground trembling with his hands behind his head at the first sign of trouble, then blamed others for his very obvious inadequacies. If he really believed in the value of Abdessemed's work, Bratton would have done a better job of explaining SFAI's position to the public, and tried harder to defend freedom of artistic expression.


___________________________________________________________________

Addendum: On July 24, 2008, I received this email response from an art critic:


Regarding the Adel Abdessemed exhibition, I have just read that somebody in San Francisco is proposing a bill that would make it a felony who causes suffering to an animal while making art. More censorship coming. Last year, an artwork by Huang Yong-Ping was removed from a major exhibition in Vancouver because flies (I say right, flies) were not being treated right. Now Abdessemed's show has been cancelled altogether. What's next? A touring show of these evil anti-animal-rights artworks under the banner "Degenerate Art"? Where did our freedom go?

Regarding art, I must say, as an art critic that I am, that you have no idea about contemporary art, visual creation or art in general. You have made it clear in your response to the president of the San Francisco Art Institute.

Regarding veganism and food choices, I feel threatened by people like you. Because you are not just trying to "help" abused animals. Your ultimate mission and/or wish is to eradicate all animal consumption and resort to eating vegetables, whether your fellow humans want it or not.

If you all could, you would turn the world into a Vegan Fundamentalist Republic. Our freedom is at stake.

Sincerely,

Bruno LeMieux-Ruibal


But wait, there’s more! After I published his first email (admittedly, without his permission), he wrote to me again three days later:
Ayatollah Mat,

As I thought, dialogue or conversation are not your forte. You'd rather publish private e-mails without asking (so rude), accuse me of things I never said (so wrong) and laugh (so childish) than answer my letter in the same channel as it came, that is- personal and private.

But listen, I'd rather be hated by intolerants like you than used by ignorants... like you (I see you respect animals, but not humans).

Now, make it public, be in bliss and feel oh-so-good about yourself. Because it's great being you, isn't it? Illuminated and ever right, ready to teach the world and punish the wrong. Yeah.

Peace-

My open response to Mr. LeMieux-Ruibal – for all to see:

So, you were upset that I posted your “personal and private” words on my blog – hey, welcome to the 21st century! And yet despite this complaint, you have sent me an even juicier email. Methinks thou doth protest too much! So then, I assume you must want me to post the second one, too. Okay, if you insist…

Well, why not, anyway? Sure, you personally offended me, but much more importantly, you’ve insulted all animal advocates, and the movement community has a right to know about that. If you’re really so sure that your opinion of me and other animal advocates is correct, then you should want everyone to know about it – no need whatsoever to hide or be embarrassed, right?

I publicly and proudly proclaimed my perspective on the animals-in-art issue in IDA alerts to SFAI, as well as my detailed response to Bratton’s editorial. You responded to my writing by attacking me personally – a stranger who you don’t even know – yet you call me “rude”? Give me a break!

And claiming that I should take personal attacks as an invitation to converse is the height of hypocrisy. Don’t pull that with me. If you were really interested in “dialogue or conversation,” you would have written a rational explanation of why you believe people should be allowed to kill animals for art. In contrast, declaratively stating (with no analysis to back up your claims) that I “have no idea about contemporary art, visual creation or art in general” and calling me “fundamentalist” are not valid critiques of my work, but merely personal insults. As far as respect is concerned, I reserve that for those who earn it by granting me basic respect, not those who don’t know me yet cast outrageously false aspersions about who I am.

But I certainly don’t “hate” you, as you seem to think: I simply recognize that we hold widely disparate values. That is, I wholly oppose the unnecessary killing of sentient individuals for art, food, etc., and you are in favor of killing sentient individuals for art, food, etc. I am for animal rights, and you are for animal exploitation. I see no need for “dialogue or conversation” about that because you’ve already made up your mind about this issue, and about me – “Ayatollah Mat …Illuminated and ever right, ready to teach the world and punish the wrong.” Clearly, you don't know me, and you don’t want to talk: you want to argue and disagree and call me silly names because you need to convince yourself that you are “right.” Sorry, I’m not about to waste my time playing your head games. I am only indulging you now because some readers may find this exchange amusing and informative.

