Archive for Saturday, February 18, 2012

Controversy swirls around artist’s plans for project detailing the life — and death — of chickens

A Kansas University artist's plans to display a traveling chicken coop - and then slaughter its residents - has generated some controversy.

A Kansas University artist's plans to display a traveling chicken coop - and then slaughter its residents - has generated some controversy.

February 18, 2012, 3:35 p.m. Updated February 18, 2012, 5:32 p.m.


It’s an art project that’s certainly ruffled some feathers.

“The Story of Chickens: A Revolution” is set to begin with an unveiling of a mobile chicken coop. That coop will be placed — with five live birds inside — in various locations across Lawrence for the public to see the chickens and “get to know them,” said Amber Hansen, the artist behind the project who also is a Kansas University lecturer.

It ends with a public-invited slaughter and a potluck dinner with the chickens on the menu.

Hansen said it’s designed to get people thinking about the origins of food and the disconnect urban dwellers have when eating meat, allowing “viewers to witness an event that takes place every day, but we don’t often see.”

“It’s a community-based project in order to generate dialogue,” she said.

But some animal rights activists oppose the means of generating that conversation.

The story

Hansen grew up on a farm, “raising animals — some as pets, some for consumption, we cared for them equally,” she said. “The Story of Chickens” came after she left, went to art school and “began to feel disconnected” with her food.

Hansen said the coop will be displayed during next month’s Final Fridays event at the Percolator, located in the alley behind the Lawrence Arts Center near Ninth and New Hampshire streets. Anyone is invited to contribute art and poetry exploring humans’ relationship with animals to the Percolator space.

Then the coop, with chickens, will be displayed at several open spaces in Lawrence — Hansen is still working out exactly where — for people to observe them and for that collective conversation to take place.

During the display portion, “volunteers and community members alike will become guardians of the chickens as they share in the opportunity of caring for the birds,” according to the project’s artist statement. Initial plans had stated the birds would be slaughtered by local farmer Hank Will and prepared by restaurant staff at 715.

But Matt Hyde, manager of 715, said the restaurant will not be involved.

“We wish (Hansen) well with her project. She’s a talented artist and a wonderful person, but we’re a restaurant and wanted to focus on that,” Hyde said.

The project is one of 10 outside-of-museum works from Kansas and Missouri artists who won a juried grant from the Andy Warhol Foundation for Visual Arts’ Rocket Grants, which is supported by Kansas City’s Charlotte Street Foundation and KU’s Spencer Museum of Art.

The controversy

Cassandra Smyers, co-president of Lawrence’s Compassion for All Animals group, compared the project to one famous to animal rights activists: a South American exhibit of a stray dog chained inside a museum.

She said the group appreciates the potential for the conversation that project would generate but thinks the approach is all wrong.

“We understand the intent behind it is to show an alternative to factory farming,” Smyers said. “But it’s divorced from that intent. The community won’t get relationships with these chickens, and they’ll just be stressed.”

The group plans to write Hansen with alternative ideas for the project, including choosing to hold a vegan potluck and using pictures of live chickens instead.

“They shouldn’t be put through this just so we can have food for thought,” she said.

As of Saturday, the Spencer Museum of Art’s Facebook page had nearly 200 comments on a post expressing appreciation for “the thoughtful dialogue generated” by the project.

The national Farm Sanctuary group sent a letter to Hansen and the Spencer, signed by director Bruce G. Friedrich.

“While we completely support your kind depiction of your chickens as ‘beautiful and unique’ (they surely are), and while we appreciate your goal of helping people to break out of their ‘disconnection from the consequences of consuming meat,’ if you decide to confine five chickens in a coop, subject them to high-traffic areas, and then kill them, well, that would make you a part of the status quo, not a part of the chicken revolution,” the letter read.

The support

Though the Spencer didn’t have a hand in choosing the project for funding, and it won’t be performed on its grounds, director Saralyn Reece Hardy supports Hansen’s right to free expression.

