≡ the DOG call ≡

Dogs have had a constant presence in my life. Their relevance in one’s life can have huge proportions as does their presence in art. They’re not only present in portraits, partnering their fellow humans, but also often portrayed by themselves. Sometimes they turn into brands, sometimes they turn into pop objects, often they serve decorative purposes. Their presence in artistic circles is significant. Understandably. Artists tend to live out-of-the-ordinary lives, sometimes working alone for several hours that turn into days and weeks, sometimes having too much time on their hands, a confluence of circumstances that seems perfect to choose dogs as everyday partners. I’m immediately reminded of several (terrible) works depicting dogs, not even worth mentioning and what I chose to present here is a very short selection of visual works addressing dogs and their nature.

I – Araya Rasdjarmrearnsook

SC_Pub_Araya_Rasdjarmrearnsook_issuu© Araya RasdjarmrearnsookPray, bless us with rice and curry our great moon, 2012. Video still.

«Dogs appear regularly in Rasdjarmrearnsook’s more recent works, embodying vitality for her. In her daily life, the artist cares for strays, feeding them at her workplace, Chiang Mai University, and keeping several in her home. Like Davis, Rasdjarmrearnsook flirts at times with anthropomorphization, using poetics to open a window into the lives of her “companion species.”13 As in her work with corpses, she sides with her subjects, forging subjective alliances in shared isolation. The intimacy she keeps with the dogs––in The Treachery of the Moon (2012), they sit with her watching Thai soap operas interspersed with violent news footage, and in Pray, bless us with rice and curry (2012), they eat with her––ventures into Donna Haraway’s notion of “becoming worldly,” a revision of the entanglement of “being with” animals that Jacques Derrida explores in The Animal That Therefore I Am (More to Follow). The dog has particular connotations in Thailand. Stray dogs are ubiquitous in urban centers and villages, and in the Theravada Buddhist tradition, monks must share food with them. Although dogs have this unique status through religious tradition, they are still considered inferior beings: the word for animal, sat, is used as an insult, and the word for dog, maa, is also used to denigrate people of various races and classes.16 What does it mean for Rasdjarmrearnsook to join the dogs? And what does it mean for her to invite them to watch TV, visit the beach, or attend a dinner party with her?» excerpt from a text by by Ruba Katrib present in an exhibition catalog.

II – Francis Alÿs

c-magazine-107© Francis Alÿs (in collaboration with Rafael Ortega), Gringo, 2003, Mexico, video documentation of an action.

III – Sohrab Hura

«It was in the summer of 1999 when my mother was diagnosed with an acute case of Paranoid Schizophrenia. I was 17 then. The doctors, in retrospect, had said that she had already started developing the symptoms many years prior to that. Symptoms that nobody had noticed. But it was the break up with my father that caused her condition to suddenly come alive and then deteriorate. Over the years, the walls of our home started to peel off, people had stopped coming to our home because my mother was too scared to let anybody in and all that remained were the traces of a life that no longer existed. Our initial years were spent hiding from the world. Hers out of paranoia and mine out of embarrassment and anger at who she had become. But after all these years I’ve realized that my mother had never stopped loving me. (…)

Over the years when my mother’s condition started to improve I started to photograph at home more. Apart from my mother the focus of the photographs also included her dog Elsa who had been her sole companion at home for many years and also the house itself whose condition deteriorated or improved as my mother’s illness regressed or progressed. Her relationship with Elsa which had substituted intimate human contact as simple as touch or conversation all these years, had played a big part in my mother’s improvement. In the late winter of 2014 Elsa died having grown old in her 13th year. That winter was a strange one because for the first time it had rained everyday and the sun wasn’t seen on most days. Towards the end my mother had even opened up to my father with whom she had separated almost 15 years ago. It was her separation with him that had triggered her illness in the first place.» excerpt from Sohrab’s statement.

India. 2009. Ma and Elsa sleeping© Sohrab Hura, India. 2009, Ma and Elsa sleeping, from the series Sweet Life

INDIA. 2009. Ma and Elsa fighting over something© Sohrab Hura, INDIA. 2009, Ma and Elsa fighting over something, from the series Sweet Life

INDIA. 2011. Elsa waiting to play with someone© Sohrab HuraINDIA. 2010/11. Elsa waiting to play with someone, from the series Sweet Life

NDIA. 2014. Elsa not able to move.© Sohrab Hura, Elsa Not Able to Move, from the series Sweet Life

INDIA. 2014© Sohrab Hura, India, 2014, from the series Sweet Life

IV – Mark Peckmezian

dog_04© Mark PeckmezianUntitled.

dog_03© Mark Peckmezian, Untitled.

