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Philosophy of the Arts

new art forms

A case of Immoral Art

Kristian von Hornsleth, Danish artist, devised The Hornsleth Village Project Uganda: “The Hornsleth Village Project Uganda saw every individual in a village change their name to Hornsleth, in a simple exchange for a pig or a goat, and outrage ensued.”

…donating sheep to poor Africans on condition that they assume your name…

I was told about this case by a colleague from the Bergen National Academy of the Arts, in Norway. Hornsleth’s artistic gesture has a clear immoral aspect to it: how can you demand someone to take on your name for a gift, any gift for that matter? Would I do it when they promised me a million euros?—I don’t think so.
Yet the gesture also refers to conditions wealthy Western and Asian countries put on the receivers of donations, and, surely, Hornsleth hasn’t done anything truly immoral, has he? The villagers contributed of their own free will, and they were “payed” for partaking. And the name Hornsleth was only added to their original names—which means it was merely adding more history to the person.

According to my definition, this is a case of Immoral Art: the event stirs our moral intuitions without being immoral. And there is something there to experience perceptually. It would pay off artistically to visit the village and see the new Hornsleths. Yet, a nagging question remains: should we look upon a person—the villagers—as a work of art?

(Thanks to Søren Kjørup)

2 Responses to “A case of Immoral Art”

  1. rob

    I distinguish Immoral Art as an art form comparable to painting, sculpture, literature or music, that is characterised by the phenomenology of its appreciation, which typically involves the application of materials that, up to now were deemed unavailable to artists on moral grounds.
    And I don’t think anything happening in name of art practice can be immoral. What is immoral cannot for that reason be art. (Or so I argued in 2004).

    2004. “Ethical Autonomism. The Work of Art as a Moral Agent.” Contemporary Aesthetics, vol. 2. (here)

  2. Ryan Thompson

    I am unsure as to how this could be considered “immoral art.” It depends on the manifested attitude that the work itself prescribes. For example, is Hornsleth advocating the unfair restrictions placed upon countries which receive aid? Or is he trying to show that such restrictions are in-fact wrong?

    Of course it is tough enough as it is to try separate the truly immoral artworks from the ones which merely contain morally dubious material in clear-cut cases of art such as literature. To try and discern the manifested attitude of an artwork (if it is truly an artwork) such as Hornsleth’s would be a controversial process to say the least.

    Very interesting case though!

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