Flyers reportedly urging people to “kill stray cats”, which earned the ire of animal welfare groups and online readers over the weekend, were revealed to be taken out of context, TODAY reports. It was part of a satirical performance-exhibition against evil acts by art collective Vertical Submarine, which was commissioned by the Singapore Kindness Movement (SKM) for the recently concluded Singapore Night Festival.The art collective issued a statement on its Facebook page clarifying the flyer - of which an image of a sample circulated on social media on Sunday - was taken out of context and was part of a series of flyers highlighting other similarly evil actions as part of the piece Eville.
“The flyers were not distributed to the public for the purpose of advocacy but scattered as part of the performance. We do not advocate or condone the killing of stray cats. On the contrary, we are pleased that the issue of cat abuse is highlighted,” said the group’s statement.
It was issued after animal welfare groups like Cat Welfare Society (CWS), SPCA Singapore and Voices For Animals had posted the image on their respective Facebook pages, drawing criticisms from online readers.
CWS and SPCA have since apologised for presenting the flyer without the context of the exhibition and both groups have said they would like to work with the organisations and groups involved to highlight the issue of community cats to a wider public.
CWS however also pointed out how the flyer “has hit a very raw nerve” since it has “come out at a time when cat abuse cases have increased in frequency”. Recently, there was also news of a Housing And Development Board (HDB) notice listing the option of surgically debarking dogs to deal with excessive dog barking. It had drawn the ire of animal welfare groups, which prompted HDB to take down the notice and apologise.
CWS chief executive Joanne Ng told TODAY: “We feel that it would be a good opportunity to turn this into something positive. The more awareness about animal welfare and abuse, the better people will be informed. We can perhaps collectively collaborate and come up with something that can appeal to the wider public.”
She also suggested that more information to inform audiences that it was a public performance would have perhaps been better. “For future public performances of such context, it would be good to provide a one-liner at the bottom of the flyer to inform anyone who may pick it up from the floor and be informed it’s part of an art performance.”
TODAY understands that the flyers were part of a bigger, interactive performance that was mainly held inside art gallery Artspace222 at Queen Street over the two weekends of the festival. Titled Eville, it included the enigmatic presence of a man tied to a chair at outside the building to welcome audiences to the main exhibition space upstairs. It has a narrative backstory of a so-called murderer who is caught, killed and stuffed inside a duffel bag which “transforms” into the flyers that are thrown out of the window and onto the street where the tied man is. The flyers, acting like the complete opposite of the biblical 10 Commandments, also included immoral instructions like lying to parents, committing adultery and cheating clients.
The flyer on stray cats explains how “charitable elderly lonely widows” spend a total of S$6.6m on cat food and supplies, which could be spent on themselves. These were signed by a so-called Red Herring Conservation Society. The term “red herring” is an idiom referring to something that distracts or misleads people from important issues.
In the statement, Vertical Submarine added: “As part of the Eville exhibition at the Singapore Night Festival, the flyers and other Eville exhibits explore the theme of evilness and depict several acts of evil happening in our society. Satirical didactics were used throughout the show with the intention to provoke reflection within the arch of the Eville exhibition. The flyers were one such device and this would have been clear if the exhibition had been viewed in its entirety, rather than looking at one flyer outside of its context.”
The SKM also weighed in. A spokesperson told TODAY: “We wish to assure concerned individuals who were exposed to the edited versions of the flyer circulating on social media that neither we, nor Vertical Submarine, in any way condone violence towards animals, or any of the other topics that were touched on during the exhibition.”
The SKM spokesperson added: “Eville was an exhibition about the evilness that can exist in our society, from animal abuse to adultery and even ‘small evils’ like littering or wastage. If you had been at the exhibition, you would have been taken on a journey through some horrific and terrifying experiences, before being invited to reflect on what you saw, and how you reacted to them. The artists’ intention was to ask of participants their own stands on evil, whether they would participate in or reject these notions, through the use of satire and horror.
“We were aware of what was being proposed and executed. We believed then, as we still do, that the exhibition as a whole would encourage audiences to spend some time reflecting on these issues.”
As an arts collective, Vertical Submarine is widely known for its use of satire, sarcasm, dark humour and fictional situations in their works. In 2009, the group won the Presidents Young Talents Award for the playful installation A View With A Room at the Singapore Art Museum (SAM). Another installation, Flirting Point, was a critique of Singapore as a restrictive society that needed a designated area for human interaction. Its 2011 theatre production, titled Dust: A Recollection, talked about the lives of ordinary Singaporeans in a derelict flat.
This is not the first time it has presented at the Night Festival. In 2010, the group organised the tongue-in-cheek site-specific production Abusement Park at SAM, which transformed the museum’s outdoor space into a morbid carnival of sorts.