Mark_Peckmezian_020© Mark Peckmezian, Untitled.

V – António Júlio Duarte

ajd_021© António Júlio Duarte, from the series East West, 1990 – 1994.

Lotus_006© António Júlio Duarte, from the series Lotus, 1999.

023© António Júlio Duarte, from the series Jesus Never Fails, 2004.

VI – Scott Alario

1600x120067© Scott Alario, from the series Our Fable.

1600x120090© Scott Alario, from the series Our Fable.

1600x1200© Scott Alario, from the series What we Conjure.

VII – Andrew Fladeboe

«My Fulbright experience began in Cromwell, the furthest point from the sea in New Zealand. I spent 10 days working on a merino sheep station familiarizing myself with their practices and how they use their dogs to guide the sheep. They really put me to work, and while I was still getting over jet lag I was already pulling out Scottish thistle and learning just how long a day is for the average Kiwi farmer. Despite the hard work, I learned to love the long days in the fresh air and see just how instrumental a team of dogs is to practically any sheep farm.

After this “farm boot camp”, I bought a car and have been moving along to different locations trying to do as much photographing as I can before winter. My first stops were a few stations in the Hanmer Springs area. I took part in a muster that moved 3,000 ewes over a mountain and down a valley through a dense fog. Using whistled commands, the shepherd was able to situate the dogs to gather the sheep from over 100 yards away and move them along over the rough terrain. It was incredible seeing these dogs work tirelessly for their masters with an intelligence that shows the ability to think ahead and solve problems.

I often get asked why I would travel to the other side of the world to photograph dogs working on farms. I think the answer lies in the fact that working dogs serve a distinctive and crucial role economically, historically, and culturally in New Zealand. The working dogs in New Zealand were vital to the development of the country. New Zealand achieved its early wealth through the sheep industry which dominated the economy from 1856 to the 1980s. With the landscape of New Zealand offering vast expanses of territory and steep terrain, it would be impossible to farm sheep without the help of dogs.» excerpt from Grantee Voice: Andrew Fladeboe – Photographing in the shepherd’s realm | Fulbright New Zealand.

SheepDogs© Andrew FladeboeSheepdogs, 2011, from The Shepherd’s Realm.

Scooter© Andrew Fladeboe, Scooter Backing Sheep, 2014, from The Shepherd’s Realm (Volume III: New Zealand).

thePack© Andrew Fladeboe, Leader of the Pack, 2014, from The Shepherd’s Realm (Volume III: New Zealand).

Gåte© Andrew Fladeboe, Gâte and the Troll Boulders, Lundehund, 2013, from The Shepherd’s Realm (Volume II: Norway).

Dilko of Stokke© Andrew Fladeboe, Dilko of Stokke, Buhund, 2013, from The Shepherd’s Realm (Volume II: Norway).

Senja_of_Jonsvatnet_1024© Andrew Fladeboe, Senja of Jonsvatnet, Lundehund, 2013, from The Shepherd’s Realm (Volume II: Norway).

VIII – Mathias de Lattre

«Looking Back through history, many kings have favored Galgos ands Podencos; and they are also finely represented in numerous paintings. And yet, some of these dogs that we consider »born into nobility » could have been better off not being born at all – often, they are mistreated by their masters for underperforming during hunts. Beaten, abandoned or actually tortured to death, these Iberian greyhounds have been taken in by families, non-profit groups or breeders. Mathias de Lattre started taking photos of these unfortunate animals from Spain and Portugal in 2012. the sad look in their eyes, seemingly a remnant of their past suffering, very quickly made the young photographer think he should take their picture in the environment that destiny had found for them. Found through friends of friends or during walks, it was as if these dogs had become gifted with what we narcissistically call « humanity ». That is what Mathias de Lattre wanted to show in his photos while remaining in the style of portraiture that h prefers. In their new homes, the Galgos ans Podencos become the photographer’s models, ans their story disappears behind their appearance – Doug relaxes in a patterned chair, Lola glows in black and white and Gazhal sits in a winter garden setting. Eschewing the anthropomorphism of fables, circumventing the profusion of the bestiary, these greyhounds from southern Europe show themselves in especial st of portraits, fragile and magnificent.» text by Hervé Le Goff.

Aitch© Mathias de Lattre, Aitch, from the series Salvados.

Aitch© Mathias de Lattre, Lili, from the series Salvados.

Aitch© Mathias de Lattre, Kyra, from the series Salvados.

Aitch© Mathias de Lattre, Reina, from the series Salvados.

≡ Salgado, Nachtwey and Sontag: to shoot AND not to shoot, is that the question? ≡

Yesterday, after watching the documentary about the work of Sebastião Salgado I found myself trying to give an answer to the question then asked: does it matter if we cry?

