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Live art installation to end in chickens' slaughter

Local artist Amber Hansen seeks to initiate a connection between individual animals and the food on our plates.
Renee Caldwell- all rights reserved

An art exhibit to be on mobile display in downtown Lawrence, Kansas will end in a public slaughter of the 5 unwitting, assumedly unwilling live participants. In April, this installation sanctioned by Andy Warhol Foundation for Visual Arts’ Rocket Grants program in collaboration with the Charlotte Street Foundation and the University of Kansas’ Spencer Museum of Art will be created by artist Amber Hansen. “The Story of Chickens: A Revolution,” is a project intended to transform public perception of the birds from simply “livestock” to understanding they are unique creatures with individual characters.

The birds will go on display in a public coop, attended at all times, but availble for the public to visit. The hopes are that the community will interact with the chickens and observe that they are individuals. Scheduled public locations will be shared as the project's installation is nearer.

After the public has had an opportunity to become familiar with the chickens for 3 weeks, the project's plan is to perform a public slaughter of the 5 birds, serving them in a community potluck the following day.

“There is something to be gained through experiential knowledge,” Hansen said. “This is an art form that creates a real life situation and a situation that exists and happens every day."

There is much controversy and objection to the proposal, which is scheduled to open March 30. City ordinance is not compatible with the intended plan. Megan Gilliland, Lawrence's communications manager, noted:

“The city code does not permit the willful killing of animals within city limits. There are exceptions in the ordinance for some activities, but butchering animals for food is not one of the excepted activities."

Hansen notes that the objections raised are part of the desired goal. Public reaction is part-and-parcel with art and the objections and support are integral to the project's intent.

“A very important part of this project is the voices of local community and now that the dialogue is online, that’s important too,” Hansen said. “This affects everyone because everybody eats.”

Hansen also notes that there isn't malice in the design, but, rather a realistic way for people to truly make a connection with the source of their meals. Familiarity with the animal will perhaps create a more thoughtful relationship with our consumption.

“The project imitates life, where the animals are well cared-for and treated with respect, as well as providing … people with nutrients they require,” she said.

The local poultry community isn't sure what to think.

Alison Reber of Guest House Hens commented that,

"Regarding where the food on their plate actually starts, sometimes people have a hard time dealing with reality."

Local teens Phoebe and Sabina both agree that it's a good concept, but that the artist is giving the public too much credit,

"The emotional connection will stop at outrage because no one wants to own the negative side of taking responsibility for causing a death, even a chicken's. There's a diffusion of responsibility. It's a valid point, but at what cost to reach a few people who probably already get it."

Read more here.

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