Earlier this year Dutch artist Tinkebell stood trial together with the director of a gallery for the alleged torturing of animals. She’d created an artwork involving a little under a hundred hamsters in so-called hamsterballs. According to her it was a commentary on the many people on YouTube posting video’s of their pets in these playthings. She got sued because according to some the hamsters had spent too long in the balls, leading to severe fatigue. The sanitary conditions of the balls and the pens they were kept in were below standards too. She was acquitted on January 21, but Tinkebell – who is no stranger to controversy, she once killed her pet cat to turn it into a handbag – has said that if her conviction would have lead to a ban on hamster balls, she would still be satisfied.
All of which gets me thinking about the complicated nature of our relationship with animals. No-one can deny that watching a hamster move around inside one of those balls is quite entertaining. (A hamster ball combined with Strandbeest-inspired legs is even more fun.) One is tempted to think the same applies to the hamster inside. We imagine what it must be like to be the hamster inside the ball, and consider that to be pretty awesome. Cirque du Soleil anyone? But how much of that is projection and how much is real? When we play with our pets we anthropomorphize them.
How would that apply to animals we don’t keep as pets? I’ve been involved with a project codenamed Buta at the Design for Playful Impact research group at the Utrecht School of the Arts. (Hubbub is an ‘industry partner’ of the group, doesn’t that sound impressive?) The project is about investigating new ways of play between people and pigs that are raised for meat. Those animals are incredibly invisible to us, even though there’s tons of them in the country. I am curious how our perception of them changes once we find out (as I did over the course of a few play sessions at a pig farm) that these are incredibly clever animals, you can have as much fun playing with them as with your pet dog. I’m not saying that should stop you from consuming pig meat. (Although it might. It hasn’t with me though.) But it would certainly change your relationship to them. It’s like Jules says to Vincent in Pulp Fiction: “Personality goes a long way.”