In conclusion, the wildly stereotypical inaccuracy of your conclusions about me and every other animal rights activist makes your emails unintentionally hilarious, so I continue to post them. Seriously, The Onion should write a story about you! Incidentally, you might want to work on your sarcasm – we’re laughing at you, not with you. Also, there is no such word as “ignorants” – “ignorant” can only be used as an adjective, not a noun, so there is no plural form. Consider gaining a basic command of the English language before accusing any more of us “ignorants” of ignorance.

p.s. For educational purposes, you might try putting a contact button on your blog so people can give you feedback.

You see, the encouragement and constructive criticism I get from readers is important, but what better way to start my day than with a hot steaming mug of blind bigotry and belligerence? Frankly, I think the experience would benefit you – especially as an art critic. My email address is publicly available on my website and blog, so any angry, bitter crank in the world can personally chastise me and belittle my life goals and values any time they feel like it. And yet, while I have your email address, the public does not, and therefore no one else has any way of letting you know what they think of you or your work.
Guess what I’m trying to say, speaking as one devoted to ideals of freedom and liberty, is that avoiding contact with the reading public doesn’t exactly foster interactive free speech…but then, I guess that’s convenient for you, anyway.

Zealously,

Ayatollah Mat Thomas
Chief Grand Poobah, Vegan Fundamentalist Republic
www.animalrighter.org


Tune in now for the semi-interminable continuation and exciting conclusion of this fascinatingly combative ethical/aesthetic discourse (same Brat Time, same Brat Channel) by consulting the comments section directly below! KAPOW!!!

15 comments:

  1. Mat, I think this text is brilliant - very well written and to the point. Sadly, the contemporary arts scene os full of charlatans whose only tool is shock value. I am artist myself and I am a vegan, and I am deeply critical of what the Institute did. Thanks for speaking out against this outrage.

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  2. Well said Mat! It seems to me that name calling and nasty attacks are utilized by those who know that their position cannot stand up to scrutiny and who are unable to make any rational, convincing arguments.

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  3. Matthew, you are the biggest jerk veganism has ever spawned. You give your religion a bad name, by basically acting like... a jerk. Pardon my language, but a jerk is a jerk.

    You start by publishing my private and confidential e-mails (wait for the legalese I'm preparing for you regarding your violation of my privacy), then continue with some name-calling. "Misguided fellow", supporter of "slavery", let's "laugh" at him, he calls himself an "art critic".

    If you make my private correspondence public, you should have no problem with my posting your full name, address and phone number. Right? Fair game for both.

    Matthew, if you really wanted to know, you would have found the name of the art magazine I write for, just like you found my old abandoned blog. But you're not interested in getting to know the facts. You tell me you're a "writer" and I believe you, even though the only writings I find are wordy and vacuous attacks to people you disagree with (you do have an enviable capacity to fill pages with meaningless paragraphs, Matthew).

    I write art criticism, believe it or not. Like it or not. For a big fat magazine distributed in three continents.

    You lie. You say Adel Abdessemed killed animals for his video, which is a lie. He documented the killing of animals in Mexico, exposing the brutality of the food trade. But you couldn't go beyond the cruelty. They're harming an animal! They're harming an animal! And and it ain't art, on top of that! My kid could do that! It's just shocking! And they're harming an animal!

    Sure, Matthew.

    Too bad the whole message and meaning of Abdessemed's artwork was completely lost on you. In fact, he agrees with you, Matthew, and with me. Animal cruelty is wrong and despicable. But you couldn't see beyond the blood that blinded you. You saw animal cruelty and branded Abdessemed, and the SFAI, and me and everyone who defended the video the enemy.

    You see, if you would have calmed down and try to understand instead of yelling and freaking out right away, you would have realized the truth is easier and the message simpler than you think they are. We agree with you, Matthew. Respect those animals as much as you would respect the human animal.

    Do you respect humans, Matthew? I’m not sure about that.

    I hope you'll have five minutes to talk to me next time I'm in San Francisco, Matthew. I'll give you a call, because we've got a lot to chat about.

    Thanks for your time and have a good night, OK.

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  4. I don't hate you, Matthew. Really.

    You just picked a fight with the wrong person, but I forgive you. Even in the legal aspect.

    Be blessed, see the world.

    Try to understand and care for your fellow humans as much as you care for other animals.

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  6. My response to Mr. LeMieux-Ruibal’s comment:

    Ok, we need to get a few things straight here, especially since you claim -- against all available evidence -- that I'm “not interested in getting to know the facts.” Here are some facts for ALL to consider:

    The supposedly “abandoned” blog of yours that I linked to is in fact your current blog, with the last entry dated August 6, 2008. What fact, exactly, did I get wrong here?