I think it does, the same way I think that actions need to be taken even when consequences are unknown, the same way I think chaos is bound to potentate new meanings. The question then is not if our empathy or agape can generate any good, but if photographs contribute to the sort of empathic feeling that triggers action. When thinking about Salgado’s photographs, I honestly don’t think they do any justice to the idea of the socially engaged photographer. Are his photographs humanistic? Yes, I guess they are, for there is no doubt about the author’s commitment to the work and about his empathy towards his subjects. But does the work account for the lives depicted? For the particular stories? For the social environments? Or does it instead paint such realities in an impressionistic way, blurred and beautified?

ma-31747994-WEB© Sebastião Salgado, Blind Tuareg Human, Mali, 1985.

Caption: With dead eyes worn out by sand storms and chronic infections, this woman from the region of Gondan has arrived at the end of her voyage.

Sontag’s words in Regarding the Pain of Others (2003, Picador) are still, to this day, echoing in my mind when ethics in photography is the question. In chapter V, she criticizes the way the ugly is made beautiful and how pithiness is not what documentary photography should be aiming for: “Pity can entail a moral judgment if, as Aristotle maintains, pity is considered to be the emotion that we owe only to those enduring undeserved misfortune.” (p. 59) There is a sort of perversity in making beautiful pictures out of the disgrace of others, not only because they transform reality into art and thus alienate us from the real human dramas, but also because they can make the viewer feel guilty and ashamed just for thinking the photograph is beautiful. There is guilt, pity and shame involved and guess where this trilogy leads us…

“Photographer-witnesses may think it more correct morally to make the spectacular not spectacular. But the spectacular is very much part of the religious narratives by which suffering, throughout most of Western history, has been understood.” (Sontag, 2003, p. 63)

Sontag is also very clear about the role of photography as a document:

“Photographs that depict suffering shouldn’t be beautiful, as captions shouldn’t moralize. In this view, a beautiful photograph drains attention from the sobering subject and turns it toward the medium itself, thereby compromising the picture’s status as a document. The photograph gives mixed signals. Stop this, it urges. But it also exclaims, What a spectacle!” (p. 61)

In an article regarding James Nachtwey’s Photographs of Tuberculosis Crisis in Siberian Prison Colonies, Pete Brook compares Nachtwey to Salgado, describing both as ‘super-photographers’ who “make the ugly beautiful”. But even if Brook acknowledges their work as being able to force itself “into the conscience of millions”, he adds: “For some his [Nachtwey] work is an inspiration for social justice; but for others his work is a sub-conscious default to guilt, despondency and powerlessness to help others less fortunate.

slide1© James Nachtwey, Rwanda, part of Inferno.

Sontag cynically names a new category for ‘super-photographers’ such as Nachtwey and Salgado: “a photographer who specializes in world misery” (p. 61) and then goes on to discuss the ‘inauthenticity of the beautiful’. But let’s go back to the genocide in Rwanda for a while. Both Nachtwey and Salgado have documented the tragedy. In a review of Nachtwey’s book Inferno, he speaks about his willing to be absent as an author, to be a messenger and although that’s just coming from a photojournalist, it’s really naïf. Nachtwey has a style and of course he knows it. Further ahead interviewer

DC: You see yourself primarily as a photojournalist, rather than as an artist. You don’t necessarily want people to think, Oh that’s a beautiful composition, when they see your work.

N: That’s right.

DC: Yet in going through the book, every now and then I’d be startled to find an image beautiful. And then I’d quickly realize I was looking at a nightmare. For example, there’s a photo you took in Rwanda. The first thing I noticed were the big heart-shaped, veined leaves. It’s a nature photo; it could be by Wynn Bullock or Edward Weston or Eliot Porter — that was my first impression. But then I saw a corpse lying face down in the grass under those beautiful big leaves.

N: I don’t think tragic situations are necessarily devoid of beauty. That’s one of the paradoxes of life, and one of the themes of art and literature. And it’s perhaps a way in which images become accessible to people. I try to record moments of beauty between people. I think that you’ll see, running throughout this book, images where people are reaching out to each other, where they’re caressing each other, or making contact in a tender way — expressing human beauty in the midst of suffering. This is what I think gives “Inferno” its underlying hope. I find it uplifting to see people transcending their own agony to reach out to others, and I see it continuously in these situations.

james-nachtwey© James Nachtwey, The massacre at Nyarabuye took place in the grounds of a Catholic Church and school. Hundreds of Tutsis, including many children, were slaughtered at close range, Rwanda, 1994.

