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In-class 'art' experiment has animal activists livid

Fri, Apr. 04, 2003

In-class 'art' experiment has animal activists livid
By Carrie Sturrock

A UC Berkeley student, apparently trying to make the point that people are too removed from their food sources, slaughtered a chicken in front of shocked classmates.

A campus animal rights group has called for the arrest and expulsion of the student and the suspension of the instructor who taught the undergraduate "New Genres" art class.

The UC Berkeley Department of Art Practice reprimanded the student for the event, which occurred last month, but will not seek further punishment for what it determined an inappropriate expression of art.

"He was making the point that we're ... so removed from the production of food that we see it as Kentucky Fried Chicken or Twinkies, but that there are plants and animals behind it," said Loren Partridge, acting chairman of the UC Berkeley Department of Art Practice, who noted the student was deeply sorry.

"It was felt by everybody to be in extremely bad taste and not the kind of thing that can be condoned in the classroom."

In a news release, the Berkeley Organization for Animal Advocacy called for the student to suffer consequences.

"The fact that this brutal slaughter occurred, especially in a classroom setting, is simply unacceptable," said senior Julie Ahern. "BOAA is demanding that the student be expelled from the university for this obviously cruel act and prosecuted for the possible violation of California Penal Code 597, which prohibits cruelty to animals."

The news release went on to say of the student who brought the chicken incident to BOAA's attention: "The undergraduate whistleblower, who wishes to remain anonymous due to fear of retaliation, stated that the chicken died a gruesome and bloody death."

The Berkeley East Bay Humane Society has reviewed the case and decided not to pursue it, Partridge said, because the student wasn't trying to deliberately torture an animal. Instead, the undergraduate wanted to make the point that people are oblivious to such things as slaughterhouses, which deliver prepackaged chicken to grocery stores.

University officials have not released the name of the student. Although Partridge's department and the humane society have reviewed the incident, the larger university administration plans to look into it further, said UC Berkeley spokesman Bob Sanders.

"We take any animal welfare issue very seriously."

The student had killed the chicken as part of an assignment that called for an autobiographical, artistic presentation, Partridge said: "What this had to do with autobiography, I'm not sure."

But something useful did come of it. The instructor used the incident as a springboard to talk about what's appropriate art and what isn't.

"It was also an occasion for the instructor to make a point about what art can and can't do," Partridge said. "Art has limits."

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