“The importance of supporting artists in innovative, conversation-driving works — within the limits of the law — is one of the functions of a cultural institution,” she said, adding that the project’s detractors have thus far been respectful.

She said the project’s “The Story of Chickens” allows people to “have the opportunity to engage in a conversation, almost on a daily basis, where people really care.”

“What’s coming up are discussions about food production but also about art that takes place in the community,” she said. “These are very complex, contemporary issues.”

As Hansen continues to prepare the project, the rest of “The Story of Chickens” remains to be told.

She’s soft-spoken, pauses often when talking about her work and “thinks deeply,” as Hardy put it. She shies away from the controversy itself and focuses on the positives of getting people thinking about food and treating animals humanely.

“It’s a community-based project,” Hansen said when asked about what she would say to detractors. “It’s meant to generate dialogue.”


George_Braziller 6 years, 2 months ago

I think people should understand where their food comes from, Those Chicken McNuggets didn't just magically appear in the freezer case.

I helped slaughter some chickens when I was a kid and couldn't eat any for a few years. Once you've scalded them so you can pick out the feathers it's a smell you'll never forget.

StirrrThePot 6 years, 2 months ago

"I think people should understand where their food comes from, Those Chicken McNuggets didn't just magically appear in the freezer case."

Agreed! Our society has completely lost sight of this--some of us never had sight of this.

'I helped slaughter some chickens when I was a kid and couldn't eat any for a few years. Once you've scalded them so you can pick out the feathers it's a smell you'll never forget.'

My mother went through this as well--also, my grandmother is 96 and refuses to eat fried chicken some 50+ years after her farming days ended.

irvan moore 6 years, 2 months ago

i think the term artist is being is being used pretty darn loosely here

JustNoticed 6 years, 2 months ago

Of course, the term, the concept, the practice - all of art continues to grow. It's not about decoration.

christy kennedy 6 years, 2 months ago

Have you done anything creative and/or thought provoking lately? I'm just guessing but suspect you don't know anything (outside of this chicken thing) about this woman or her skills, creations, or contributions to society? From a quick search I can tell you that she paints, draws, and is a muralist who's worked in many states. Looks talented to me.

Eugehne Normandin 6 years, 2 months ago

Five chickens certainly will not feed the world. good point made by sierraclub

KSWingman 6 years, 2 months ago

She may not feed the world, but this is art I can sink my teeth into!

Fresh fried chicken, mashed potatoes, and country gravy. Green beans with bacon, pinto beans and cornbread. Ice cold beer. Apple crisp with vanilla ice cream, and coffee. A good cigar and bourbon on the porch as the sun sets.


Jean Robart 6 years, 2 months ago

she felt disconnected with her food...?

blindrabbit 6 years, 2 months ago

Some the best pets I had as a kid were my small flock of chickens. After I got them and named them they lived out their lives. I want to get some more, but strictly for a free ranged life producing a few eggs.

dah 6 years, 2 months ago

anybody that thinks eating chicken is the same as the old days is sadly mistaken. these animals are treated horribly in some places. they are raised way too quickly & fed amphetamines. what you are eating is absolutely grose. those chicken tenders you want to praise or those 'poppers' at Mcdumbells are nothing but garbage. see the website-meet your meat'. you will be sickened.

RoeDapple 6 years, 2 months ago

How . . how . . barbaric! Why don't Amber just go to HyVee and buy some chickens from the meat counter so no harm will come to these poor defenseless animals?

Darrell Lea 6 years, 2 months ago

As a young Boy Scout, my brother went on an camping trip that involved a lesson like the one described in the article. On the way to the campsite, the troop leader stopped by a rural Missouri chicken stand. The Scouts were to each select a live chicken that they would kill the old fashioned way, by snapping its neck. They would then slaughter the birds and prepare them for roasting over a fire. Those who didn't kill a chicken would go hungry that night.

My brother was the only one who couldn't choke his chicken that night. He went hungry until the following evening. Needless to say, his mother wasn't the least bit pleased about this, and complained loudly to the troop leader the next chance she got.

