You Are What You Read

When the Ethics of Art blurs the lines of Reason, Hypocrisy, and Mass Manipulation.
By David Yanez: 5-21-2008/revized 5-20-09

Through out history Art has always walked a fine line between controversy and creativity. When has art not been controversial? Did the painters of Lascaux upset members of the clan when they depicted a penis in the shaft of the dead man? Did men complain when the Venus of Willendorf was carved without a male counterpart? Did the depiction of the human body in ancient Greece upset conservative peoples of the time? El Greco’s elongated figures must have turned a few heads in disgust. Manet’s Olympia was branded ‘Immoral’ and ‘Vulgar’. Andre Serrano’s Piss Christ was on everyone’s hate list, not to mention Chris Ofili's Holy Virgin Mary covered in elephant dung. Instances of controversy in art history are many, but when art crosses the boundaries of moral decency we cringe at the thought. One mans decency is another mans depravity. Where do we draw the line when it comes to moral decency in art? Is there a line? Can art expose both Hypocrisy and the sleep of Reason when ethics are involved? Can art be used as a medium to influence the masses?

Animals have been the subjects of art since it’s creation, but more recently although rare, live animals have been used in art. When artist Joseph Beuys used a live coyote for a performance piece called “I Like America and America Likes Me” in 1974, there were no animal rights groups protesting the taking of a wild animal and subjecting it to a stressful unfamiliar environment. The artist spent a week living with a coyote caged in a gallery eventually both learning how to co-exist with one another. His intention was to show the dynamic interactions between nature and culture which is the basis for ecological sustainability. The performance succeeded in further advancing art as a vehicle for social enlightenment.

The artist Damien Hirst presented “In and Out of Love in 1993”, where he filled a gallery with hundreds of live tropical butterflies some hatching from white canvases, feeding on sugar syrup, mating, laying eggs and dying, illustrating the brevity of life and the inevitability of death. The artist wanted to set up situations that make people try to find meaning although he says his interpretations are not important in the large scale. Regardless of his intentions the exhibit succeeded in questioning the traditional role of art as a medium needing to be mastered.

In 2003 a graffiti artist by the name of Robin Banks known as Banksy painted live animals from head to hoof in an exhibit called Turf War, and caused an animal activist to chain herself to railings surrounding a decorated cow. The animal’s conditions were approved by the RSPCA. Bansky is one of Britain’s most celebrated artists, and is known to thrive on controversy with hit and run covert art tactics. His use of live animals raised the question whether animals should be used as unwilling art objects at all.

In April of 2007 artistic freedom and expression was challenged in an exhibit called Theatre of the World at the Vancouver Art Gallery. Lizards, scorpions, tarantulas and insects were exhibited in conditions deemed improper for the animals by the SPCA. The artist Huang Yong Ping sculptural installation containing insects and reptiles all in one enclosure alludes to the dynamics of power, raising important questions about the ways humans interact, and cultures come together, and how they impact the natural world. This particular exhibit Theater of the World was presented in the United States at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis and the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art without any modifications forced on them by the ASPCA. The SPCA of Vancouver ordered that the exhibit be modified by removing certain animals in order to meet adequate conditions for the animals. The Artist decided to remove all the animals from the exhibit in protest, in order to maintain the integrity of the artwork.

This brings me to the main premise of this article. In August 16, 2007 in a gallery called Galería Códice in Managua Nicaragua, a Costa Rican artist by the name of Guillermo Vargas known as ‘Habacuc’ held an exhibition entitled ‘Exposición No.1’. The gallery was filled with the burning incense of 175 rocks of crack and an ounce of marijuana along with the playing of the Sandanistas national anthem in reverse. On a wall of the gallery was a statement written with dog food in Spanish “You Are What You Read”. The center of attention was a sickly looking street dog tied to a metal cable bolted to the wall with a short rope, who was supposedly captured in the alleys of Managua by some children who were supposedly paid by the artist. According to many blogs and articles that were circulated around the Internet the artist intended for the dog to starve to death during the course of the exhibit and the dog supposedly did die during the exhibit. According to these blogs the exhibit was supposedly intended to raise awareness of the hypocrisy of the public by comparing what happened to this dog, and to a Nicaraguan burglar named Natividad Canda Mayrena mauled to death by two rottweillers in Costa Rica while the police and onlookers watched, while doing nothing to help the man. The dog in the exhibit was named Natividad and was supposedly left to die while onlookers in the gallery did nothing to help the dog. These many blogs generated by the media as well as ordinary people from all over the world accuse the artist of animal abuse, and torture. They saught to condemn the artist’s career, and keep him from repeating this kind of atrocity again in the future. An Internet petition was generated that called for the artist to be boycotted from the Central American Biennial Honduras 2008. I was appalled upon reading of this exhibit, and decided to right an article about the incident based on what I have read. I also signed the petition calling for the boycott.

