Damien Hirst has never been a fan favorite amongst animal rights activists. They didn't love his formaldehyde-soaked shark and they weren't so pleased with his severed cow's head, so you can imagine how they reacted to the butterfly massacre that was his recent exhibit.
The art installation, titled "In and Out of Love," was shown at the Tate Modern earlier this year. It consisted of of just two white and windowless rooms filled with live butterflies whizzing about, and was part of a larger retrospective that involved other winged insect-inspired creations. But it's entering headlines (and enraging the humane population of the world) this week because The Telegraph announced on Sunday that the absurd Tate show resulted in the total death toll of over 9,000 butterflies. Stepped on, violently swatted, or bored to death by contemporary art, the 23 week-retrospective reportedly led to approximately 400 winged deaths per week.
Ever-shameless Damien Hirst stands beside the 2006 piece "I Am Become Death, Shatterer of Worlds", made from butterflies and household gloss on canvas. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)
Not surpisingly, the mass murder of Lepidoptera (of the Owl and Heliconius species) has ruffled the feathers of animal lovers near and far, including members of the UK's Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA), People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), and the chief executive of Butterfly Conservation in Britain. Here's what the Hirst-haters had to say in statements made to The Telegraph:
“In this so-called 'art exhibition’, butterflies are forced to exist in the artificial environment of a closed room for their entire lives. There would be national outcry if the exhibition involved any other animal, such as a dog. Just because it is butterflies, that does not mean they do not deserve to be treated with kindness.” -RSPCA representative.
“Damien Hirst’s quest to be edgy is as boring as it is callous. It does not matter whether Hirst killed the animals himself or sat by while thousands of them were massacred for his own unjustifiable amusement. Butterflies are beautiful parts of nature and should be enjoyed in the wild instead of destroyed for something predictable and unimaginative.” -PETA representative.
“It is very sad to hear of the death of so many butterflies. Butterfly Conservation is concerned that this work represents a throwaway approach to living creatures and encourages a lack of respect for the environment.” -Dr. Martin Warren, chief executive of Butterfly Conservation.
A butterfly at the exhibition, taken before its sad, Kierkegaardian death. (Image courtesy of PA)
The Tate Modern defended Hirst's exhibit, remarking to The Telegraph: "The butterflies used in this work were all...selected from varieties known to thrive in the conditions created. The butterflies lived out the final stage of their natural life cycle inside this room."
Hirst himself stood up to defend his slaughter as well, saying in a statement to The Daily Mail that he employed a butterfly expert for his show at "considerable cost." He added that the living conditions created at the museum were "perfect" and "resulted in many butterflies enjoying longer lifespans due to the high quality of the environment and food provided."
As far as we know, butterflies do not thrive well in windowless museum halls, but we're not a professional like Nabokov or anything. And the survival rate reported by The Telegraph -- a couple of hours to several days -- does not measure up well to the the particular species' actual lifespan in the wild -- several months. But again, we're not "considerably costly" experts, are we?
Let us know what you think of Hirst's recent headline-grabbing antics in the comments section.