True story.

irvan moore 6 years, 2 months ago

thank you, i wondered how we would work that in

Ken Lassman 6 years, 2 months ago

Hooray for Amber! Pictures instead of the real thing? Gimme a break. Can you tell the difference between a friend face-to-face and a picture of him/her? A lot of folks probably have never been face to face with a real living chicken and I think if this is a chaperoned encounter where no teasing is allowed, then it will not harm the chickens and will definitely make an impression that is very, very important between a real animal and another animal who eats that animal.

I was raised on a farm and had to cut the heads off our chickens, and it was an important existential lesson for me to see exactly how I live at the expense of another life. This is true for vegetarians too, by the way. And it also gives me the right to discuss this intelligently with others in the same way as my voting gives me the right to complain and compliment our politicians. The more folks who see where their food comes from, the better. I'm cool with vegetarians and meat eaters alike as long as they've had the honest experience of raising the food that they eat.

Megan Willesen 6 years, 2 months ago

Amber Hansen's attempt to connect the public to their food sources is cruel and misguided. The great majority of chicken meat sold in this country (and many others) is the result of intensive factory-farming that kills billions of chickens each year. Her project does nothing to depict large-scale farming conditions and instead perpetuates the notion that the slaughter of chickens is an inevitable (and "natural") part of their life cycle while billions of people who eschew the consumption of chickens know that such cruelties are easily avoided. If Hansen wishes to connect with her food and encourage others to do so, she should instead promote Farm Sanctuary's Adopt-a-Farm-Animal program (

Ken Lassman 6 years, 2 months ago

You're missing the message. Her message is not about the horrors of confinement operations, rather it is the wisdom of raising your own chickens for your own consumption. Like I said, it's one of the smartest things my folks did for us kids. I'm not defending confinement animal operations of any kind and I daresay that Amber is quietly pointing out the alternative: stop buying your chicken and other meat from those places and instead either raise your own or support a local farmer who either sells it at the farmer's market or sells it direct.

Your suggestion about connecting with your food is off-topic as well; I believe the farm sanctuary folks would be horrified if you got one of their animals for butchering.

Megan Willesen 6 years, 2 months ago

Doug, under no circumstances am I advocating for the slaughter and consumption of any animal. Farm Sanctuary's adopt-an-animal program is a sponsorship where a reoccurring fee is used to care for a rescued farm animal at one of the Farm Sanctuary locations. The donor does not receive the actual animal, but instead receives a picture of the animal and information such as his/her name, age, rescue details, friends at the farm, preferences, etc.

Ken Lassman 6 years, 2 months ago

That's why your recommendation is tangential to what this artist appears to be trying to do, which is reconnecting individuals to the food they eat. By her putting chickens on display and then eating them, she is reconnecting the animal with the meat that many folks eat in the same way as planting a garden reconnects folks to the fact that their vegetables come from the soil. Your suggestion to support rescue farm animals does not do this at all and therefore is not a good alternative to what the artist is exploring.

dogsandcats 6 years, 2 months ago

Billions? Can you back that up? As far as I can find, world-wide vegetarianism is estimated around 6% which would come out to millions, yes. Billions? No.

kernal 6 years, 2 months ago

If dah's website is too much for you, at least watch Food, Inc.

verity 6 years, 2 months ago

We didn't torture our livestock before we killed it.

I'm pretty sure those chickens have no interest in getting to know the public. Animals do get stressed when in situations they're not used to.

Want to feel "connected" to your food? Plant a garden, go visit a farm---or visit a commercial feedlot. Now that can turn a person into a vegetarian real fast and not necessarily because of ethics. If you've been around one, you know what I mean.

GUMnNUTS 6 years, 2 months ago

I am a proud member of PETA (people eating tasty animals) and think this is a great idea! Save me a leg.

beatrice 6 years, 2 months ago

This is a stunt to raise awareness, but it isn't art. Just stopping to think about something doesn't elevate the experience to art.