As I started to research the story I found it impossible to get a credible informative account of the details of this exhibit in any major news media. Most news articles and blogs written about the exhibit referred to a handful of blogs on the Internet that supposedly tell of the truth about the exhibit when in fact they all offer no proof that this dog ever died. I found this quite intriguing and started to doubt whether this exhibit ever happened at all, or whether it did happen and the dog never really died. The following is the result of my research and my reversal from anti Guillermo “Habacuc” Vargas to an admirer of his work.

The Research
Researching the validity of this exhibition and trying to confirm whether the dog actually died
was a frustrating endeavor to say the least. No blog or news article written about the supposed death of the dog can confirm whether it is true or not. In an interview on March 21, 2008 in the newspaper la Reforma Mexico by Jorge Ricardo Nicolas with Habacuc (taken from Habacucs website), when asked whether the dog died he says: “Natividad died” putting doubt in peoples minds thinking that Natividad the dog died, but putting his comment into context it really means that Natividad Canda the Nicaraguan Burglar most definitely died. In the same interview when asked how long the artwork lasted he says: “The artwork is not over yet”.

In another interview on April 7, 2008 by David Castillo Robinson of, when asked what was his motive for presenting the exhibit “You are what you read” Habacuc says:
“You are what you read” is not the name of the exhibition. The work that was presented in Managua is called “Exposición No 1”. “Exposición No 1” is the result of a creative process, which I have been working on for several years”.

When asked what the artistic proposal consisted of he says:

“The artwork consists of the following five elements”:
1. The Sandanista national anthem played in reverse.
2. An “Incense” burner in which 175 rocks of crack, and an ounce of marijuana will burn.
3. A tied up street dog.
4. A statement written in dog food.
5. The utilization of mass media outlets: written press, Internet etc...

The first mention of the exhibit were a dog died comes from written by Doriam Diaz on October 4, 2007 and claims the editor of La Prensa’s supplementary edition Marta Leonor González as the person who confirmed the dogs death.
It also names the blog “El Perrito Vive” as a source for more information and photos regarding the exhibit, but contradicts itself because “El Perrito Vive” blog wasn’t released until October 30, 2007. The same writer Doriam Díaz in an earlier article written in La Nacion on September 14, 2007
wrote about the winners of the Costa Rican Biennial who were to go on and represent Costa Rica in the Central American Biennial Honduras 2008. There was no mention of Guillermo Vargas’s “Exhibition No 1” or the controversy surrounding his exhibit, which supposedly took place on August 16 2007. In the October 4, article he goes on to say that various defenders of animal rights in Costa Rica found out about the exhibit through a blog, and accused Guillermo Vargas of animal cruelty, but never mentions which blog they read. They even mention that the director of Galeria Codice Juanita Bermúdez affirmed that as a serious person she would not permit the mistreatment of the animal. The director also affirmed that the dog ate repeatedly on various occasions, and that it did not die, but escaped in the early morning.

The second mention of the exhibit is an article in La Prensa released the day after La Nacion article and say’s that according to the Costa Rican journal La Nacion the dog died that night. Which contradicts La Nacion, which said La prensa confirmed the dogs death.
I emailed the editor Marta Leonor Gonzalez and asked her if she could confirm the dogs death, and if in fact she was the confirming source for the article in La Nacion, but she never responded.

The third mention of the exhibit was from an article written in on October 10, 2007 by Juan Antonio González Fuentes who also has a link to the blog and say’s there is no evidence to contradict the story.