    Your profile says nothing at all about your professional qualifications as an art critic. With a Google search conducted today, I did happen upon on another art critic's blog (http://www.artsjournal.com/culturegrrl/2007/11/) (in which you blasted her writing) indicating you are “a New York correspondent for the Spanish-language Lápiz International Art Magazine.” Ok, fine, but why don't you clarify that on your blog?

    Yes, I am in fact a professional writer, and though you say that “the only writings (of mine that you find) are wordy and vacuous attacks to people (I) disagree with,” you are completely and demonstrably wrong. Talk about not doing your research and not getting your facts straight. My published writings, along with my CV, are available on my website, www.animalrighter.org, which is prominently featured in my blog profile and in the signature of my last blog comment. I invite readers to peruse my articles and blog entries for themselves to see how many of these actually qualify in any way as “attacks,” because the overwhelming majority of them (at least 95%) do not fall into that category. Please do some basic fact checking from now on before making such false accusations.

    As far as “the message and meaning of Abdessemed's artwork,” you claim he was trying to convey that “Animal cruelty is wrong and despicable,” and that you and the artist abhor animal abuse. I'm glad to hear that we agree on the latter assertion, but that was not at all clear from your earlier comments. As I explained in my response to Bratton, this whole controversy would have been avoided if SFAI had taken a moment to explain Abdessemed's role in creating his work, but they blatantly refused to reveal the artist's role in capturing these images of death. So, as far as the available facts are concerned, no, I didn't "lie" about Abdessemed being involved in the killings, as you claim.

    As I explained very clearly in my response to Bratton, SFAI never (to my knowledge) divulged the artist's true role in obtaining the videos. Did he tell the killers to stand in a certain spot to set up the shot? Did he use special lighting? Did he hand-pick the animals slated to die? If the answer to any of these questions is yes, then it cannot be defined as “documentation,” but rather as killing animals for a work of art – even if they were going to be killed anyway. That kind of creative process is about as acceptable as a photojournalist covering a genocidal conflict requesting that a mass execution be moved to a different location for aesthetic purposes.

    Given SFAI's silence, I have to assume that Abdessemed was in fact somehow involved in manipulating the shot -- a course of action that shows absolutely no respect for animals. It's pretty simple: participating in the deliberate killing of animals, even peripherally, sends its own message and meaning. This is what San Francisco's Humane Art Ordinance is all about. Animal advocates endorse the realistic and artistic documentation of cruelty, but we maintain that it is unethical for the witness to be in any way a part of facilitating it -- whether the underlying intention is to expose or endorse abusive practices.

    What I really want to know, and which you have yet to explain, is whether you believe killing animals for art is justified (though you clearly think we should be free to eat the corpses of sentient beings, even though there is absolutely no nutritional need to do so, and you erroneously see veganism as some sort of “religion,” a belief which is just laughably ludicrous). I originally compared your position to that of antebellum slavery to make a point: that animals are helpless, innocent victims of a society that exploits them without pity. Leonardo da Vinci, who was an outspoken ethical vegetarian (http://www.animalrightshistory.org/timeline-renaissance/da-leonardo-da-vinci.htm), believed that “the time will come when men such as I will look upon the murder of animals as they now look upon the murder of men.” He said that over 500 years ago, and many of us are still waiting for that blessed day.

    In light of your statement that you do in fact respect animals, I will give you the benefit of doubt that you make this claim in all sincerity. I have therefore removed that “slavery” bit from my blog so that future readers will not prejudge your comments before they get to see for themselves what you say. I have also removed the quotation marks from the word “critic” throughout to designate your status as a bona fide art critic. Furthermore, I was planning to redact your name and blog link from my posts, deferring to your utter lack of courage and commitment to stand up for what you claim to believe in, but I see that in posting you have willingly identified yourself – well done.

    Regarding your charge that I “couldn't see beyond the blood that blinded (me),” and that I started “yelling and freaking out right away,” I ask you to take a look at your own behavior. Though I have not called you a single insulting name (check my responses), you have dubbed me “Ayatollah Mat” and “the biggest jerk veganism has ever spawned.” Is that how you argue for your point of view, with obnoxious name-calling? In my experience, people who resort to such personal identity attacks typically have little of value to actually add to the discussion. On the other hand, I have backed up all of my statements on this matter at length with detailed explanations for what I believe. I had hoped you would do the same.