Nachtwey’s answer is very unsatisfying for me. In fact, I don’t think he answers the question at all and instead of talking about photographing death he speaks of photographs of love and hope. For those who haven’t seen such tragedies it is important to understand the moment witnessed by the photographer, how he felt death and not how an amount of nameless bodies fits into one picture. There’s a risk of turning people into points and lines inside a frame, instead of naming them. Sontag addresses the issue in the context of Salgado«s work. She says:

the problem is in the pictures themselves, not how and where they are exhibited: in their focus on the powerless, reduced to their powerlessness. It is significant that the powerless are not named in the captions. A portrait that declines to name its subject becomes complicit, if inadvertendy in the cult of celebrity that has fueled an insatiable appetite for the opposite sort of photograph: to grant only the famous their names demotes the rest to representative instances of their occupations, their ethnicities, their plights.” (p. 62)

[ to be continued … ]

≡ Sebastião Salgado by Wim Winders: does it matter if we cry? ≡

ff445202-c619-45cd-9960-34b01f2e2dec© Sebastião Salgado, part of Mondrel Media press kit.

ff445202-c619-45cd-996t0-34b01f2e2dec© Sebastião Salgado, part of Mondrel Media press kit.

The Salt of the Earth (‘Le sel de la terre’/’O sal da terra’) is a documentary by WIM WENDERS and JULIANO RIBEIRO SALGADO about the brazilian photographer Sebastião Salgado. Sebastião’s work for the past 40 years or so has shined a light on human condition, as he traveled all over the world witnessing dramatic events, such as global warming, devastation, starvation, war, working conditions and exodus.

In the documentary, in the role of the narrator, Wenders tells how filming a photographer is not like portraying anyone else:

“I learned one thing: having a photographer in front of your camera is very different from filming anybody else. He will not just be there and act like himself, so to speak. No. By profession, he reacts and responds using his weapon of choice, his photo-camera. And then shoots back.”

In the Mongrel Media press kit both directors are interviewed and Juliano, Salgado’s oldest son, is confronted with the alleged ‘inauthentic beauty’ of his father’s work:

Interviewer: Susan Sontag spoke of the “inauthenticity of the beautiful” in Salgado’s work. How do you respond to that?

Juliano: There are two aspects to Sontag’s reproach: the supposed fascination with poverty – or death, in fact – that the photographer felt, and the fact that the subjects are not identified, unlike the photographer, who is revered at their expense. In her critique, Sontag also denounces the cynicism of the media that commission and publish these photographs. I think it’s very unfair to associate Salgado with all that. He would spend several weeks, even several months in countries that were often torn apart, which he was drawn to by his urge to bear testimony. He needs to create a relationship with the person he’s going to photograph, and says that it is the subject who ends up “giving” him the photo. The emotion, the empathy guide him. I think that comes across very well in the film.

87b70cc1-e55d-436b-a91b-c62974884b95© Sebastião Salgado, part of Mondrel Media press kit.

5f3a1cca-7745-4873-a22a-0c5617124564© Sebastião Salgado, part of Mondrel Media press kit.

Curiously enough, the documentary accentuates the status of Salgado as author, rather than as witness. I see the beauty, not the brutality, nor even the grotesque aspect of that beauty. He has such an accentuated style that it takes over the subjects. The people, the animals, the nature and the events depicted in his photographs aren’t brought to life in film, which could help understand them as part of OUR reality and not only as part of Salgado’s two-dimensional universe. I can understand that the way these pictures got to be known is not entirely his responsibility. Nevertheless, the aspect I always disliked the most is: the prints, namely their tone, contrast and hyper-silver-like quality (even if he is not behind the enlarger or the printer). In the press kit already mentioned, the interviewer also asks Wenders about the beautification of tragedy in Salgado’s work. Wenders’s answer couldn’t be any clearer:

Interviewer: Did you encourage him to comment on his photographs by taking him back to the time and place where they were taken? A Brazilian gold mine, famine in the Sahel, the genocide in Rwanda, and so on. They are, for the most part, tragic images. Did you ever find them “too beautiful”, as some have reproached him?

Wenders: In the “dark room”, we ran through Sebastião’s entire photographic oeuvre, more or less in chronological order, for a good week. It was very difficult for him – and for us too behind the camera – because some of the accounts and journeys are deeply disturbing, and a few are genuinely chilling. Sebastião felt as if he was returning to these places, and for us, these internal journeys «to the heart of darkness» were also overwhelming. Sometimes we’d stop and I had to go out for a walk to get a bit of distance on what I’d just seen and heard. As for the question of whether his photographs are too beautiful, or too aestheticized, I totally disagree with those criticisms. When you photograph poverty and suffering, you have to give a certain dignity to your subject, and avoid slipping into voyeurism. It’s not easy. It can only be achieved on condition that you develop a good rapport with the people in front of the lens, and you really get inside their lives and their situation. Very few photographers manage this.

