After a Social Media Outcry, Adel Abdessemed’s Video of Flaming Chickens Is Withdrawn From a French Exhibition

MAC Lyon stresses that no birds were harmed when the artist made the work, which in fact denounces the mistreatment of animals.

Adel Abdessemed, Spring (2013). Photo: ©Adagp Paris-2018, courtesy MAC Lyon.

A controversial video by the Algerian artist Adel Abdessemed that shows a row of flaming chickens hanging by their feet has been removed from public view at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MAC) in Lyon, France, after social media outrage erupted over the “cruel” work.

The video, titled Spring, was included in the exhibition “The Antidote,” which opened on March 8 and will run until July 8 at MAC Lyon. The video—prefaced with a warning and shown in a separate room—employed special cinematic effects to create the impression that the chickens were on fire, but did not in fact harm the animals.

In fact, according to the museum, the video is intended to shine a critical light on animal cruelty. The museum describes the work as “an allegory for all violence, notably that inflicted on animals, which [Abdessemed] continues to denounce in many of his works and interviews.” 

Nevertheless, the shocking footage provoked strong reactions both on- and offline from animal rights activists and animal lovers. In a tweet, journalist and activist Aymeric Caron asked the museum: “How dare you endorse animal torture?” 

The museum has explained that the video was made in Morocco with a team of special effects technicians who work to create safe “flames.” Abdessemed has also used the same effect on himself in the past for his work I Am Innocent.

To create the video on view in Lyon, the chickens were subjected to the safe effect for about three seconds under strictly controlled conditions to avoid any suffering. The three seconds of footage was then shown on a loop for the installation.

Despite the information that was provided on the actual conditions of the realization of the work, social networks then the press went wild on the basis of incomplete, and in fact deceptive, information,” the museum said in a statement.

Adel Abdessemed, I am innocent. Image courtesy MAC Lyon.

As a result of the controversy, Abdessemed consulted with the museum and ultimately decided to remove the work. The artist declined to comment on the matter to artnet News.

In its statement yesterday, the museum called the media persecution of Abdessemed an “unfair trial” and explained the decision to remove the work. “The artist hopes that art will become the focus of the exhibition again, and that the indignant reactions prompted by animal mistreatment are applied not to the art that denounces it by showing it artificially, but to its real agents.”

The exhibition features around 40 works that address issues ranging from forced labor to women’s rights. 

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