    In addition to engaging in immature playground name-calling, you also resort to making broad assumptions about me and my work, referring, for example, to my “enviable capacity to fill pages with meaningless paragraphs.” Meaningless, really? The numerous readers (some of them accomplished writers in their own regard) throughout the years who have graciously let me know that they find quite a lot of value in my work might disagree. And incidentally, I consistently get feedback about the quality and clarity of my writing. I'm wondering, based on your assessment of my work, whether you have actually read any of my many articles, and do you really think people are going to believe ridiculous claims simply because you make them? In actuality, you are just damaging your own credibility as someone qualified to judge me and my work.

    In conclusion, you were the one who picked a fight with me: I merely defended myself from your preposterous accusations against my character (which you continue to perpetuate, despite my attempts to reason with you). Do you seriously believe that your original email to me was a respectful attempt to start a substantive dialogue? If so, then you really need to reevaluate your motivations, your manners, and what you hope to achieve by dismissively attacking people who hold divergent opinions which you seem incapable of comprehending.

    p.s. You want to post my full name, address and phone number? Well, my full name is already on my website and blog, as well as in posts all over the Internet. My phone number and address are listed in the White Pages: you found it and called me, so I assume it can't be too hard to locate. I honestly don't understand why you think I'd be afraid of being contacted, but can only assume that you are projecting your own fears of public exposure onto me.

    Certainly, people are encouraged to post comments on my blog, and email me personally if they wish. If they do so respectfully, I will respond respectfully and personally. But you were one of those special cases of a reactionary who wrote to me assuming (incorrectly) that you know what I and the animal rights movement are all about, so I decided to bring the debate out into the open.

    Notably, people still have no way of getting in contact with you, and yet you are threatening to post my personal contact information (even though it's already readily available). Do you see any irony there at all?

    In closing, I implore you, if you are going to post any more comments about me, etc., that you do your research first and make sure your claims are accurate, and that you desist from making personal attacks on me, and instead explain your position regarding animals killed for art to the reading public in some meaningful fashion.

    Mat Thomas
    www.animalrighter.org

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  7. Dear readers, here's another vitriolic post by Mr. LeMieux-Ruibal (a letter apparently published by Orlando Weekly) that you may give us insight into this critic's personality:

    "Orlando: You Suck" - http://www.orlandoweekly.com/columns/story.asp?id=10332

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  8. Ha ha! That's a good one, Matthew. The difference is, the Orlando Weekly liked my comment and ask me for permission to publish it as a letter to the editor. I gladly agreed.

    Similarly, Lee Rosenbaum from Culture Grrrl enjoyed my e-mail and asked me for permision to publish it as a note in her blog.

    You never asked. You violated my privacy by publishing my e-mails without permission. That is an awfully negative start to a conversation. You were just plain mean and vengeful. I'm glad we're able to discuss things in a civilized manner now, Matthew.

    My blog was indeed abandoned so I thought it was odd that you linked to it, but because of our "fight", I decided to revamp it and write on it again. I thank you for that.

    I don't know how the SFAI responded to the Abdessemed polemic. But I do know that art is the ultimate expression of human freedom, so an art institute -where young artists learn how to create art and transcend the everyday- should not have to answer or even address the demands and complaints of every social group on earth.

    Artists and art administrators are not the government or the UN. If I make a sculpture depicting an old couple dying and the AARP comes after me, should I tend to their protests or tell them to get a life? I think you get my point.

    I'm not saying that artists and art institutions should have carte blanche to do whatever they please, but if we allow every pressure group to meddle with the creative act of art, we'll end having museums filled with Norman Rockwell and devoid of the spicy, difficult stuff. Good old Norman never raised an eyebrow with his feel-good, boring and non-offensive art, so I guess that's what art institutions should show instead of aggressive contemporary video installations?

    Part of the allure of contemporary art is its being obscure and uneasy to grasp. As an art critic, my job is to decode it for non-experts, but only to a point. So with Abdessemed, and because I am aware of his previous work, I understand that he is shoving that animal cruelty in our faces to provoke emotions and reflect on how humanity is cruel to humanity and to the animal kingdom as well.