The fourth mention of the exhibit comes from, posted a link to
This blog is the source of all the photographs of the exhibit from which all other blogs and articles got these photos. This blog was supposedly posted by the dead actress Ingrid Bergman no less, whose web page is and has a link to their myspace page,
Casita De Tentaciones is the Myspace page for Guillermo Vargas’s band, which features of course the photo of GuillermoVargas used by most of the blogs and has a link to his personal web page.

On October 19, 2007 the director of Galeria Codice Juanita Bermúdez released a declaration in a blog regarding the dog saying, (this is only an excerpt of the declaration)

" The dog was in the Gallery for three days, as of 5:00 pm Wednesday, August 15. It was untied all the time in the patio except for the three hours the exhibition lasted, and it was fed regularly with dog food Habacuc himself brought in," On the morning of Friday the 17th the dog escaped passing through the iron gate of the main entrance while the night watchman was cleaning up after just feeding the dog.”

These are two of the blogs her declaration first appears.
The first is from a blog created by the creator of the petition against Guillermo VargasJaime Sancho on October 20, 2007. Galleria Codice has their own website why didn’t they release this declaration on their website rather than on a website of the man who started the whole petition against Guillermo Vargas. I emailed Juanita Bermúdez at the Gallery website, but she did not respond.

The second source of her declaration we see again is from released on October 26, 2007, also friends of Guillermo Vargas.

What to make of the Petition? (Spanish Petition) (English Petition)

There were over four million signatures calling for the boycott of the artist from the Bienal Centroamericana Honduras 2008. The problem with this is that there is no “Bienal Centroamericana Honduras 2008” it doesn’t exist! Doriam Diaz’s article in La Nacion made this mistake as well. There is a “Bienal de Artes Visuales de Honduras 2008”,
but it’s only for Artists of Honduras. What all these blogs and the petition seem to be referring to but didn’t bother to do the research for is the “ VI Bienal de Artes Visuales del Istmo Centroamericano”, which will be held in the city of San Miguel of Tegucigalpa, Honduras, in November of 2008.
If your going to write a petition or an article condemning an artists career at least get your facts straight. Guillermo Vargas took part in the 2006 “V Bienal de Artes Visuales del Istmo Centroamericano” in San Salvador, at the Museo de Arte, Nov. 16, 2006-Feb. 18, 2007. He will be representing Costa Rica for a second time in the “VI Bienal de Artes Visuales del Istmo Centroamericano”. This exhibit is mentioned on the website for the “Bienal de Artes Visuales de Honduras 2008”.

I wondered whether this Jaime Sancho founder of the petition was in fact in league with Guillermo Vargas and created this petition with him. Habacuc claims he signed the petition as well, claiming that an artist always signs his own work. This means the petition is his work as well. The petition also claims as their source for “Exhibicion No1” and also mentions’s article about the winners of the Costa Rican biennial mentioned earlier. It even quotes the blog posted by “ El Perrito Vive” If your going to start a petition you need solid evidence to support it. There is no solid evidence that the petition presents, only hearsay.

Galería Códice -

Once again there is no Galería Códice listed in Managua Nicaragua or at least none that I could find. There is a “Codice Espacio Cultural” of which Juanita Bermudez is the director, and is listed in Managua which uses the Galeria Codice website and address. If you go on the website and search for any mention of “Exposición No.1” or Guillermo “Habacuc” Vargas there is no information on them. It’s as though it never happened. I think all the information regarding the exhibit was deliberately left out. Their website was created by Habacucs friend and director of Rodrigo Penalba, who is the webmaster of Galería Códice. The website even has a link saying that it is a live exhibition “Exposicion Actual”. It is just too much of a coincidence that Rodrigo Penalba is a friend of Habacuc and is the director of which is the source for “Exposición No.1” and is the webmaster of the Gallery which doesn’t even mention Habacuc or the exhibit. Currently their website is being renovated. This is a comment Rodrigo Penalba left me regarding Galeria Codice,

