Habacuc Hoax

I have now received two chain e-mails about artist Guillermo Vargas Jiminez’ piece, Exposición #1 (Exhibit #1). The e-mail claims: “In 2007, the ‘artist’ Guillermo Vargas Habacuc, took a dog from the street, tied him to a rope in an art gallery, and starved him to death. For several days, the ‘artist’ and the visitors of the exhibition have watched emotionless the shameful ‘masterpiece’ based on the dog’s agony, until eventually he died.” It then goes on to ask the recipient to sign a petition to stop the installation from being exhibited again at the Bienal Centroamericana Honduras.

In fact, Exposición #1, originally installed at Códice Gallery in Managua, Nicaragua, included a captured emaciated stray dog, named Natividad, tethered with a short leash in the gallery, with the words “Eres Lo Que Lees” (You Are What You Read) spelled out above him on the wall in dog biscuits. The Sandinista anthem was played backwards as an incense burner burned with what Guillermo Vargas Jiminez, also known as Habacuc, claims were one hundred seventy five pieces of crack cocaine.

The artist claims that he wanted to test the public’s reaction, insisting that not one of the exhibition’s visitors attempted to intervene to end Natividad’s suffering. In an interview published on Yahoo (in Spanish), Habacuc explains that the installation was inspired by an event that occurred in 2005, in which Natividad Canda, a Nicaraguan crack addict, was fatally attacked by two dogs as police, firefighters, and other looked on, unwilling to intervene. A video of the incident, which lasted almost two hours, was taken and appeared on Nicaraguan television. He won’t comment on the ultimate fate of the animal because he wishes to retain a sense of doubt. “Las respuestas categóricas no aportan nada,” he says. (Categorical responses do nothing.) He further observes, “El ojo humano es traicionero. A fin de cuentas, lo que uno ve es aparente y cabe la posibilidad de que luego venga un momento de reflexión.” (The human eye is treacherous. After all, what one sees is apparent and it is possible that then comes a moment of reflection.)

However, articles in the Observer and La Prensa (in Spanish) quote Juanita Bermúdez, the director of the Códice Gallery as stating, “It was untied all the time except for the three hours the exhibition lasted and it was fed regularly with dog food Habacuc himself brought in.” She also says that the dog actually escaped after one day.

And, indeed, the Humane Society has investigated the incident and although they condemn the use of live animals in “exhibits such as this,” they also have not found cause to believe that the dog was actually harmed by the artist.

Furthermore, the claim that Habacuc intends to replicate the installation in the Bienal Centroamericana Honduras is also false. Although he has been asked to participate in the biennial, he never planned to recreate Exposición #1; he is working on a new piece for the show.

That said, Exposición #1 was a successful piece. The artist very knowingly used the media. He intended to expose the initial apathy of a public that had the opportunity to intervene, and then almost hypocritical outrage of the public after the fact, and he did this. In many ways this is not just what happened with Natividad Canda, but also with Rodney King, and even with Abu Ghraib. It is why we are told to yell “Fire!” rather than “Help!” if being attacked. It is how we walk past the homeless each day. It’s how we watched the Taliban abuse women in Afghanistan for years before September 11th. It is even how we greedily and wastefully consume our natural resources as we frantically search for a cure for global warming and climate change. We like to sign petitions and get outraged after the fact, but when faced with the opportunity to interpose, to mediate, to actually do something, would we? Do we? Are we?



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3 responses to “Habacuc Hoax

  1. Jacquelyn

    First, the chain e-mail that I blogged about is a hoax because it claims that the dog starved to death and there is absolutely no evidence to support this. Indeed, there are pictures of an emaciated dog. But there are no pictures of a dog getting more and more emaciated. There is no evidence of a dead dog, photographic or otherwise. There is no reason to disbelieve the accounts that the dog was well fed and then escaped back to the streets.Second, and perhaps more importantly, the petition that so many people have signed is to stop the installation of the artist Habacuc’s piece, Exposición #1, at the Bienal Centroamericana Honduras. In fact, the rules of the biennial state that “The entries must be owned by its author be unpublished and have not been displayed publicly in the past. So, the artist is selected based upon past works, but he or she is not allowed to show those works; he must display something new for the biennial. In this sense, there is no question that the petition and e-mail urging people to sign it is a hoax.(Please see http://translate.google.com/translate?hl=en&sl=es&u=http://www.madc.ac.cr/mambo452/index.php%3Foption%3Dcom_content%26task%3Dview%26id%3D251%26Itemid%3D1&sa=X&oi=translate&resnum=3&ct=result&prev=/search%3Fq%3Dbienal%2Bcentroamericana%2Bhonduras%2B%26hl%3Den%26client%3Dfirefox-a%26rls%3Dorg.mozilla:en-US:official%26hs%3DHmL%26sa%3DG%26pwst%3D1“>Bienal Centroamericana Honduras for a translation of the rules.)Thus, people chose to invest their energies in reacting to a hoax rather than in doing something that ACTUALLY MATTERS. Furthermore, signing an online petition, forwarding along a hysterical and unresearched e-mail, while I suppose it’s reacting, it’s not really engaging, and is certainly not DOING anything. That is my criticism, and I believe it’s in part the artist’s criticism. I hope that some of the petition signers actually are working at animal shelters, or homeless shelters, or women’s centers, or fighting for some cause. I have no way of knowing whether this is the case, but I suspect that many simply prefer to sign and forward along petitions, often false, be they about a dog apparently starving in the name of art, or about the dangers of a new birth control, or some other seemingly good cause.Finally, in only looking at the supposed animal cruelty aspect of the work one ignores the larger picture– that of Nicaragua, one of the poorest nations in Central America where there are not just emaciated dogs wandering the streets, but also emaciated people, and that of human nature, which, although perhaps social psychology has known for decades, is sad, and ugly, and something we should be aware of and attempt to change. But again, in order to that we must not react senselessly. We must think; We must engage. We must do.

  2. Tatiana A. Praxis

    . I tried finding this interview of the artist, but the link to the transcript was expired. Do you have any idea where I could find it, or would you still have it?

  3. wilhelm

    Your article claims that this exhibition is a hoax, but does very little to prove that that is the case. Hoax or not, i still think this exhibition says more about the exploitative nature of the artist, than about the stupidity of the people (including myself) reacting against it.On one hand, the artist wants to make fun of / criticize the spectators at the event, that did nothing to save this dog. Now, social psychology has showed that that’s exactly the reaction to be expected when a big group of people not knowing each other are put together in an unusual/awkward situation that calls for action and courage. Everyone will become passive, expecting “someone else” to be the hero. What the artist “reveals” about human nature here is something that is already well known since the 50’s.On the other hand, the artist (and your article, it seems) wants to make fun of / criticize the people that DO REACT, e.g. by signing the petition. “Animal cruelty is taking place every day, so why react in this particular case?”. I don’t understand this reasoning. First of all, lots of the people that sign the petition might be very active against animal cruelty in general, nothing says that they act just in this case. And even if it’s true that some engage in this particular case and not in other cases, it is still not a bad thing. This specific case gets lots of media attention and becomes a symbol of all cruelty against animals. So by protesting against the treatment of this particular dog you are also protesting against all mistreatment of animals

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