    He is also "playing" with us. He knows that some people will react hysterically (such as the threatening extremists), others will take it more philosophically and still others will perhaps "get" the many messages and layers of meaning that lie in his work. It is too bad that one of these many reactions got out of control and ended closing the whole thing, not allowing the other reactions to be heard.

    If Abdessemed would have harmed animals to make his video, I would not approve of it. I would denounce it. But I wouldn't call for censorship. Remember Jesse Helms pressing to stop all art funding in the late 80's because Robert Mapplethorpe was a pervert homosexual artist? It scares me to think of the animal extremists as the new freedom- and art-hating conservatives.

    In any case, Abdessemed didn't harm any animals but used footage of animals being harmed to make a point of how cruelty is pointless and just plain wrong. When the PETA people show you bloody images of baby seals or whales being slaughtered, you don't wink or ask for those pictures to be removed immediately. Right? Well, maybe we should apply the PETA parameters to an artist such as Abdessemed.

    I just wish that a constructive dialogue would have happened in San Francisco between the defenders of art and those who called for censorship. Instead, an artist was silenced, an exhibition closed, people were threatened and an atmosphere of animosity, discontent and fear grew out of the artistic creation of a talented young person. So sad!

    Last but not least, I'd like to add that, if anything, you and I are different because I respect your choice of veganism- but you don't like me and don't respect me because I eat rare burgers. I see you as an individual who made a profound life choice I disagree with but respect. You see me as the enemy because I eat everything. Hence my calling veganism a religion. My vegetarian friends are not such fervent followers of their "cause" and certainly do respect me!

    Sorry for the long comment and thanks for enabling a civilized discussion on the issue, Matthew.

    (I added an e-mail address to my blog so that people can give feedback and discuss if they want to. That should make you happy)

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  9. Abdessemed had to flee his native Algeria because of the Islamist extremists that threatened him and murdered his art professor, and he now has to flee America (metaphorically) because the animal extremists threaten his work and the lives of those who organized an exhibition of his work in the land of the free (as the anonymous1 comment in your most recent post said, these people are serious about fire-bombing).

    Let us think about it for a second.

    (I love art and I love meat, but I would never go to *any* extremes in order to defend my choices).

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  10. Thank you Bruno for you latest comments -- they were very thoughtful. I think I now understand somewhat better what Abdessemed was going for, though I still question how he obtained his images. That is the essential difference between "Don't Trust Me" and the work that AR groups like PETA do. Meaning that documentation of atrocity, whether
    against humans or animals, should be encouraged, but those who convey these images must not actively involve themselves in perpetrating bloodshed.

    And I do appreciate that you've posted your email address on your blog. I honestly and sincerely hope that you do not become the target of any animal rights extremists, because I know that they are out there (I'm just not one of them). In today's world, not wishing to be singled out for violence is a real and valid concern (consider, for example, the recent firebombing incidents targeting UC Santa Cruz researchers). I completely concur that it is utterly deplorable to resort to physical threats and intimidation to get one's point across. Violence in the name of ANY cause, especially animal rights (a philosophy based on non-violence), is simply unethical (as well as counterproductive to social evolution).

    You and I also agree that freedom of expression must be paramount in our pursuit of creating an open and just society. I simply believe that we must establish limits on what artists can do to express themselves: namely, animals must not be considered mere artistic materials, like paint and canvas, to be used indiscriminately. Yes, in Abdessemed's case, it's a fine line, but we need to respect that individual animals' lives matter -- especially to them. Whatever layers of meaning may be present in Abdessemed's work, they are rendered corrupt by the probability that he was involved in some way in setting up his shots.

    I'm actually sorry for the way things turned out with Abdessemed. I was looking forward to the public forum that SFAI had originally scheduled to find out more about his work and intentions. Too bad it was canceled, but I am still not sure whether SFAI received actual death threats or if they simply overreacted to some of the angrier emotional emails from people who saw abject abuse of animals in his work. This whole thing could all have gone so much better for us all...

    I don't want museums and galleries filled with milquetoast "art" any more than you do. I actually thrive on art and culture that challenges and provokes – Sue Coe (http://www.graphicwitness.org/coe/coebio.htm), Ron English (http://popaganda.com/) and Jim Woodring (http://www.jimwoodring.com/) are some examples of stuff that inspire and move me. These may not be considered "high art," but I easily admit I am not necessarily up on the entire contemporary art movement. Still, I believe these artists are engaged in the world as it is, and trying to get people to see life from a different angle.

