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Guillermo Habacuc Vargas, Bienarte, Maltratador de Animales.
April 15, 2008 11:05 AM   Subscribe

Guillermo Habacuc Vargas, Bienarte, Maltratador de Animales. Costa Rican artist Guillermo Habacuc Vargas' exhibit El Perrito Vive has drawn a number of criticisms from concerned animal rights activists after he allegedly starved and deprived a dog named Natividad as an installation piece.

The exhibit was accepted into the very prestigious Biennial of Central America. Vargas' defense of the work was as follows:

"The purpose of the work was not to cause any type of infliction on the poor, innocent creature, but rather to illustrate a point. In my home city of San Jose, Costa Rica, tens of thousands of stray dogs starve and die of illness each year in the streets and no one pays them a second thought."

Vargas refused to tell whether the animal had survived the show but the Códice Gallery claims "It was untied all the time except for the three hours the exhibition lasted and it was fed regularly with dog food Habacuc himself brought in."
posted by scabrous (27 comments total)

 
An online petition against the exhibit can be found here.
posted by scabrous at 11:07 AM on April 15, 2008


So if I rob a bank but use the defense that the purpose of my crime was not personal gain but to illustrate a point, I go free?
posted by DU at 11:25 AM on April 15, 2008


I got a chain letter from a friend the other day asking me to sign a petition against this exhibition and save that poor dog. My response was that the dog didn't need a petition, it needed someone to take care of it. I bet if you showed up during the exhibition, cut the dog free, and took it home with you no one would object. I also bet no one will step up and do that. To me that's the point of this whole thing.
posted by waxboy at 11:27 AM on April 15, 2008 [4 favorites]


"It was untied all the time except for the three hours the exhibition lasted and it was fed regularly with dog food Habacuc himself brought in."

Do we have any reason to doubt the gallery's claim?
posted by Falconetti at 11:28 AM on April 15, 2008


WAXBOY is right!
I have no idea why spectators at this "artsy-fartsy" bullshit show didn't take immediate action... at least shout out the crime that was occurring in front of them. The "artsy-fartist" should be thrown in jail, and the dog shipped anywhere in the world where someone will love him. If any reliable org. down there can come up with the dog-lover and the shipping means, I'll donate $40. Anyone else?

Have-a-kook reminds me of perennial little sophomores from our colleges who go about presenting themselves in faux dramas meant to "educate" the unwashed about the massive, generalized ills of the world. Better that they practice love and compassion in their waking days than to stage their picaresque gallantry.

So what if it was fed? It was humiliated by being too thin, without movement, etc. Dogs have pride, and people who know the world of mammals (and other living things) know how profound and beautiful this fact is.
posted by yazi at 11:39 AM on April 15, 2008


Maybe this will mean that self-righteous conceptual artists and self-righteous animal rights activists will cancel each other out, instantly annihilating both of them in a blaze of white light.

Now that's a pony I can get behind.

(and mistreat in the interests of art)
posted by nasreddin at 11:43 AM on April 15, 2008 [1 favorite]



So what if it was fed? It was humiliated by being too thin, without movement, etc. Dogs have pride, and people who know the world of mammals (and other living things) know how profound and beautiful this fact is.


Are you one of those people who insist on showing people pictures of their dogs? Does your dog have a website decorated with rotating heart GIFs?
posted by nasreddin at 11:46 AM on April 15, 2008


I swear to god, I can never tell when yazi is being sarcastic.

