In 2000, the artist, Marco Evaristti, exhibited his work at the Trapholt Art Museum in Denmark.
The piece on show consisted of a row of ten kitchen blenders.
They were all filled with water and plugged into the electric sockets, ready to use.
Each blender contained two goldfish.
The goldfish were swimming happily round inside the blenders, unaware.
Members of the audience were invited to switch the blenders on if they wanted to.
No one did, of course, they just watched the goldfish swimming happily around.
But then someone leaned forward and switched one of the blenders on.
Of course, the goldfish died as everyone knew they would.
The audience gasped, they were horrified, how could anyone do such a thing?
How could the artist even think of it?
How could the art museum allow it?
In fact, the director of the museum, Peter Meyer, was prosecuted by ‘Friends of Animals’.
The police fined him 2,000 kroner, he declined to pay.
He said it was a matter of artistic freedom, the artist had a right, even a duty, to challenge conventional preconceptions.
So the case went to court.
Moulinex, the makers of the blender, testified that the fish would have died within one second of the blender being switched on.
A veterinarian testified that the fish would have died painlessly, and suffered less than they would by being caught conventionally, with a hook or a net.
Judge Preben Bagger ruled that the fish were not treated cruelly as they had not faced prolonged suffering, they were killed instantly and humanely.
So the case was dismissed.
I think the most interesting thing about the whole case for me is the hypocrisy.
How many people who were shocked at the art show were vegetarians?
How many people who were horrified by the story routinely ate meat or fish, without even thinking about it?
As long as they don’t have to see the killing, or think about it, they couldn’t care less.
They are perfectly happy to sleepwalk through life.
Which is, for me, the main message of that exhibit.
The job was to wake people up.
Shouldn’t that be our job?
Shouldn’t we be jolting people out of their unthinking, routine behaviour.
Shouldn’t we be stopping them from just walking past our poster, or fast-forwarding past our commercial, or skipping our pre-roll after 3 seconds?
Isn’t the most important job we do stopping people, making them think?
Or do we just carry on accepting the fact that no one outside of an awards jury ever even looks at advertising?
Do we accept another dull brief, another boring insight, the same old media plan, another mood-film masquerading as a commercial?
Because it’s easier to just sleepwalk through life until retirement.
We can always use the excuse that it’s tough to make someone stop and look at an ad for washing powder, or make someone notice a chocolate bar.
If we need a reason why our advertising is invisible we can make one up easily enough.
If our default position is that we don’t want to do it, then we’ll find ways to argue that it can’t be done.
And that will be the justification for the fact that no one ever looks at any of our ads.