The majority of them arrive somewhere, fire off a few photographs, and get out. Sebastião doesn’t work like that. He spends time with the people he photographs to understand their situation, he lives with them, he sympathizes with them, and he shares their lives as far as possible. And he feels empathy for them. He does this job for the people, in order to give them a voice. Pictures snapped on the hoof and photographed in a “documentary” style cannot convey the same things. The more you find the right way to convey a situation in a convincing way, the closer you come to a language which corresponds to what you’re illustrating and to the subject in front of you, the more you make a real effort to obtain a “good photo”, and the more you give nobility to your subject and make it stand out. I think that Sebastião offered real dignity to all those people who found themselves in front of his lens. His photographs aren’t about him, but about all those people!

sebastiao salgado-caceria© Sebastião Salgado, Tutsis, Ruanda, 1994/5.

Roughly one hour through the documentary and regarding the Exodus project (1993-1999), we see how Salgado has a special relation to Africa. In 1994 he goes to Ruanda to document the genocide – the massive killing of Tutsis. The image above grabbed my attention. While it stays on screen, Salgado speaks about the enormous amount of death people found along the roads and he claims (my translation): “There and then I understood the magnitude of the catastrophe I was living in. A genocide was underway in that country.

If I cry hearing Saldago’s description of the tragedies he witnessed in Ruanda is not because of his photographs but because he is living proof of such events and our humanity. That is what I admire about Salgado: having a nomadic, adventurous and activist spirit. His photographs can’t account for the conflicts in Ruanda, Mali or Congo. They’re too dynamic, too alive, they don’t fit into photographs without corrupting the nature of the events depicted. I’ll give him that. I may cry, as I often do when I hear about other world events, but how far can this empathic feeling go?

⁞ Patrick Hogan: solitude and madness ⁞

Behind The Garden Wall© Patrick Hogan, Behind the Garden Wall, from the project Solitary, Half Mad.

Animal In The Dark #1© Patrick Hogan, Animal In The Dark #1, from the project Solitary, Half Mad.

excerpt of a conversation between Patrick Hogan and Stephen Tierney, published in The Interior Prospect.

ST – Having grown up myself in the Tipperary countryside I remember many echoes of your works atmospheres in the empty houses we would explore when we were young. I am interested in how views of interiors can be used to communicate or suggest meaning. Regarding your series Solitary, half mad, which I believe has a fictive aspect to it, did some of the interiors that you created have some personal resonance for you?

PHWhen I began this project, I decided to move from the urban area where I had been living, to a small cottage in the Tipperary countryside. All of the interiors that I photographed were found around the area where I live but they have no direct relevance to me, other than to say that they were chosen and photographed with a degree of empathy.
As I had been living alone and also working on this project alone for six months and on a very low budget, you could say that the overall series has absorbed a mood and a tone that I don’t think would have emerged otherwise.
Initially, I was interested in the notion that romantic ideals of solitude and escapism are often more fantastical than reality will ultimately offer. Regarding meaning, I wanted to find a way to communicate this sense of tension between reality and fantasy. All of the interiors that I photographed were rooms where people lived or died alone. For the most part, everything was photographed as I found it. This was important. By paying particular attention to how these interiors were composed and lit, I could bring a sense of theatre to these very real situations. The sequencing of interior and exterior pictures and the significantly small number of pictures used in the final sequence, leaves enough space between the images to enable the viewer to form their own interpretation. In this sense, I think meaning is communicated by suggestion rather than direction, and relies on an element of elusiveness.
[…]

Table© Patrick Hogan, Table, from the project Solitary, Half Mad.

Animal In The Dark #2© Patrick Hogan, Animal In The Dark #2, from the project Solitary, Half Mad.

ST – The interiors seem to reflect a life of exclusively solitary existence and both attract and repel through curiosity and food. Are these found spaces?

PHYes, all of the interiors are found spaces. Over the six months of the project, I met with and photographed people who live alone or in remote areas and also photographed the unused house as I mentioned. When I met people, I would usually begin with a portrait but soon found that the interiors seemed more interesting and were places that could hold more meaning than a portrait. In the end, none of the portraits were used.
The tension between attraction and repulsion that you mention was important throughout this project. Some of the interiors were photographed in what could be described as a forensic manner, like the bedroom, using a wide angle lens to include as much of the bed as possible and photographing it as I found it. On the other hand, by controlling the light and considering the camera view-point, the colour palette when printing and finally the framing, I could bring a somewhat seductive quality to these images. On closer inspection of course, we can see that in most cases, we are looking at scenes of neglect and often poverty. In this sense the visual language employed relies on a contradiction and I think meaning is communicated through this opposition.

