Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg in Germany has removed a dead-fly installation by British artist Damien Hirst after complaints of animal cruelty. The animal rights organisation PETA filed a complaint to the city against the museum, claiming the installation violated German animal protection law. The installation, which is part of an exhibition titled “Power! Light!”, was composed of a glass display subdivided into two parts, one with flies hatching, and another where flies were burnt to death by a bright light. The city of Wolfsburg then requested the installation, titled “A Hundred Years (1990)”, be removed. In 2012, Hirst had a previous version of this piece in the Tate Modern art gallery in London showing a fly-covered cow’s head.

Peter Höffken, a representative of PETA Germany, said to Braunschweiger Zeitung, “Killing animals has nothing to do with art, it just shows the arrogance of people who literally will stop at nothing for their own interests.” Hirst is infamous for using real animals in his work. A 2017 Artnet article estimated he has featured nearly one million dead animals so far. Although art often explores the boundaries of what is acceptable in society, some lines should never be crossed. If such lines would not allow causing harm and death to unwilling humans for the purpose of creating an art piece, performance or installation, it should not allow it either involving other sentient beings. The excuse the museum initially gave is that they believe that flies are not covered by the Animal Welfare Act, which shows how important is that animal protection legislation is not speciesist and includes all animals, not only those closest to humans. Despite not everyone agrees, insects are sentient beings with the capacity to suffer, so they should not be treated worse than any other sentient being. The vegan ethologist Jonathan Balcombe has an entire book dedicated to flies, with a strong message about how we should respect them. 

“Originally from Catalonia, but resident in the UK for several decades, Jordi is a vegan zoologist and author, who has been involved in different aspects of animal protection for many years. In addition to scientific research, he has worked mostly as an undercover investigator, animal welfare consultant, and animal protection campaigner. He has been an ethical vegan since 2002, and in 2020 he secured the legal protection of all ethical vegans in Great Britain from discrimination in a landmark employment tribunal case that was discussed all over the world. He is also the author of the book, ‘Ethical Vegan: a personal and political journey to change the world’.