Economies of Life and Death: Wheatpastes in Madrid

A series of good-size wheatpastes with the outlines of animals sacrificed to factory farming circulated in a number of streets in Madrid and through Instagram and Twitter in the middle of the summer:

redesycalles IMG_6130“The egg industry hides suffering, exploitation, and death.” Av. San Luis, 15 August 2015.

These wheatpastes catch your attention due to their extreme economy of means–white background, black line, a clear slogan–and to the potent effect created by their location:  they spring up, without signature, out of the walls of busy streets in Madrid, altering the course of your walk and your thoughts.  It is not the defense of animal rights what is most thought-provoking about these pieces, with their messages spread on the outlines of different animals:  besides the hen of the picture above, cows: “Milk consumption hides suffering, exploitation, and death!”:

redesycalles IMG_5516“Milk consumption hides suffering, exploitation, and death!” Calle Fuencarral, 6 July 2015.

sheep (“killed because they’re not human”), fish (“eating animals is cruel and unnecessary”) and pork (“meat is the dead body of someone who wanted to live.”) Rather, drawing on the animal question, these pieces allow for a look over the abyss of the vulnerability of life, of the living, in neoliberal societies, and from there we can pose questions about the ways in which these societies administer the economies of life and death.  In this sense, the pieces dialogue with ideas posed by Cary Wolfe in Before the Law.  Humans and Other Animals in a Biopolitical Frame (2012).  Wolfe shows how the animal questions allows for an analysis of the ways in which neoliberal societies  “make live” and “let die.”  Wolfe calls attention to the fundamental ambivalence of Foucault’s notion of biopower:  at the same historical moment in which the scale of factory farming, and the optimization of the killing of certain animals, reaches nightmarish proportions, other animals are receiving unprecedented levels of care, through, for instance, the highly specialized and expensive pet care industry:  “the pet care industry in the U.S. grew in total expenditures from $17 billion in 1994 […] to $45.5 billion in 2009” (53).  In his review of Wolfe’s book, Gabriel Giorgi elaborates this ambivalence:  certain forms of life that include non human animals receive legal and economic protection (in the form of health and care insurances for some domestic animals), a protection that is not secured for vast numbers of others (both human and non-human), and which consequently exposes them/us to different forms of violence and death.  This is, of course, not a philosophical musing if we take into account the brutal cuts in social services, public health, decreasing aid in the care of children and the elderly.  As Giorgi points out, these political economies of make live and let die respond to the logic of global capital, “that makes the living body an instance of propertization and commodification in ways that have exponentially increased in the last decades.”

From the streets of Madrid, in the midst of the hottest summer in the last forty years, these pieces take us by surprise, inviting us to consider that we belong to a community of the living, to a life assaulted by global capital. These wheatpastes are one of the many responses to the suicidal logic of capital’s attack to life:  they open a space for reflection through a visual language produced by inhabiting the streets, with no desire to inscribe a name, using an epheremal medium, and with an economy of means.

redesycalles IMG_6129 copyredesycalles IMG_5515



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