[…]

Animal In The dark #3© Patrick Hogan, Animal In The Dark #3, from the project Solitary, Half Mad.

Inside The Wood #2© Patrick Hogan, Inside The Wood #2, from the project Solitary, Half Mad.

٠ Animal Affairs, by Heidi & Hans-Juergen Koch ٠

tierliebe-gross-05© Heidi & Hans-Juergen Koch, from Animal Love

AnimalLove_GEO_DE_0031© Heidi & Hans-Juergen Koch, tearsheet from Animal Love

549669_10151633614754845_1159705422_n© Heidi & Hans-Juergen Koch, from Animal Love

SecondLife_POLITIKENFOTO_DK© Heidi & Hans-Juergen Koch, from Animal Love

Anatomical_specimen_684199y© Heidi & Hans-Juergen Koch, from Second Life

109© Heidi & Hans-Juergen Koch

Blickfang_DS_11© Heidi & Hans-Juergen Koch, from Pretty Ugly

More of their work here

٠ Botched Taxidermy – ‘artists’ using animals ٠

imageMiguel Suarez, Chicken-Killing Performance, Alberta, Canada, 2013. More about it here

How does the animal function as a kind of tool for allowing humans to think through their own identities? It seems that a lot of artists you’re writing about are trying to envision a very far-out point in the dispersal of fixed identities, to the point at which identities disappear.

There are several points that are raised there. In terms of moving beyond identities, I think you’re right in saying that there doesn’t appear to be a fixed point towards which one could move. Certainly the way in which, say, Deleuze and Guattari elaborate their concept of “becoming-animal” in A Thousand Plateaus as a creative, social process in which there is a chance of liberating oneself from being bound by identities, presents the notion of becoming as something that is not a matter of moving from one identity to another identity. The becoming is itself the point, and since in their view all becomings are, in a sense, becomings-animal, this gives the animal a privileged and markedly creative place in their philosophy.

[…]

marco-evaristtiMarco Evaristti, Blenders and Goldfish, 2000. More about it here

There is an overwhelming amount of overtly sentimental imagery out there which does a certain kind of work, and that’s fine. I’m not saying that one could shift to a culture in which one simply got rid of greeting cards that had sentimental animal imagery on them. I’m talking about a different kind of work, work that uses animal imagery in a much more self-conscious way. It’s a way which I guess is broadly related to the notion of the artist that Lyotard had: the artist as someone who has particular kinds of responsibilities in the postmodern world to work against complacency, to refuse what he calls the “solace of good forms,” to continue to try to problematize things.

albagreenEduardo Kac, GFP Bunny, 2000. More about it here

To what extent do you think animals are used as passive tools by artists while they work through issues of subjectivity and identity?

There are quite a lot of dimensions to this question. I ended up devising the term “botched taxidermy” as a rather clumsy catch-all phrase for a variety of contemporary art practice that engages with the animal at some level or other. In some cases it involves taxidermy itself, but in all cases the animal, dead or alive, is present in all its awkward, pressing thing-ness. I think what many of the artists I’ve been discussing are doing in their presentation of the animal as some kind of clumsy compound of human and animal elements is to reinforce the notion that the comfortable, utopian conception of nature in which humans had unmediated access to animals and lived in some kind of unproblematic harmony with them does not look like a practical way forward, either in terms of how one thinks philosophically about them, or in terms of how on a practical level one might work for the improvement of their living conditions.

[…]

tessarolo_paintTessarolo painting with Kunda

Toward the end of The Postmodern Animal I became interested in your discussion of pets. It was partly out of selfish reasons since I have two cats. You mention Deleuze and Guattari’s claim that “anyone who likes a dog or a cat is a fool.” But you also discuss other writers who have complicated that attitude and left space open for a more complex relationship between humans and their pets. In the end I wasn’t quite clear on your own position. I know you weren’t really posing it in those terms, but how do you feel about the presence of pets?

Well, we have cats, too. And although that has probably influenced my writing in ways I don’t quite recognize, I certainly tried throughout the book to avoid taking too partisan a position. What interests me very much, though, is the idea you come across in the work of an artist like Carolee Schneemann but also, maybe more surprisingly, in Derrida’s recent philosophical writings — the idea that they might learn things from their cats that are not easily learned anywhere else.

