By Mike Steiner
Putrefaction: n. Process or state of putrefying; decomposition.
Alberta native Diana Thorneycroft, an artist-photographer currently working out of Winnipeg, has finally captured the "gloriousness of putrefaction", or so she says in a recent Calgary Herald article. With the help of a $15,000 grant from the Canada Council, she has managed to hang 12 dead rabbits from trees in the middle of a Manitoba forest, where they will decay for everyone to see. The exhibit, named Monstrance, is intended to make us think about death more seriously — as Thorneycroft states: "All of us are moving toward death and dust. A lot of people won’t acknowledge that."
Art has surely changed these days, leaving us non-artist types extremely confused. The line between art and debauchery has been crossed so many times that no one, except the Canada Council and those who receive its grants, can separate genuine artistic expression from what is simply an artist’s private perversion. It seems that anything can be passed off as art, as long as the "common folk" don’t grasp its ultra-profound meaning.
Can we draw a line somewhere, or must we accept anything that "artists" produce as bonafide creations of splendor? Apparently the general population, having no formal education in the arts, is unfit to judge.
Thorneycroft’s exhibit "does what all good art sets out to do: it provokes," says Anne-Marie Petrov, Executive Director of St. Norbert Arts and Culture Center. But what response is she trying to provoke? If her aim was to create animosity among citizens over wasted money, then she definitely succeeded. The most popular reaction to her exhibit has been, "Are my tax dollars paying for this crap?"
But let’s come right out and say what we all instinctively know: rotting flesh is not art. Watching anything that was once a beautiful living creature turn into a breeding ground for insect larvae is enough to nauseate most people.
Where is the "gloriousness" that Thorneycroft proclaims to "celebrate" in putrefaction? How come we’ve never noticed the glory before? We’ve all seen dead animals before, whether it was a family pet, or road kill, but we don’t take pictures to hang on our living room walls. This situation smacks of a story called "The Emperor’s New Clothes," only I don’t remember if the public actually had to pay for the emperor’s flashy attire.
If decaying rabbits is an important and often overlooked concept, then, damn it, we should thank Thorneycroft for opening our eyes. Why don’t we pay artists to take pictures of accident scenes? Pictures of injured or dead people, lying in pools of their own blood could provoke people enough for it to be considered art. Or maybe autopsy pictures–we can celebrate the "gloriousness" of loved ones being cut to pieces. Dead rabbits one day, Uncle Bob the next.
Canadians, especially students like those here at the University of Calgary, can and do appreciate true art. For instance, take the metal structures that sit outdoors on campus, skillfully welded into amazing shapes of all different sizes. We can all appreciate the time and effort that went into each one. They have true, and very real, artistic beauty.
We don’t need to be appalled when viewing art, and we definitely don’t need to see rotting bunnies in order to acknowledge death. But what does our opinion matter, being the unsophisticated, art-loving masses of this country? After all, we’re only footing the bill.