Back to the post at hand, though. Did he starve the dog to prep for the show or what? I think we can take the gallery at their word that it was fed while it was in the gallery, but how was it treated by the artist beforehand? Did he just go find an undernourished dog that day or what? I'm getting really tired of getting emails and facebook group requests from people who don't know the answers to these questions and don't seem to care if they're protesting any actual mistreatment.
posted by shmegegge at 11:57 AM on April 15, 2008 [1 favorite]


"Are you one of those people who insist on showing people pictures of their dogs? Does your dog have a website decorated with rotating heart GIFs?"

having deleted my original response to this...let's just say that you can't watch my dog, you can't pet my cat, and any dinner invitation I might have sent is revoked....
posted by HuronBob at 12:08 PM on April 15, 2008


When I heard about this last year, the story was that he paid some kids from the local shantytown/ghetto a small some to bring him the dog (which was already being neglected), then brought the dog to the exhibit, where it starved to death. People did complain to the authorities before the dog died (allegedly) but didn't try to make off with the dog bodily. The dog died, there were petitions about the web, etc. etc. Naturally, when it came up AGAIN this year, with a different spin on the story, I was extremely confused. Now I have no idea what the real story is, and I'm inclined to call B.S. on the whole affair, even more than I was in the first place.

I'm pretty sure Mr. Hoity-Toity artist can make a point about the suffering of animals without prolonging the suffering of the poor dog any further, you know? If he was going to intervene at all, he should have taken the dog to the vet or appropriate officials (where it could be treated immediately or put down), not kept the poor guy on the brink of starvation "for the sake of art."

As for the bystanders? Yeah, yeah. We all know about Kitty Genovese syndrome; this is hardly news, and going, "Look, people are jerks!" does not qualify as art to me. Plus, given how much Vargas has obfuscated the truth at this point, I'm not going to take his word for it that no one tried to help, even if only by trying to speak to the gallery owners or the artists. If someone went to Vargas and said, "Dude, what's with the dog? Why are you doing that? Stop it!" - how did he respond?
posted by bettafish at 12:11 PM on April 15, 2008


I think the sequence was as follows:

1. Get dog
2. Take care of feed the dog.
3. Exhibit dog and tell/insinuate the dog has been mistreated and is starving.
4. Evoke reactions and see if anyone "rescues" the dog.
5. When no one steps forward proclaim artistic point made.
4. Take down exhibit three hours later and feed and take of dog where no one can see.
5. Bask in the infamy.

As soon as he commits one way or the other an the dogs condition the "point" is destroyed.
posted by ozomatli at 12:11 PM on April 15, 2008 [4 favorites]


Sadly, dogs aren't considered pets in Costa Rica. More like one step above livestock.
posted by Sassenach at 12:17 PM on April 15, 2008


Sounds like a not so elaborate but well implemented hoax to me.

Biennial of Central America? Better look into that. Hm...
posted by acrobat at 12:44 PM on April 15, 2008


So if one dog dies in a gallery it's a petition-worthy tragedy of epic proportions but thousands dying of starvation in this dude's hometown is ho-hum? Stalin would be proud. Where's the petition to save the stray dogs of San Jose?
posted by spicynuts at 1:14 PM on April 15, 2008 [2 favorites]


Hoax
posted by acrobat at 1:19 PM on April 15, 2008


I agree with ozomatli, waxboy and spicynuts. At least at the level of actually harming the dog, it was a hoax. Anyone could--and should--have brought food to the dog and/or cut the leash to release the dog into the street at any time. There are stray dogs living miserable lives (and owned dogs living miserable lives) in Costa Rica and many other places and few are outraged over their plight. These last two sentences are the artist's point, and it's well-made.

That said, apparently he released the sick dog into the street at the end of it, rather than taking the dog to a vet, which is irresponsible and ungrateful of him.

Where's the petition to save the stray dogs of San Jose?
Here.

