People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals claims it never endorsed throwing paint at models wearing fur. These days, the animal rights organization takes a relative flies-with-honey approach. This year, it even hosted an industry-acceptable Fashion Week party, which operated much like other lavish fashion galas—save the video about animal slaughtering. That’s not to say the organization has gone soft nor that the gratuitous use of fur isn’t still controversial.
Take, for example, Launchprojects’ Bologna Skin Babylon exhibition, which uses coyote fur to embellish a host of everyday objects for a show equal parts unsettling and compelling.
The fur was donated by Lily of the West, whose owner didn’t feel comfortable with the ethical implications of using it. The collective behind the exhibition, Tête de Veau, is made up of non-vegetarians Ann Fulayter, Yon Hudson and Tuscany Wenger and, according to Fulayter, proffers no overt animal rights message. Instead, she says, the collective attempted to “do something to honor [the animals].” Regardless, the rampant use of coyote fur, as controversial as it is, calls into question the medium. At the very least, animal fur in art is provocative and connotes hubris as well as hypocrisy (scapegoating fur wearing when there are other latent, but perhaps more substantial, animal abuses).
Tête de Veau’s terribly compelling show can be seen as an exercise in recycling. Indeed, in addition to using the unwanted fur, the group sourced many of its sundry objects from yard sales. For “None of Your Goddamn Business,” fur intermittently peeks out from between a frame and a canvas, which bears the portrait of a Minneapolis, Minn., department store owner (the yard sale at which the picture was procured had already sold his spouse). A medium-dog-sized toy horse, “NES (Never Ending Story),” stands on a podium mid-gallop, its mane of coyote fur alighted from its downward gate; “Auf Widersehen” finds a wallet and key holder emblazoned with enough fur to appear as fluffy and dejected roadkill; while tent-canvas and coyote costumes “With or Without You,” “My Word Against Yours” and “Dirty Back Road,” as well as their furry and fashionable accoutrement, bring fur back to where it was so enraging in the first place: fashion. “Skin Machine” is basically a fur mini dress with only the shoulders and breasts bear, clinging to a cloth mannequin, whose decrepit condition is only trumped by its clotted and patchy fur adornment. The piece could paint the use of fur for fashion as decidedly gross (think a more restrained, equally dingy Lady Gaga meat dress).
But one would be hard-pressed to find any obvious animal-rights commentary, just an awareness that fur is commentary-rife. Additionally, Tête de Veau goes the distance to lighten the mood. In the gallery’s front room, three creatures, chained to the wall by their electric cords, manically scatter, shiver and skulk. Made of vintage vibrators and other “massagers” covered in animal skin, the works scamper about the wood floor like fat New York City rats that have not yet learned fear. A giant, silly stuffed monster paw hangs in the center of the gallery’s large front window, as if Carol from Where the Wild Things Are had his hand severed and preserved for G-rated children’s nightmares.
Tête de Veau, with its clever multimedia exhibition, deserves credit for dabbling in a taboo medium without demanding society’s contrition. Instead, the viewer is left to make her own assumptions about the use of animal fur, unfettered by a conversation (confrontation?) that has long been dominated by very loud and diametrically opposed viewpoints. Fortunately, for half that battle, no animals were (additionally) harmed in the process.