For both of them it’s a matter of taking the time to engage with the cat’s own point of view, and then of thinking about the impact of that point of view on their own work. There’s this great statement by Schneemann where she says of Kitch, one of her cats, something along the lines of “her steady focus enabled me to consider her regard as an aperture in motion.” It’s as though the animal allows the artist to learn something new, see something differently. And Derrida says that his cat provokes a kind of “critical uneasiness” in him, and he seems to imply that this uneasiness may be the only frame of mind in which any responsible human thinking about animals can really begin.

wim-delvoye-11428_792wim-delvoye-11428_1Wim DELVOYE, “Rex” 2006. Stuffed tattooed pig.

excerpt from Where the wild things are: An interview with Steve Baker, by Gregory Williams, in Cabinet, Issue 4, Fall 2001. Continue reading here

┐ Alexandre Tylski, Gus van Sant’s highschool as a Zoo └

elephant4
elephant3
elephant1

From time to time I revisit Gus van Sant’s movie Elephant.   I think of it as a brilliant artwork, definitely his best. The characters, the composition, the poignancy of the argument… though he mastered them all what really captivated me was the animal theme and the symbolism behind its use. I remember reading an article about it and never being able to find it again. I encountered it today, by chance, so here it is:

ELEPHANT : un film animalier

Le titre du film

Le titre du film ELEPHANT est au départ une référence consciente au téléfilm du même nom réalisé par le cinéaste (depuis disparu) Alan Clark sur la violence en Irlande du Nord (un titre évoquant aussi l’impossibilité pour un aveugle à se représenter la forme d’un éléphant). Le titre ELEPHANT est aussi une référence à la mascotte des Républicains aux USA: l’éléphant. Gus Van Sant avoue : ” On s’est amusé avec la dimension politique que peut représenter le titre, et donc sa charge satirique envers, bien sûr, l’aspect aliénant du système d’éducation américain. (.) Elephant, c’est ce qui se voit comme le nez au milieu de la figure, mais ce que tout le monde souhaiterait bien occulter. ” (1)

Mais nous pouvons aussi décrypter le titre ” ELEPHANT ” (“ENFANT”?) en tant que symbole culturel, voire parfois cultuel. Ainsi, il ne s’agirait pas d’oublier que l’éléphant est la monture du Dieu de la Foudre Indra (on entendra dans le film la foudre gronder avant le massacre). C’est aussi un animal aux grandes oreilles (Alex, le tueur, souffre de surdité lors de la scène de la cantine et toute la bande sonore du film se décompose de résonances et de réverbérations très sensibles). C’est aussi ” l’éléphant spirituel et sacré ” (le Christ) qui relève Adam après sa chute. L’éléphant est cet animal que l’on dit sage, sans agressivité et solidement ancré au sol ; dans les rêves il représente une réalité terrestre avec laquelle certaines personnes n’arrivent pas toujours à garder le contact.

Bref, autant d’éléments en rapport direct avec le récit et l’esthétique de ELEPHANT de Gus Vant Sant. Un titre pour le moins emblématique des figures animales qui traversent son film : un sweat-shirt représentant une tête de tigre, un T-Shirt jaune représentant un taureau noir, un chien sautillant au ralenti, un éléphant représenté en croquis sur le mur de la chambre des tueurs, le son d’oiseaux pendant la tuerie dans les couloirs du lycée et la scène finale dans la chambre froide remplie de viande animale. Il fallait donc prendre ELEPHANT dans son sens premier : un film animalier. Nous ne sommes pas dans une ménagerie gitane à la Kusturica, mais dans une impossible Arche de Noé déguisée en lycée. Un parc animalier aux accents apocalyptiques. Un retour au monde sauvage.

Le lycée comme un zoo

LE TIGRE. Michelle est une jeune fille timide et rondelette, et visiblement complexée dans les vestiaires. Elle ne semble pas assumer sa féminité. Elle fait figure de garçon manqué. Gus Van Sant nous la présente pour la première fois portant un sweat-shirt sportif arboré d’un tigre (l’emblème même du lycée mais que seule, elle, porte). On sait que le tigre a pour particularité dans les rêves et les mythes d’être un félin gracieux et puissant : tour à tour féminin (longs cils autour des yeux) et masculin (grondement grave). C’est aussi la bête noire rampante (Michelle rase les murs) des premiers hommes, autre retour aux peurs primaires et barbares. Gus Van Sant nous indique la nature foncièrement hybride de Michelle. Mais la nature tout aussi hybride et sauvage des autres personnages.