I was interested to see how Costa Rican law punishes cruelty to animals, but my lack of Spanish (and the Costa Rican government's lack of web skills) defeated me. Here's a good place to start, and here is caselaw index, if you read Spanish.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 2:09 PM on April 15, 2008 [1 favorite]


Look at this video. Is it a man trapped in a broken elevator or have Costa Rican artists, once again, Gone Too Far?
posted by dgaicun at 3:27 PM on April 15, 2008


what ozomatli said.
posted by zardoz at 4:37 PM on April 15, 2008


The last few days I'd toyed with putting together a post that touches on this exhibit and a handful of others, including the (now-canceled) Adel Abdessemed show in San Fransisco, and a previous metafilter post about Kristy Stubbs' dead still lives, seeking to outline the history of how animals have been used (and abused) in contemporary art and examining the question "when does this sort of work cross the line into rationalized psychopathic behavior?"

As you can see, I struggled to frame the post in an objective manner, and in the end I also couldn't bring myself to watch any of the videos I was posting about. I hope Vargas is just a good sideshow carney, but it wouldn't surprise me if at least a handful of curators view animals as expendable raw material and an easy symbol for empathy in "the production of meaning".
posted by stagewhisper at 5:49 PM on April 15, 2008


A side note (because I need to learn more about how Mefi folks communicate):

Nasreddin asked if my sentence about the pride that one can find in mammals meant that I obsequiously show off my dog. No. And in fact I learned something about pride from great pal of many years.

Schmegegge wonders if I'm sarcastic. I speak w/o sarcasm. He probably went on a bender with my analogy to college protesters (reminiscences of a posting a month ago about Tibet protest with its partly garbled and suspicious "encounter" with NYPD).

HuronBob then answered Nasreddin as if the latter had queried him about mammalian pride, not my post. That was confusing.
posted by yazi at 7:14 PM on April 15, 2008


Jesus wept.
posted by Divine_Wino at 8:11 PM on April 15, 2008


Why are people still talking about this half-assed attempt at "art"? All he wants is the outrage, the comments, the attention. In my opinion, he has abused that privilege already.
posted by papalotl at 10:05 PM on April 15, 2008


Yazi: Dogs have packs. You're thinking of lions with pride.
posted by davemee at 4:32 AM on April 16, 2008


Um, folks, not to point out the obvious or anything, but there is a shit load of dog food right there, on the wall, and no one is giving it to the dog.
posted by Pollomacho at 4:51 AM on April 16, 2008


He probably went on a bender with my analogy to college protesters (reminiscences of a posting a month ago about Tibet protest with its partly garbled and suspicious "encounter" with NYPD).

I did. I went out and got drunk and stumbled down the street throwing bottles at lamp posts and screaming "FUCKING YAZI!! with your... fucking... sarcasm... mumble and shit."

But for real, I just wasn't sure if you were trying to say that the artist should really be thrown in jail or not.
posted by shmegegge at 8:26 AM on April 16, 2008


Schmegegge: ya know... I was a bit worked up. But I do think jail is appropriate, if in fact the federales could prove that he had found an underfed, ill or injured dog and used the animal as an exhibit w/o improving the dog's overall condition (i.e., kept it looking starved and ill). In my book, it seems far less a crime if one naively has an animal lurking about that is not considered a pet and looks in bad shape than when it is a purposely carried out situation. I realize that much of the world has wonderful mammals running around uncared for. It was the ARTSY FARTSY, bobo-esque, gen-Z bullshit of doing that for the pleasure of winning entrance to some arts-shmarts show that nailed me. In my senescence I have got very very tender about animals. It may be a mutant strain in my genes, or maybe an animal-lover hormone that kicks in.... bla bla.
posted by yazi at 10:59 AM on April 16, 2008


I'd largely agree. My one concern here is that everything we know about this seems to be from a blog in a language I don't speak and a series of photographs that take place during a 3 hour time period. I cannot, for the life of me, find any evidence of what he did before or after mentioned anywhere as anything other than hearsay. It's frustrating because I'd like to think that if he did neglect or in fact harm the dog then he should suffer some consequence for it, and if he didn't I believe he should be left alone. Either way I tend to consider the whole thing an example of remarkably adept marketing and unremarkable art.
posted by shmegegge at 11:13 AM on April 16, 2008


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