Pluck (it) Yourself: Or How I Learned to Hate the Art and Love the Chicken

Alternative titles for this post:

I Know Why The Caged Bird Tastes Delicious

Finger-Licking Good, Thought-Provoking Great

One Man’s Cage, Is Another Bird’s Home

Fowl Dis-Play


Here in Lawrence, KS, Projector HQ, an art project is generating quite a bit of controversy. According to the Lawrence Journal-World University of Kansas lecturer and artist Amber Hansen will present The Story of Chickens: A Revolution, a mobile chicken coop to be displayed in various spots around town so that citizens “can get to know them,” then followed by a live slaughtering and a potluck starring the birds. Hansen’s aim according to the LJW article is to connect urban dwellers with the origin of food. The opposition to Hansen’s project has likened The Story of Chickens: A Revolution to Guillermo Habacuc Vargas’ Eres Lo Que Lees (You Are What You Read) in which the Costa Rican artist let a dog starve in a museum (which may or may not have been an elaborate hoax all along).

As an art project, I call bullshit. Hansen is not slaughtering the birds herself, nor is she cooking the potluck meal, that’s to be handled by the staff of local restaurant 715 AKA real artists (seriously their menu is awesome). Maybe she built the coop. The project description on the Rocket Grant website (which provided the funds for the piece) claims that The Story of Chickens: A Revolution “will encourage community members to visualize an urban landscape that is accommodating and accepting of the presence of animals.” Okay, cool I guess, not that I want bears patrolling the streets or anything—but sure more animals on the streets and more kids in the classroom. And more than just looking at the birds in their trolly coops, the citizens of our fine town will have an opportunity to become guardians of the birds. I’m with you there. I just don’t think this up to snuff as art, my subjective opinion reserved.

But as a tool of demonstrative farming I think the idea is great. We do need to be more connected with our food. I may not recognize chickens as the “beautiful and unique creatures” Hansen does, I still however value the life they have and the life they sustain us with. So while I still only see them as livestock—tasty, tasty livestock—the key word in all of this life. At one point or another our food is alive—a point that should be recognized more often.

 The controversy over The Story of Chickens: A Revolution, as best gathered from the comments on the LJW article, ranges from people aghast at the proposed slaughter of “these poor defenseless animals” (which, aren’t most animals, especially those we eat?), that her project seems to perpetuate the whole eating meat thing, or that it doesn’t address the terrible nature of our country’s larger agricultural complex.

But Hansen’s project, to some degree, is a counterpoint against the horrific way we breed juiced-up poultry in stacked shoebox-sized cages. As mentioned in the Rocket Grant prospectus, in addition to promoting alternative and healthy ways or caring for the creatures, “the project will also make visible local individuals and groups who are already making efforts to do so.” And people eat meat, so until the government takes our meat-eating rights away from us, there are always going to be animal rights groups and hardcore vegans opposed to these kinds of demonstrations. And to the people who are stunned that these poor defenseless animals are going to be brutally, cruelly slaughtered, this is the reality of how food is made. Is it gruesome? Sure. Is it a fact of life? Yeah. Is it something you need to see? Well that’s for you to decide.

In essence all Hansen has done is accelerated the small farm process of raising poultry. Nothing more, nothing less. Besides, free chicken.