“Hello I just read your article about Habacuc's Exhibition No. 1, and there's a couple of remarks I need to make. Galeria Codice does exist in the real world. I know Juanita Bermudez in person, which is the director of the gallery. I did design their website, but I'm not responsible for updates and information on it. Maybe they are just not taking care of that. The blog on marcaacme was written by me, with pictures and some info the artist himself gave me. That blog began to attract so much traffic and bandwidth I had to move the content to elperritovive. blogspot. com. Habacuc sent me some more pictures a few months later, and i published them at the blog. As you can see, the blog was posted by Ingrid Bergman, one of many alias I use on internet .As you mentioned, La Nacion (CR) cited La Prensa (NI) as source of their news. Then La Prensa did the same with La Nacion. None of them were at the scene. Caracol, a TV station from Colombia, stated a month ago that the dog was exhibited three days in a row, without any source for that. They were conducting a research in Nicaragua trough Telenica Canal 8, but they never published the complete story. They interviewed me one time. I guess they found that it was all false or phony. Teletica, a TV channel from Costa Rica, said there were guards keeping away the people from "saving the dog". Again, no real proofs. Also, I have emails between me and Sancho, the author of the petitions against Habacuc. In them I found racist or eurocentric remarks against Nicaragua and Costa Rica; that seems to be a between-the-lines campaign going on too”.

Interview with reporter Carmen Dominicci, 2-5-2008 Costa Rica

These are excerpts from the Interview which can be seen on video in Spanish or with English subtitles on Guillermo’s website called “Eres lo que lees”.

CD: Tell me, What really happened with the Dog?
GV: The Dog died in the Artwork.
CD: That, meaning?
GV: In the Artwork.
CD: The Dog died in the Artwork, or say died there.
GV: And the media were accomplices, the media were in charge of spreading the news.
CD: But you did see it die?
GV: It died in the Artwork.
CD: What do you mean by that?
GV: That it died in the Artwork.

CD: Did the animal suffer?
GV: In the Artwork.
CD: And in Reality?
GV: In the Artwork.

CD: Returning to the Galeria Codice, you said in the Artwork the animal suffered, in the Artwork the animal died, do you want to make clear whether in reality the dog escaped liked Juanita Bermudes says, and Why?
GV: I would tell a Judge that it did escape.
CD: And why not us?
GV: Because I don’t want to be in jail.

Isn’t it obvious that this interview shows that the dogs death only happened in the conceptual frame work of Artwork itself, and not in the actual reality of the exhibit “Exposición No 1” which took place in Galeria Codice. If forced to tell the truth in front of a judge the artist is saying that he would tell the truth, because he doesn’t want to end up in jail, because in reality the dog never died.


There is no major news organization that has done a serious investigative article to corroborate the dogs death, and there is no article or blog that hasn’t used the same information and photos provided by the blog “El Perrito Vive”. The “ El Perrito Vive” blog is the main source of information regarding the dogs supposed death. As we have seen earlier the “El Perrito Vive” blog was posted by the website, which is linked to Guillermo Vargas, and Galeria Codice via Rodrigo Penalba a friend of Vargas. “El Perrito Vive” translated into english means “The Dog Lives”. Meaning exactly that, the dog is not dead. “Eres Lo Que Lees” translated into English means “You Are What You Read”. It’s clear that this was a misinformation campaign mounted by the artist to spread doubt about what really happened to the dog. I also contacted the artist and he said to me regarding “Exposicion No 1”, “One thing it leaves clear is doubt”. If his intentions from the onset of the exhibit were to starve the dog to death while at the same time fully documenting the exhibit, why then did he not document the dogs supposed death? The “ VI Bienal de Artes Visuales del Istmo Centroamericano” came and went without any major controversy, and yes Guillermo Habacuc Vargas did exhibit something there without killing any live animals. I suspect he exhibited a mass media piece called “Eres lo que leees”, but I cannot confirm that.

It’s clear that this exhibit was created for the Internet and is in fact “Internet Art”. “Exposición No 1” is one component of the larger work of art called “Eres lo que lees” which uses mass media as its main artistic medium rather than conventional mediums such as paint, pencil, photography etc. It uses many mediums to convey the artistic message.
The Artists website has a link for what in my opinion is the Artists larger work of Art called “Eres lo que lees” which incorporates the initial exhibit called “Exposición No 1” and is in fact an on going work of art, which continues to mesmerize its spectators.