There are a lot of things in our daily lives that we don't stop to think where they come from. It all depends on where you live and what you do for a living. I mean, does Hansen know where her plastic water bottle comes from, or her electricity, or what happens when she flushes the toilet? I guess it is a good thing she didn't want to know where here Nikes come from. Making a little sweat-shop that travels around town with third-world children in it working 12 hour days for a couple of dollars would probably make a bigger stink, although hopefully it wouldn't end in a slaughter.

If I wanted to know where my french fries come from, I would go to France already.

A perfect cordon bleu, however -- now that is art.

Ken Lassman 6 years, 2 months ago

It's a form of street theater in my estimation. And that's art.

KrampusLawrence 6 years, 2 months ago

Art? Really? This is ridiculous. I can't help but think that everyone involved in this ridiculous stunt are in Sam Brownback's pocket. I can see no better way to push for the elimination of the Arts Commission than to do this. Thanks Amber.

I remember learning about a similar practice in history class. Back in the day prisoners would be paraded around town and then publicly executed. This went a really, really long way to eliminating crime.

beatrice 6 years, 2 months ago

"The project is one of 10 outside-of-museum works from Kansas and Missouri artists who won a juried grant from the Andy Warhol Foundation for Visual Arts’ Rocket Grants, which is supported by Kansas City’s Charlotte Street Foundation and KU’s Spencer Museum of Art."

Sorry, but it didn't involve the Arts Commission or public funds.

KrampusLawrence 6 years, 2 months ago

It didn't involve public funds. It is, however, a public display of art. This is the type of "art" that will be used by critics to demand that public funding of the arts is cut even further.

RoeDapple 6 years, 2 months ago

My neighbor and I did the original “The Story of Chickens” bout 30 years ago. Raised 240 from chicks then set up in the side yard to process them. Had a big old hackberry log standin on end with two nails an inch apart on either side of the log, could do two birds at a time. Last thing either bird saw was the other's head meeting a hatchet. We'd toss 'em out in the yard where they would seemingly chase all the preschoolers in the families, then scald 'em in a half barrel of boiling water over a fire pit. Then three tables, one for pulling feathers, one for cutting them up and one for wrapping for the freezer. From the time they lost their head to going in the freezer was 'bout 12 minutes. Even had some city folk stop and take pictures. One gal got all cranky and called us barbarians with a few unmentional adjectives throwed in.

juma 6 years, 2 months ago

Hey, Amber this is great. Don't give up or listen to the self-ritgheous about killing. And by the way, Cassandra, I hope you are not wearing leather shoes!!!???

verity 6 years, 2 months ago

Sigh. Sometimes you just want to be part of the fun and get carried away.

Lawrence Morgan 6 years, 2 months ago

This is a great concept.

But we need one project for each month, to tell - as one person said - where the I-Pod, plastic bottles, Warfarin, who takes care of the sewer, where water comes from. People today don't know where anything comes from, and often they prefer it that way.

In addition to art, it's part of "mindfulness" training and thinking in the Buddhist tradition.

Right on with your project!

gl0ck0wn3r 6 years, 2 months ago

Yes, perhaps we can have someone poop in a performance space to help us be mindful of the sewer system.

Mike Edson 6 years, 2 months ago

How is this art? This is everyday life for a good number of people. However, the intent of art is to stir an emotional reaction. I don't know exactly how I feel about this. It is a combination of curiosity to go watch the show, and giving a shoulder shrug saying this is Lawrence after all.

50YearResident 6 years, 2 months ago

When we start making "friends" with our food chain, a lot of people are going to starve to death.

pace 6 years, 2 months ago

Actually meat eaters are letting some people starve to death. Feeding grains to cattle, is an expensive harvest. I admit I like marbled steak but I am not naive of the cost.

Paul R Getto 6 years, 2 months ago

Much ado about nothing; let it rest. Sounds like a good project to me.

rtwngr 6 years, 2 months ago

Thank goodness there is no Kansas Arts Commission funding this!!

