Artist publishes hate mail received after killing her cat

For her 'Save the pets' project, Tinkebell put 100 hamsters in transparant plastic balls.
By Sandra Smallenburg

A Dutch artist famous for her bloody animal art has launched a new controversial project. In a book published on Saturday she exposes the people who sent her hate mail after they learnt she had killed her cat to make it into a purse.

Katinka Simonse - artist name: Tinkebell - has always tried to shock people. In 2007, she rescued 61 chicks from a factory farm and threatened to dump them all in a shredder unless her audience adopted them. She put a hundred hamsters in transparant plastic balls and had them run around a gallery during a 2008 exhibit. But her most notorious project to date was 'My dearest cat Pinkeltje' in 2004: Tinkebell personally twisted her pet's neck and skinned it with her own hands to make it into a purse.

Hate mail

The hate mail generated by the Pinkeltje project forms the basis of Simonse's latest project. The artists has collected the thousands of threatening emails she received between 2004 and 2008, and published them in a yellow pages-size book titled Dearest Tinkebell.

The book has already stirred a controversy of its own because Simonse doesn't just publish the emails - almost a thousand of them - but also the names, ages, addresses of the people who sent them. She also provides links to people's YouTube videos and MySpace profiles, and any embarrassing information, photos or videos she found there.

Prosecution

Tinkebell is not the only artist who makes animals suffer for art. In the Netherlands - the only country in the world that has a Party for Animals in parliament - the creator of a 2004 video diplayed in the city museum in the town of Woerden was convicted for "torturing a goldfish witout a reasonable purpose". Theo van Meerendonk had covered a goldfish in paint and let it flounder until it died.

The animal protection society says the public prosecutor is looking into whether or not Tinkebell can be prosecuted for violating the Health and Well-being Act for Animals. The animal inspection took possession of Tinkebell's hamsters last year and an advocacy group reported her for animal abuse after she killed her cat.

According to Peter Koolmees of the University of Utrecht there is little chance that she will be prosecuted. "The law has rules about how cows, pigs and chickens have to be housed and killed for slaughter. But in the Netherlands, killing a small pet goes unpunished if you do it with professionally and with care." Not killing it, but hurting it can however be punishable.

The book is a joint project with fellow artist Coralie Vogelaar, who collected all the data. Vogelaar says she is fascinated with hate mail. "You always read in the papers about judges or bankers who receive hate mail. And it always made me wonder who sends those emails. Is it Mr. Average, or mostly teenagers? And if that is the case, should we take it so seriously?" says Vogelaar.

Starting with the email addresses from which the hate mail was sent, Vogelaar found their details through search engines like Google and Yahoo, and searched for profiles on networking sites such as Facebook and LinkedIn.

"It was shocking to see how much personal information these people throw on the internet," Vogelaar says. "It's striking that these people are often very exhibitionist, they've posted hundreds of photos of themselves on the web. They want to put it all out there and they seem to think that what they do is of interest to everybody."

Legal challenge

Judging by the photos in the book, most of the hate mail was indeed sent by bored teenagers, mostly American girls.

"Teenagers who think in black and white and react very impulsively," Vogelaar says. "They click 'send' before giving it a second thought. Most emails were full of spelling errors and were sent in the middle of the night. One 16-year-old wrote, 'I will hit you until you can't move, then I will cut you open and chop off your hand and put the phone in a place where you can't reach.' It makes you wonder what kind of bad movies she watches."

Tinkebell and Vogelaar stress that they have only published information that was already made accessible by the people themselves. "Everything has been obtained legally," Tinkebell stresses.

But there is a good chance that the book will be taken off the market, because none of those portrayed have given permission. In fact, Tinkebell's original publisher abandoned the project at the last moment because of privacy and copyright issues. Tinkebell then proceeded to publish the work on her own.

Tinkebell says she is merely asking a rhetoric question: "So you want me dead. Well, who are you then? It seems people are answering that question on the internet."

Privacy debate

She is unfazed by the prospect of a court case. "You can't get blood out of a stone," she says. "Also, if these people want to sue me, I will report their threats. That's the deal. You act like a child; then so will I. It is our intention to stir the privacy debate. A lot of rules about the internet and privacy haven't been defined yet. This makes the work interesting from a legal perspective."

Vogelaar is mostly glad her work is done. "It was a weird time. For three months, my live evolved around the computer. I was peeping into the lives of people I didn't care for. I felt like I was trapped in a world I didn't want to be in - the armpit of the web."

Privacy and copyright

Making so-called hate mail public, even if the sender anonymously threatens to harm or kill the receiver, is a violation of the privacy and copyright of the sender, and can be prohibited by a judge, says Menno Weij, a lawyer who specialises in new technology. Weij says the "wrongful character of the email doesn't alter the invasion of one's copyright of the content."

The fact that people put personal information on the internet doesn't allow others to publish that information in a book, he says. In the case of pictures taken from social networking sites, republishing violates the copyright of the people who took them under Dutch law. People portrayed in the pictures can keep them from being published based on privacy laws. Weij says a judge could halt the publication set for Saturday. "So-called naming and shaming is not allowed in the Netherlands"

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