August 9, 2005

"It's precisely because I respect all life that I did this."

The Boston Globe reports:
A Chinese artist who grafted the head of a human fetus onto the body of a bird has defended his work as art after a Swiss museum withdrew the piece from an exhibit.

"It's precisely because I respect all life that I did this," artist Xiao Yu said Tuesday. He said the bird and fetus "died because there was something wrong with them. ... I thought putting them together like this was a way for them to have another life."

Swiss museum visitor Adrien de Riedmatten, 29, filed a complaint on Monday with the district attorney of Bern, Switzerland, calling for an investigation into the piece, which was on display at the Bern Art Museum....

The work was removed, curator Bernhard Fibicher said Tuesday, because museum directors didn't want the controversy surrounding it to overshadow the rest of the "Mahjong" exhibit, which features avant-garde Chinese works from the last 25 years. The museum is planning an Aug. 22 symposium with artists, philosophers and ethics experts before deciding whether to re-exhibit the piece.

Xiao said he bought the head in 1999 for a few dollars from a man who was cleaning out a scientific exhibition hall. The glass bottle in which it came had a handwritten sticker identifying it as a female specimen from the 1960s. According to Xiao, it had no name or cause of death....

The name of the piece, "Ruan," is a word Xiao invented that combines the Chinese characters for different kinds of animals. Xiao said he added the eyes of a rabbit to the head.

Xiao is known for shocking material. He once paid an assistant $1,200 to sew pairs of living lab mice together at the hip and displayed them in glass bowls.
Well, I hope the the artists, philosophers and ethics experts can figure this one out. I wonder which of the three -- artists, philosophers or ethics experts -- will have the strongest objection and which will be most supportive of Xiao. And while you've got those artists, philosophers and ethics experts assembled, please ask them about the sewn-together mice.

Don't you understand art?

UPDATE: Creative taxidermy is more widespread than you may realize.


miklos rosza said...

i guess we're close to joel-peter witkin territory here (who's done b&w photographs of crucified dead monkeys and so on). or one step from damien hirst and his bisected calf in formaldehyde.

exhibiting a fetus, or part of a fetus, strikes me though as rather vile.

Chrees said...

When an artist or curator defends a controversial piece of art with the kneejerk "It makes you think," I rarely hear the follow-up question "Yes, but think about what?" or a satisfactory answer if it is asked.

Xiao Yu's "explanation" falls into the latter category. Another life?

vnjagvet said...

'fraid not in this instance.

Paul said...

No, I surely don't.

Is there any bounds to art?
That he might consider humans sewn together as art. Could it be?

price said...

A fetus head on a bird sounds pretty cool... but why does it have to be an actual fetus? Doesn't anyone use papier mache anymore?

Meade said...

"Don't you understand art?"

I think I might be better at understanding what art isn't.

Goesh said...

that even surpasses my imagination

Drethelin said...

Morally I have no problem with the fetusbird, but I don't see the point artistically.

The mice are another matter. artistically I could easily see him trying to illustrate marriage or some other relationship, but morally I think it's cruel and unjustified to sew two mice togethr.

chuck b. said...

Note to self: I don't need to see that!

XWL said...

Much of what passes for art now in its essence is merely the manifest form of a terrible two tantrum.

The 'look at me'-ism and the 'because I could'-ism can be cute when coming from a toddler, but adults should know better.

And this isn't a rant against abstract 'my two year old could do that' art, cause much of that art can be both transcendant and inscrutable (like Rothko, or Pollock).

Rather I think this stems from the flower power holdovers who hold sway amongst the teaching professionals at art schools who feel the only job for art is to 'trangress' versus some ill defined establishment and any way you manage to upset the 'squares' is all that is required.

(At least with Mapplethorpe's bullwhip photo, it's well composed)

Richard Dolan said...

The idea, if there is one, behind the "fetusbird" is repugnant enough. Sadder still, the comments to your posting are even more disheartening.

Yesterday I picked up Elie Wiesel's Night Trilogy, and started reading his chronicle of the death of a soul, a process that to his astonishment took only a few days' immersion in hell. One of the many horrifying images in his chronicle is of a young child hanged on a gallows. Today, your post offers the image of the "fetusbird."

Your commenters write as if this were just another image, just another clever effort at shocking anyone still dim enough to have a conscience. No big deal, and if it's not too much trouble, can you pass the wine.

What is going on? "Fetusbird": it sounds like an object that you could find in the world of Kosinski's Painted Bird. Disgusting, infuriating, depressing, dehumanizing, and in the end, just sad, really, really sad.

Art? Oh, please.

Pastor_Jeff said...

I find this so repugnant on so many levels I am practically speechless.

PatCA said...


tinyfaeri said...

What really makes us human? Is it a collection of skin, bones, cartilage and organs? Or is it our minds, our personalities, what we like or dislike, how we treat people, what we do in this world while we can, or a soul? If it is wrong to use a fetus that never drew breath 45 years ago, is it wrong to display a mummy in a museum? The mummy was once human; it was a man, a woman, even a child. Mummies were specially prepared, cared for, and placed in a safe place so that the bones and tissue that once made up a person could be carried over for that person to use in the afterlife. This kind of mentality is no different than the desire to bury a miscarried fetus. That said, apparently it is perfectly acceptable to desecrate a 3000 year old grave by removing the mummified corpse and all its treasures and putting them on display in museums around the world for children and adults to study and admire, but abhorrent to use a 45 year old fetus (that was most likely miscarried/died of natural causes and had been pickled in a jar for nearly 5 decades) in a work of art. Personally, I would think the idea of keeping a pickled fetus in a jar for that long would disturb people more.

And to give an answer (note: not the answer) to the question “it makes you think about what?”…How can an artist ever answer that? To create a work of art that is meant to elicit one reaction and only one reaction is to create an instruction manual for putting together a desk or making lasagna. Obviously this particular piece made all of you think quite a lot of things, as did Body World and any other exhibit involving the human body.