They taste like chicken, you know.

sherbert 6 years, 2 months ago

This is ridiculous and will not help in making the point she thinks she is making. Most people know and understand where their food comes from. The only people who will follow this and watch the slaughter are people who are already vegetarians and think this will help make their point. It won't. And what gives her the right to have chicken coops set up in various open places? I know chickens are legal in town, but do they mean 'private property' or open, public places? In my view SHE is the one abusing the chickens.

Ken Lassman 6 years, 2 months ago

What she is doing is actually much more humane that how most chickens are raised and butchered. Have you considered that she is showing folks a much healthier alternative to large confinement operations, i.e. raising your own or paying a local farmer to raise "free range" chickens for you?

Seems to me that her art project, which is a type of guerrilla theater that makes folks reconsider things that are normally done without consideration, and therefore legitimate art, is succeeding beyond her wildest expectations!

JackMcKee 6 years, 2 months ago

How is this not a violation of city health codes? Could I slaughter a steer on Mass street as art?

Ockhams_Razor 6 years, 2 months ago

When chicken killing is outlawed, only outlaws will kill chickens.

Ken Lassman 6 years, 2 months ago

What I find most interesting about this whole affair is how the Journal World, through its decision to showcase this project and frame it as controversial, is manipulating the artist and the public in ways that most likely would not have occurred had they not showcased it in the way they did.

Seems like what Marshall McLuhan was talking about, i.e. the medium is the message? Or was this part of the intent of the artist?

RoeDapple 6 years, 2 months ago

Nah . . . you really don't . . . parts . . . chicken . . parts . . .

kawrivercrow 6 years, 2 months ago

Just in case nobody has said it here..." you've got to break a few eggs to make an omelet."

pea 6 years, 2 months ago

I'm fairly certain that someone is going to liberate these chickens.

pace 6 years, 2 months ago

It may be a generational gap. I have seen and helped harvest chickens. I will never forget it. Some people have never seen a real chicken. That is a bizarre concept to me. Never seen a chicken? But that is true. Art is not just pretty, it can conceptualize ideas. I wish we could afford to let kids visit and know some of the realities we have lived through. Reading, art, story , media are all portals. Next you guys will want to ban stories of loss and hardship so as not to offend sensibilities.

dogsandcats 6 years, 2 months ago

Interesting that 715 is backing out. If you look at their Facebook page, they like to post pictures of severed pig heads, lamb testicles for "fries", etc. This project seems like it would be right up their alley.

beatrice 6 years, 2 months ago

I find this whole thing quite disturbing. In protest, I'm eating a steak tonight.

Clark Coan 6 years, 2 months ago

The KC Star scooped this story yesterday. A compromise is to have them lay eggs and then make omlets. Yum, yum.

RaynRavyn 6 years, 2 months ago

Not a generational gap (Pace), just a cultural one. I am in my twenties and have been helping with the butchering at the farm since I could walk... It is how you eat, err, well, how all of us "out here" eat. Chickens, rabbits, hogs, steer.... We also had/have an enormous garden. I think everyone, meat eater, vegetarian, vegan... Should be able to, personally, take there food from planting/birth to table. Even if they only do it once, and buy the rest. Everyone should know EXACTLY how their food "happens".

pace 6 years, 2 months ago

I met a grown woman once who thought potatoes grew on a bush above ground and you picked them.. I explain it was a root vegetable and she was kind of disgusted. I have slaughtered chickens, a cow, a hog, rabbits, squirrel, and carrots. The screams of the carrots haunt me to this day.

Ken Lassman 6 years, 2 months ago

Potatoes were the worst for me; with all those eyes watching you after you pulled them off the root and threw them into a pille--creeped me out, especially if they started crying.

pace 6 years, 2 months ago

Lima beans are poisonous uncooked. I agree about the potato, the eyes seem to follow you as you cross the room. My father believed eating chili and drinking milk at the same meal was very bad for you. . I love devolvement.

Ken Lassman 6 years, 2 months ago

The folks around me after I eat lima beans would concur about the lima beans being poisonous, even after they are cooked!

The eating chili and drinking milk sounds like the old Jewish taboo about eating meat and milk together soas not to offend the animal by mixing the mother's milk with the mother.

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