Southern Oregon University adjunct professor Shawn Busse probably did not imagine his art exhibit featuring nine half-gallon fishbowls, each containing a single goldfish, placed atop concrete pillars would receive as much attention as it has. But then he probably did not imagine animal rights activists Barbara Rosen’s reaction when she came across the exhibit on a day when a few of the fish had died.
According to a news story in the Mail Tribune,
Soon after Busse’s work opened on May 2, animal rights activist Barbara Rosen happened on the display.
Some of the fish — originally sold as food for larger aquarium fish — were floating belly up in their bowls. Overwhelmed with emotion, Rosen left the museum and cried.
“To me, it’s frivolous,” she said. I love art. I’ve seen every art exhibit there. When art causes living creatures to suffer, that’s where I draw the line. Freedom of expression ends right there, as far as I’m concerned.
After that Rosen began protesting outside the museum almost daily holding a sign reading, “Stop the Animal Torture.” She has also been gathering signatures on a petition to ask the museum to ban live animals in its exhibits.
The goldfish originally had a pretty high mortality rate because the water in their bowls was only being cleaned weekly. Now, however, the fish bowls are being cleaned daily and the fish are housed in an aerated, filtered tank when the museum is closed. SOU biologist Michael Parker told The Associated Press that it is his judgment that the fish are being properly cared for.
Which, of course, has done little to deter Rosen. In June, according to the Associated Press, she “put on a yellow fish costume this week and imitated a dying fish in front of the museum.”
The University also issued a statement denying some of Rosen’s claims about the exhibit. The Associated Press reported,
An animal rights protester has incorrectly stated that the purpose of the exhibit is for the fish to die,” the university’s statement said.
Moreover, SOU officials said “the issue has been sensationalized by comments about ‘death chambers’ and ‘internment camps.’ The implication that fish are being intentionally mistreated or killed is inappropriate and incorrect.
Dead goldfish spark art museum protests. Jennifer Nitson, Mail Tribune, June 6, 2003.
Goldifsh protests escalate at Oregon university art exhibit. The Associated Press, June 14, 2003.