Week in Review

by by Mary-Evelyn Farrior & Joe de Jonge

illustration by by Diane Zhou

Winged Woes
Earlier this year, London’s Tate Modern hosted contemporary artist Damien Hirst’s first major retrospective on British soil. Frequently cited as the world’s wealthiest living artist, Damien Hirst is known for his involvement in the avant-garde Young British Artist movement of the late ’80s and early ’90s. His eponoymous exhibition, showcasing his most important works from over the past two plus decades—including a diamond-covered skull and a room full of carefully arranged pharmecuticals—ran from April to September and attracted an average of 3,000 visitors a day, making it the most visited solo show in the museum’s history.

The retrospective ended a month ago but is still stirring up controversy among animal rights activists. The problem at the moment is not the shark or pregnant cow or various other animals Hirst has famously placed in crystal blue formaldehyde over the last 20 years, but rather the butterflies used in his In and Out of Love installation at the Tate Modern. This past week, The Guardian revealed that approximately 9,000 butterflies were killed during the five-month course of the show.

“In and Out of Love (White Paintings and Live Butterflies)” takes place in a windowless room hung with white canvases. Butterfly pupae were initially glued to the canvases, and Hirst hoped that the butterflies would emerge, live, reproduce, and pass away due to natural causes within the exhibition space. Visitors were invited to enter the room and witness the entire life cycle of the insect. Plants and rotting fruit were supplied for the butterflies’ sustenance. According to the Tate’s description of the piece, “the themes of life and death as well as beauty and horror are highlighted, dualities that are prevalent in much of the artist’s work.”

However, the combination of the contained, humid environment and visitor traffic made it impossible for the butterflies to sustain their natural life cycles. Many of them were injured when brushed off visitor’s clothing or trampled while standing on the ground; dead butterflies were quickly taken away by the security staff on duty. Each week approximately 400 live butterflies were added to exhibition to maintain the visual effect Hirst had envisioned.

Butterfly expert Luke Brown was hired at “considerable cost,” according to Hirst in The Daily Mail, and supplied the exhibition with select members of the Nymphalida family. They were chosen on account of their somber colors, ability to survive on rotting fruit alone, and relatively long lifespan—typically nine months in the wild. However, most of Hirst’s butterflies did not make it past a few days or even a few hours.

The exhibition is being heralded as a butterfly massacre. A spokesman for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals told The Telegraph, “Damien Hirst’s quest to be edgy is as boring as it is callous. It does not matter whether Hirst killed the animals himself or sat by while thousands of them were massacred for his own unjustifiable amusement.” In a public statement, Hirst defended his installation and said, “Perfect living conditions were replicated and this resulted in many butterflies enjoying longer lifespans due to the high quality of the environment and food provided.” — MEF

Brussels' Big Day
It’s been a rough year for the European Union (EU): a debt crisis, austerity measures, talk of breaking up.  But Eurocrats woke up to some good news on Friday, October 12. The EU had won big. Eight million Swedish Kroner and the respect of monetary unions the world over. The Nobel Peace Prize was theirs. Finally, the Norwegian Nobel Committee had recognized Europe’s tireless work towards “the advancement of peace and reconciliation, democracy, and human rights in Europe.”

No, Norway is not a member of the EU. Yes, Alfred Nobel was Swedish. All other Nobel prizes are awarded by Academic institutions in Stockholm, but the Norwegian Nobel Committee, appointed by Norwegian Parliament, awards the Peace Prize.

After what should have been a wild night in Brussels, the seat of the EU, some Eurocrat realized that, well, this was a little awkward. Who would win the free trip to Norway? Who would get the honor of accepting the prize on behalf of the EU’s twenty-seven member states? Who would get to thank their mother in the acceptance speech?

In 2005, the last time the prize was awarded to a group, it was to the International Atomic Energy Agency. That time the Norwegian Nobel Committee was considerate enough to also give it to Mohamed El Baradei, then the Director General of the agency. This time around they copped out, leaving the EU on its own to decide who will accept the prize in Norway on December 10.

A week after it was awarded the prize, the EU announced that it would be sending three members to Oslo—the Presidents of the three main legislative branches of the EU: the European Commission, the European Council, and the European Parliament. This, like a hyphenated last name, only delays the pained discussion—who will give the speech?  Will it be Commission President Jose-Manuel Barroso, European Council President Herman Van Rompuy or Parliament President Martin Schulz? The Independent is eager to find out. — JJ