One of the messages of this work of art was to show how hypocritical the world is when it comes to real world ethics, and ethics in the art world. Take the dog out of the streets and put it into a Gallery, and it becomes an ethical phenomenon, while most suffering in the real world is just ignored or not given as much attention as it should be. Another purpose of the artwork was to insight spectator reactions, which involves the spectator as part of the artwork itself. Third, the artwork shows how easily the masses can be manipulated into believing whatever the mass media outlets, and Governments want them to believe. “You Are What You Read” illustrates that point very well. If one artist can manipulate over four million people around the world imagine how much Governments, Mega Corporations, and Religions are manipulating us everyday.

The use of live animals in art has raised many ethical questions regarding what art is and what art should be. Should live animals be used as art objects at all? We turn a blind eye when the circus comes to town so that our children may be entertained and be exposed to animals that they may never have a chance to see otherwise, but we do this at the cost of the free will of the animals that are forced to perform for their survival. Obviously we can’t ask an animal whether it wants to perform for it’s food, but we can make their lives reasonably comfortable by not abusing them and seeing that their physical and mental health are cared for. The same is true of the Rodeos, dog and horse races, not to mention the cruelty of bull fighting. At least in a bull fight the bull has a small chance of living another day by killing the matador, unlike the bulls and cows slaughtered for food everyday. Do we see to their well being, and make their lives as comfortable as can be prior to their ultimate sacrifice as our dinner? Animal well being applies not only to our food supply, but the entertainment world, the art world, and the natural world, as well as stray and abandoned animals within the borders of the human civilized world.

The humane treatment of animals is an extension of our human ethical and moral codes. Some have argued that aesthetic value in art does not cease to exist when it is immoral, and some argue that art should be subject to an accepted moral code, which governs humanity. Art as a vehicle for influencing the moral minds of the masses has been seen from times as far back as the plays of ancient Greece to the war posters of Nazi Germany, as well as a vehicle for stirring up controversy regarding established beliefs about art, religion, politics, and culture. When art makes controversy regarding belief systems then it is a matter of tolerance, but what if art preaches murder, racism and oppression, should the artists be allowed to promote these ideas hiding behind the freedom of artistic expression flag? Freedom of speech has widely been accepted as an inalienable right, but when it is used to deliberately cause destruction, pain, suffering and death to humanity and the animal world then our moral codes must condemn it. An art object may always have aesthetic value regardless of what it set out to accomplish, but the artist should be held accountable if it can be proved that his actions deliberately caused inhumane destructive afflictions upon humans, or animals. The actions of artists are subject to human laws and morals, but the artwork will always remain an aesthetic conundrum. Artistic expression falls under freedom of speech, which isn’t always tolerated in matters of promoting inhumane actions. Art has always been influenced by pain and suffering and has been created in the name of it, as well as offering some release of pain for the artist and the viewers, but it should not create deliberate physical pain and suffering forced upon an unwilling participant.

Guillermo “Habacuc” Vargas’s larger Artwork “Eres lo que lees” has brought all these issues surrounding Art, Ethics, and Mass Manipulation to the minds of millions of people. He has opened our minds to the hypocrisy of real world ethics and left with us an image of a starving dog, which symbolizes all suffering, human and animal. He has also shown how powerful an artist can be and why we are looked at as rebels, boat rockers, and leftists. Artists are powerful freethinkers who like other freethinkers recognize the imbalances of our societies, and attempt to correct them by speaking out with what creativity they can muster. This is one major role an artist has in society other than putting smiles on people’s faces with lavish eye candy. Creative thinking ‘can’ change the world. When I was an art student I had a discussion with my anatomy teacher regarding whether art can change the world socially and politically. He said artists can’t change the world, but I respectfully disagreed with him. It is how the world has undergone change throughout the millennia, one person at a time.

“It’s not the medatative noise that looks for the creative space; In said exhibition; It’s implicite that, the creation of ethics and aesthetics generates, diverse manefestations amongst it’s spectators: who go through rejection, aversion, acception, and reflexion until getting involved in the under appreciated “Medatative Process”.

Guillermo Habacuc Vargas

Inerview from el diario nuevo Excelcior de Mexico
Édgar A. Hernández

Copyright 2009 David Yanez. All Rights Reserved.

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