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1990: Saving Sniffy

In the 1960s, police busted a gallery owner for an installation of nudes. More recently, when an artist filmed a cat being killed and eaten, the artist was locked up. Even if the country's definition of obscenity has transformed over time, for decades the debate has stayed the same: Is art censorship an act thwarting obscenity or an Orwellian control?

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A 25-kilogram concrete block, suspended above a canvas, awaits Sniffy the Rat. The furry, brown and white rat faces a morbid death as part of Vancouver artist Rick Gibson's performance art piece. The public execution is planned to take place in front of the Vancouver library today, where Sniffy will be flattened between the canvas and another one attached to the bottom of the concrete block.

Gibson says Sniffy, a pet store rat, is better off going this way rather than his likely fate of slow and painful reptile consumption. But Vancouverites are outraged and try to stop the performance. They swarm the artist and one man whacks Gibson on the head with the heel of his hand, yelling, "They should drop a brick on your head!"
• Gibson was never able to go through with squishing Sniffy. An animal rights group stole the concrete blocks from his van and an angry and violent crowd of 300 persuaded Gibson to return Sniffy to the pet store unharmed.
• When Gibson first announced what he intended to do for his performance art he said that after dropping the concrete block he would peel apart the canvases to create a diptych, two paintings thematically linked on separate panels.

• One woman reacting to Gibson's art said it's "like taking someone who's going to be killed and saying I'm going to kill them, too."
• A trend of violent performance art developed in the United States and in Europe. In 1971, for his installation Shoot, artist Chris Burden persuaded a friend to shoot him in the arm. For other exhibits, Burden has dragged himself across broken glass, has been crucified and nearly electrocuted.
Medium: Television
Program: The National
Broadcast Date: Jan. 6, 1990
Host: Knowlton Nash
Reporter: Karen Webb
Duration: 2:12

Last updated: February 28, 2014

Page consulted on April 29, 2014

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