Wherever I look, it is There: The Suffering of Animals // Orna Rinat
photo credit: Revital Topiol
Translation: Yael Nussbaum
There is a video of the birth of a lamb in the hull of a ship that carries the live shipments. His mother delivers him at sea, on a deck covered in excrement, among thousands of sheep that pant heavily due to the heat and the lack of air. Into that inferno a soft little baby is born, and they both do everything that is done when a baby is born. She licks him gently, and he gets up, trying to stand on wobbly legs. She stands beside him, trying to hide him, her gaze filled with fear and tension, but she’s his entire world and he feels safe, suckling her pure milk in the heaps of feces, among the living and the dead, and then he lays down and falls asleep.
“That lamb has no chance of survival, he will disappear without a sound,” the caption reads. What was that mother thinking, having such a fragile baby on the way to the slaughterhouse, how will she protect him when faced with the most sophisticated and merciless species on earth? How he stood on his legs and looked out at the world for the first time, and when he was filmed for the last time he lay alone in the hull of the ship that made its way to the next stop in the chain of torture. And the Minister of Agriculture will say the conditions on the boats are good, and the importer Ran De Levy will claim that the animal rights activists are liars, the Prime Minister will write a Facebook post about how deeply he was touched, and Eyal Shani and Sagi Cohen will rhapsodize about the tenderness of his flesh.
In another clip we can see a very skinny polar bear that can barely drag himself to the trash can in an effort to scrounge up something to eat. Slowly and laboriously he tries to walk back and lays down, his eyes shutting slowly, and it is obvious that he’s given up. The bear, filmed in North Canada, apparently died only a few hours after being captured on film .With the sea no longer freezing due to global warming, an increasing number of bears are starving to death, and coming to areas populated by humans to try and eat from the trash cans.
I thought about the lamb and the bear when I saw the artist Shira Glezerman’s exhibit (curator: Ravit Harari), currently on display at the P8 gallery in Tel Aviv. In chilling silence, the invisible victims of the human race are spread out on the gallery walls, trying desperately to cling to the uprooted remnants of beauty in a world that has been pillaged of its life, its light, and its warmth. It is a cinematic panorama of images and objects that eternalizes, like a frozen movement, the last breaths of a beautiful world where nothing can ever be born again.
A petrifying chill arises from this world, which is set out in black paper cuttings that have been arranged on the white walls with an awe-inspiring gentleness, precision and devotion. The installation is so jolting and admirable because of the juxtaposition between the coldness of death – which has already spread among the animals trying to cling to the branches of uprooted trees, like that baby who clung to his dead mother’s breast after the atom bomb was dropped on Hiroshima – and the knowledge that only a tormenting sense of compassion and a fierce love for any living being could fuel the strengths needed to gather them all: the calves that quietly disappeared, the starving whales, the bird who tries to fly but can no longer spread her wings, and to bring them so gently to us as representatives of those billions who starve and die by the minute, who dream their lost lives in the monochromatic silence.
With the precision of a scientist, Glezerman took the dry descriptions of earth’s condition as we have caused it, and with the passion of a poet she has turned it into an elegy for the tormented and dying children of the earth and the sea, animals and humans. A dreamlike nuance still hovers above them all: over the cows marching to their deaths, the girl wearing the gas mask who swings on a swing tied to a sawed-off branch, the chimpanzee trying to swing among the trees on branches that have become cables. Within the dead world surrounding them, they are still so alive, their yearning is still there, but amongst them is Death: the silhouette of man, erect, holding a gun or a chainsaw.
It takes a lot of discipline and psychological resilience to create such an accurate, comprehensive and imaginary portrayal of a dying world, to see them in the throes of death and ask them to come one last time to the “Garden of Earthly Delights” (as the installation is called, inspired by the triptych by Hieronymus Bosch describing heaven and hell) we have created for them, in order to show us the ruins of the beautiful wonder we have destroyed.
This is not a fictitious description of an apocalypse. In the “map” accompanying the exhibit there is a list of the facts and data behind the images: global warming, fires, declining river levels, floods, ruin of ecosystems and extinction of species, deforestation, air, sea, and water pollution and more. The primary causes for all these are the oil and coal companies – Western governments pay them trillions per year – and the meat industry, which is responsible for 20% of greenhouse gas emissions and for the loss of 1/3 of the land on earth, used for growing feed for farm animals or for pasture. These are driven by a cruel capitalist economy along with a culture of greedy consumerism that has lost its sense of morality or compassion.
Tremendous financial interests and human desires are always overtly more important than the lives of a lamb, an elephant, a chimpanzee or a bee, and covertly more important than the lives of humans, the weak and poor of whom are already paying the price of global warming, loss of land and air pollution. “What prevents us from taking action to stop the climate catastrophe is capitalism,” says scientist Mayer Hillman in a recent interview with “The Guardian”. Hillman thinks that humanity has passed the point of no return, and that Earth, including its humans, is doomed. He does not believe, for example, that the air travel industry will be dismantled, or that humans will agree to zero emissions in agriculture by becoming vegetarians.
However, scientists’ warnings, such as articles about another species becoming extinct or an investigation of animal abuse in the farm factory industry, usually end up on the back pages of the newspaper. Even Left-wing organizations allegedly responsible for protecting the weak and the neglected, still consider the battle for the environment in general, and specifically the struggle for animal rights, a type of indulgent luxury.
Glezerman connects the farm animals we slaughter by the billions, the wild animals we exterminate by the billions, and the destruction of our own homes – and it’s no coincidence. She does so not only because the meat industry is one of the primary sources of destruction of the environment, or because the lamb and the polar bear who died in agony or the indigenous tribes that lost their lands are all victims of merciless human capitalism; unlike environmental organizations, zoologists and the nature authorities who consider the polar bear an important component in “biodiversity” but like most humans, even the most radically enlightened, do not address a moral value to the lives and suffering of animals as individuals – the link between the slaughtered cows in Glezerman’s work and the extinct wild animals is not only an ecological connection. The main and deepest connection, from which everything originates and to which everything returns, is the animals themselves, each and every one of them, their own consciousness, and their own death.
The depiction of the cows hanging with their tongues lolling attests to the agony they suffered in death, and cannot solely be a protest against the meat industry’s ecological damage. It is a protest against the suffering we impose on each and every one of the animals, every one of whom is a world unto themselves, and the cables woven among the branches of the uprooted trees cannot but protest the large prison we have built for animals, and for ourselves by doing so, and a prison cannot but take away freedom, and freedom belongs only to individual creatures in possession of souls.
And when viewing this wonderful work, I could not help but remember what animal rights activist Santiago Gomez once wrote here: “‘First we’ll stop wrongdoings among humans,’ both sides of the fence call out, Jew and Arab, capitalist and refugee, ‘and then we’ll have time for the cattle.’ But the progression of human crimes against each other is immortal, boundless, fed by the energy and urges of human civilization. Thus their proposal is not a proposal at all, but a surrender rooted in forgetfulness. I feel this no longer. Wherever I look, there they are, an empty outline, bound or imprisoned or laying in their blood. The sliced veins of a world that grasps them in its slow suicide that delivers their death at every street corner, in the distraction of financial violence. I no longer feel entitled to shrink the glory of creation, in all its variety of breaths, into the one single consistent beat of a heart that discriminates blood from blood.”