Instructor dismissed after student kills chicken

Alberta art college divided by controversial performance art

gagilas/Flickr

Art critic Lucy Lippard said that performance art was “the most… immediate art form… for it means getting down to the bare of aesthetic communication–art/self confronting audience/society.”

Think Chris Burden, who in 1971 convinced a friend to shoot him in the arm from a distance of 15 feet. “It was an inquiry into what it feels like to be shot,” he said after the performance piece. “Two or three thousand people get shot every night on TV, and it has always been something to be avoided. So I took the flip side and asked, ‘What if you face this head on?’”

That was more than 40 years ago.

Three weeks ago in the Alberta College of Art and Design’s cafeteria–reminiscent of a scene out of an Alice Cooper concert–student Miguel Suarez slit a live chicken’s throat, stuffed it into a pot and called it art, later telling a local CTV affiliate that he hoped the gruesome performance would help his classmates think about where their food comes from.

“I just wanted to put it out there, that’s the process that it takes,” he said in the video.

ACAD head of sculpture instructor Gord Ferguson, who has worked at the school for more than three decades, was dismissed on Monday.

When questioned on Wednesday, a spokesperson at ACAD wouldn’t confirm that Ferguson’s departure was tied to the slaughtering of the chicken, saying it was “a personnel issue,” reports the Calgary Herald. Meanwhile, Ferguson said on Thursday that he had retained legal counsel and had been advised against speaking to media, despite him having “lots to say.”

But today, the art instructor told the the paper that his firing was “absolutely” related to Suarez’s performance in the cafeteria. And his students–including Suarez–are none too pleased about it.

“I’ve been working with the other students and we have sent a letter and they’re signing petitions,” he told the Herald. “But I don’t want to personally do anything that’s going to affect his situation anymore.”

ACAD’s Facebook page is filled with comments about the incident. Some applaud the school for standing up against animal cruelty. However, most were outraged over Ferguson’s dismissal. Bmj Doty wrote: “I’m thankful to Gord Ferguson for allowing me the freedom to make mistakes and work of questionable merit while I was a student of his in his Sculpture classes. A more deserving institution will hire him, and the students of that institution will reap the benefit of ACAD’s short sighted ignorance.”

Suarez, who wasn’t arrested by Calgary police after the incident, won’t elaborate on whether or not Ferguson supported his project, which he told Ferguson about a month before the actual performance.




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Instructor dismissed after student kills chicken

  1. These are adult students at an institution of higher learning. A college of art should encourage students to question all that has come before. I don’t agree with killing anything you are not going to eat. As “art”… well I guess the point was to get people talking about the food system. The student killed the chicken in the same way millions of chickens are slaughtered for consumption every day, and was interrupted by police before he could cook it. ACAD dealt with this by firing the instructor. Ridiculous. Even the police found no reason to charge anyone. IE, no laws were broken. ACAD could have used this event for a discussion about ethics and art, and indeed, this has been done in the past when other students have used dead animals in their assignments. Instead, by taking punitive action against the instructor of all people, ACAD has shown itself to be uninterested in the pursuit of higher learning. A more deserving institution will reap not only Gord Ferguson, but also the benefit of future students. Why on earth would those who dare to “think outside the box” attend such a short-sighted and reactionary institution? They won’t. ACAD is CHICKEN.

    • “Even the police found no reason to charge anyone. IE, no laws were broken.”

      What? Just because the police didn’t lay charges, you cannot jump to the conclusion that no laws were broken. That does not logically follow.

      Three Edmonton women recently started smoking in a cab (illegal), and then refused to pay their fare (illegal), and then accused the cab driver of assault (illegal). This was all captured by the cab’s video equipment. Police decided not to charge anyone. DO you think what they did suddenly became legal because of the lack of charges?

      Think… harder.

  2. If Ferguson is being held accountable for his student’s acts, what does that make the student? A ward of the instructor? A child? I am a university professor: am I accountable for the ways my students express ideas? Am I accountable for what they write in their papers or say in public conferences or debates? If one of my students independently chooses to make a controversial, distasteful or even hateful statement in a public presentation as part of my course, must I then bear personal, legal responsibility? Surely not. This seems to be the precedent ACAD is establishing.
    The college needs to say “sometimes student’s explorations of challenging art go wrong, but the value of the educational process is more important than a lapse in judgment on the part of one student.” Instead they have said: “we support exploration until it causes controversy. Then we throw our people under the bus.”

  3. Regardless of the artistic value of the incident, one should be aware that universities are governed by some pretty comprehensive guidelines respecting the treatment of animals. An aspect of this case that does not appear to have been mentioned is whether those guidelines were followed in this case. The fact that it occurred in the context of an art course rather than a biology one does not free the unversity (and its employees)from that responsibility.

    • It is my understanding that the college lacked any such guidelines. You could see such a lack as a management failure.

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