    I want you to know that I do not consider you an enemy, nor do I dislike you because you eat animals: I have plenty of friends and family who do the same, and hold nothing whatsoever against them, since they seem to respect my beliefs and are actively considering their own choices. I realize that not everyone, at this point in human history, is going to see animals the way us vegans do. I accept that fact, and try to meet people where they are.

    Most people intrinsically don't want to see animals suffer unnecessarily, so my job as a writer/activist is to help them see that the suffering of animals is directly connected to the lifestyle choices they make. It's something I feel so strongly about that I have devoted my life to it. Given the state of the world, I certainly have my work cut out for me.

    I feel like we are getting somewhere here, so I see no need for us under the circumstances to continue feuding with one another. What do you say we call a truce, and try to find the common ground between us? It's obvious now that you are an intelligent person who means well, and I think we both just got a little hot under the collar with this argument. Interestingly, I think you and I are more similar than either of us had realized, and perhaps we have something important to learn from each other. So, I propose we stop fighting and put all this negativity behind us.

    p.s. If I had to do it over again, I would have sought your permission to post your emails, especially because now I see you'd have agreed to it, and because my deepest aim is to build bridges between myself and those on the other side. I do respect that you seem more than willing to put your criticism out there for all to see – that's very commendable, really. In retrospect, even on the off chance you would have said no, that's what I should have done.

    Actually, I confess that posting your emails was something of an experiment (successful or not) in free speech on my part – yet I stand by my original reasoning that you should want, as a critic and a public figure, to have your opinions known to the world. But still, I should've asked first for your approval first, so I apologize. Anyway, this has been a life lesson for me, and I'm grateful that we've had the chance to hash this out. I'm glad that we've finally reached a point where we can discuss this matter respectfully as one writer to another. We can either continue this discussion publicly or privately, as you wish. You have my email and phone number, so feel free to contact me in whatever way works best for you.

    Sincerely,

    Mat.

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  11. Thanks for your thoughts, Mat.

    Truce indeed. It is always a pleasure to exchange ideas and views in a civilized manner.

    To that I am open to at any time, although this conversation seems to have a good end here, for now.

    Best of luck with your life choice!

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  12. Hello Mat, I have been following the exchange between you and Mr. LeMieux-Ruibal and I'm glad to see it's all come to an end. The problem we find in defending animals is that speciesism is so deep-rooted in most people that they fail to recognize it in themselves, although I think that an art critic should be able to do so.

    I still don't think that Abdessemed was interested in denouncing cruelty against animals. Contemporary art needs contextualization, which he didn't provide. The fact that he even considered showing those images without a clarity of purpose signals a speciesist attitude on his part, that's very clear to me. Imagine an artist who decided to tackle the subject of rape simply by showing it without contextualising it.

    We all accept certain boundaries that society imposes on us without calling them censorship. Protecting the vulnerable from harassment has nothing to do with censorship or oppression, it's about common sense and ethics. Art and science are not exempt from that.

    And just for the record: as a vegan I am not opposed to people eating meat as long as they can acquire it without breeding, enslaving, torturing and, finally, brutally slaughtering animals. Or fishing them. No meat eater can say they care for animals, that's utterly hypocrytical.

    All the best and keep up the good work.

    Antonio

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  14. Anonymous9:18 PM

    I think people are often eager to turn the public eye away from cruelty. They would like to say that they are vegetarians and against animal cruelty yet they have never been to a slaughterhouse and wont even dare to conjure up images of the animal's suffering. Most people are vegetarians and anti-animal cruelty becuase they want to keep their ideas about animals pure and happy. This is just as misinformed as eating meat and killing animals to start with. The process documented in the video is the customary process of animal slaughter for the specific Mexican market. By documenting this the artist is exposing the cruelties of food production. In Mexico that process is probaly less disturbing than what goes on in American Slaughterhouses. I applaud the artist for exposing the world to what is going on. At least with the killing method exercised, we are not treating animals like a machine; which is more degrating. If anything viewers of the piece would investigate the cruelties animals are suffering. The placement of the piece, in general has already helped people to ponder just what they are decensitizing themselves from in the Food Industry. Art is no longer only decor, it is something that changes the world and makes them think. So to the people who sent threats to Sanfrancisco Art Institute, I say congratulations you ignornant fakers, you have deprieved people from learning and putting their concern into the cruelty of animals.

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