Sun Yuan and Peng Yu’s video, “Dogs That Cannot Touch Each Other,” was scheduled to be displayed at the Guggenheim Museum in New York in October 2017. The seven minute video depicts eight American pit bulls harnessed to eight treadmills. The treadmills are operating at a fast speed and people stand around them prompting the dogs to keep running faster. Four of the tethered dogs on treadmills are placed directly opposite from four opposing dogs on their individual treadmills. The dogs are continually lunging and growling at each other as if they had been placed in a dog fighting pit. It appears that these dogs had been previously used in dog fights, as the viewers can see scars on their faces. Although the animals could not reach each other and actually fight, they nonetheless appeared extremely agitated and tormented by the artist’s staged, constant tease of a possible dog fight.
Over 600,000 people signed a petition demanding that the Guggenheim Museum pull the video from the show because they opposed the animal cruelty. However, while the Guggenheim Museum did refrain from showing the video, they did not do so because of the animal cruelty depiction. Rather, the Museum reluctantly pulled the artwork from the upcoming exhibition because they were concerned with potential violence by the protesters against other viewers at the museum. Citing its commitment to freedom of expression and freedom of art from censorship, the museum wanted to display the piece.
There always will be challenges balancing freedom of expression and censorship along with who should be the decision maker, what is moral, and the influence of conflicting cultural norms on society. However, my opinion in this situation is unwavering. I think that it is entirely inhumane to force the dogs into a situation that amplifies fear among the animals. In response to those individuals who claim that this is just a matter of free speech, my rebuttal is simple. I strongly encourage Sun Yuan and Peng Yu (the artists), Ai Weiwei (an artist who spoke in support of displaying this artwork), the Guggenheim Museum, and anyone else who believes that this is humane, to put their own self on display. I welcome you to take the spot of the dogs, to be forced onto a treadmill that is operated at a fast speed, and to be in a situation where you are forced to look straight into the eyes of something you fear. Go ahead and use yourself for conceptual art and free speech, but I do not agree with involving animals, especially ones who do not have the ability to object.