You might have seen the strange billboard on the corner of Queen and La Trobe streets. Spread across a soft-pink background is a smattering of half-eaten chicken nuggets and a few splashes of tomato sauce. It’s a little disturbing and a little confusing. But it was originally much more confronting.
The billboard is there to promote artist Kirsha Kaechele’s new project Eat the Problem, a cookbook and exhibition encouraging meat eaters to consume invasive species using recipes such as fox tikka masala, wild boar’s eye Bloody Mary, sweet and sour cane toad, and more.
But Kaechele had no intention of using chicken nuggets to promote the book. The image she originally selected, by photographer Remi Chauvin, depicts bits of dead rabbit including fur, innards and a head. Ears perky, one beady eye on the viewer, it was visceral and provocative.
You might have seen it hidden behind a sensitive-content filter on Instagram, and after it went up as part of an interactive exhibition at Mona, which was deemed too provocative by news outlets.
“Not art, not ethical, just gimmicky and sensational for the sake of it,” wrote one Instagram commenter.
"This is sick. Glorified murder," wrote another.
“This is just satanic culture that you wrap it [sic] into something you called art,” wrote another, perhaps more confused, Instagrammer.
Kaechele says the work was then promptly rejected for placement at the Republic Tower, which now hosts the far more palatable nugget image.
“The billboard, people said it’s too over the top,” she says. “I said, ‘Over the top? What are you talking about? They wanted me to show a dish. Any of the dishes are fine, just not what’s left over after you’ve prepared an animal to eat.”
Kaechele decided to face the problem head on. Inspired by the numerous fast-food billboards all over the city, she bought some chicken nuggets and styled a hasty replacement, identical in composition, using thawed, crumbed chicken nuggets. She worked especially hard on the ketchup, getting it as close as possible to the placement of the organs in the original gory image.
So instead of a picture of sustainable food preparation, we have sickly looking chicken nuggets. “What do they signify?” asks Kaechele. “Factory farming, mass animal suffering, environmental degradation, carbon excess, hormone-filled meat.
“It started as a bit of a joke, but the billboard curator said it was profound. The same curator! I don’t think it’s profound at all, it’s just me being childish. It’s a one-liner.”
The Republic Tower, designed by Nonda Katsalidis, who also designed Mona, is a residential building. The works displayed there over the past 20 years have included images from Patricia Piccinini and this provocative work from Polly Borland.
Nicole Durling, Mona’s senior curator, who works in consultation with the building’s body corporate committee, says it was the residents who were uncomfortable with the image.
“It wasn’t because they thought it was morally repugnant, or didn’t like the artwork,” Durling tells me. “There’d been animal liberation protests in the city that got a bit messy, so they had safety concerns. And they have every right to make that call. It’s their home.”
But the residents love the replacement. “They’ve fully embraced it,” says Durling. “They loved that it provoked real dialogue.”
Kaechele tells me she was actually against the original dismembered rabbit image at first, not because it was too violent, but because it was too cute. “I thought it looked like a Frankie magazine spread,” she says.
The surrounding controversy has given Kaechele another chance to get her project’s point out there. But it also highlights a dissonance in how we approach food. While the remnants of a sustainably killed rabbit spark outrage, a factory-farmed chicken, tortured, crumbed and cooked, passes without comment.
Until July, Mona will also host a series of lunches and feasts designed around invasive species. Those averse to blood and guts need not apply.
Eat the Problem is at Mona until September 2.