LE TAUREAU. John est un blondinet habillé de jaune. Cet ange blond marque l’esthétique du film (une sorte de cousin de Tazzio ?) et la mémoire des personnes ayant vu le film (les images illustrant par exemple les critiques de film parues sur ce film mettent presque toujours en valeur ce blondinet). Lui aussi fait figure d’hybride. Car en effet, son T-shirt si particulier y fait représenter un taureau noir sur fond jaune (2) et l’on connaît l’attachement de Van Sant pour les costumes, notamment dans Prête à Tout (1995) avec Nicole Kidman. Le contraste est fort (phrase reprise d’ailleurs dans le film) et nourrira l’esthétique entière du film. Taureau rappelant les peintures pariétales et à la fois symbolique de vie et de mort, on ne voit littéralement que cela lorsque Gus Van Sant filme John déambulant dans les labyrinthes du lycée.

John, l’ange taureau

John est ainsi une sorte d’ange taureau (dont l’écho se fera à la fin avec Benny, son double, jeune noir au T-shirt jaune). Une créature hybride, voire androgyne, que nous soupçonnons un moment d’être le tueur (Gus Van Sant insiste sur lui dans le premier mouvement du film comme s’il s’agissait de son héros principal). Les apparences sont trompeuses (il sera d’ailleurs question d’apparence dans un débat lycéen du film) : le simulacre de l’image est ici au cour.

Ce jeune homme taureau serpentant dans les labyrinthes rappelle alors inévitablement le mythe même du Minotaure. L’origine de la représentation. Retour aux sources des légendes initiatiques (et de l’art pariétal). Questionnement alors de Gus Van Sant sur ” Comment évoluent les mythes et les contes aujourd’hui ? ” mais aussi ” Qu’est-ce qu’une image ? ” et ” Comment la jeunesse vit-elle avec les images ? ” Comment sont-ils piégés par elles comme dans un labyrinthe de signes ? – pas étonnant de voir ainsi plusieurs scènes se dérouler dans la chambre noire du lycée, Gus Van Sant scrute précisément la création photographique et l’imago.

Les 7 jeunes filles et jeunes garçons offerts au Minotaure sont représentés dans le film par les cartons (retour au cinéma muet) indiquant les noms de ces jeunes (muets ?) – liste létale d’une morte annoncée, ils sont comme jetés aux lions. Les cartons sont autant de plaques mortuaires, de tombeaux ouverts. Gus Van Sant détourne le mythe du Minotaure et questionne une époque, ou plutôt : la représentation d’une époque. Dans le monde décrit dans ELEPHANT, les enfants ne sont plus uniquement les chassés, il sont aussi les bourreaux.

Les Trois Petits Cochons

La présence du conte et de l’animal se poursuit et s’achève jusque dans la dernière scène, tournée dans la chambre froide des cuisines du lycée. Et sur une contine détournée en air de croquemitaine. Alex a passé plusieurs portes pour trouver deux amoureux dans une chambre froide. Comme dans Les Trois Petits Cochons (et SHINING de Kubrick, 1980), il traverse les portes. Alex pointe son arme sur le couple amoureux et récite: ” Amstramgram, pic et pic et colegram, bourre et bourre. Si tu prends un tigre par la patte. et qu’il bouge. laisse-le filer. ” Des morceaux d’animaux froids pendent au fond alors que les jeunes amoureux sont laissés hors champ, déjà ” disparus. ” Les corps en mouvement constant du début du film se gèlent. Le zoo est mort.

text by Alexandre Tylski. Continue reading here

┐ Oleg Kulik, the “it”, the “his” and the “I” dog └

A man is an animal first of all. And then he is a Social animal, Political animal and so on. I am an Art animal, that’s why, spectator, I need your physical and psychological efforts to make sense.” Oleg Kulik

11-54265011-542648© Oleg Kulik, Mad Dog Performance (photographs), 1994

1140+press1© Oleg Kulik, I bite America and America bites me, 1997

628x471art-08© Oleg Kulig, Family of The Future, 1997

Kulik has suggested: ‘I wanted to turn into a sort of new Diogenes, a dog-philosopher’ (2004:56); and, like Diogenes, the active force and vital optimism of his disruptive conduct is perhaps best understood as an uncompromising, transgressive hostility toward the inertia of conventional aesthetic and political gestures. In the uneasy transition to a post-Soviet Russia, the interventions of Kulik as a ‘clown of the catastrophe’ (Viktor Misiano in Watkins and Kermode 2001:63) engaged critically with dominant ideologies and alibis, and presented a range of political, philosophical, and ethical propositions through his bodily actions and accompanying statements. Some of the work explicitly denounced the corruption of the international art market and the commodificatory domestication of dissident aesthetics, as well as the Pavlovian conditioning of socialized gallery-goers. Other actions referenced specific political contexts, for example: the introduction of new capital punishment legislation in Russia during the 1990s, Russian elections (in which, like Beuys, Kulik put himself forward as the representative of the “Party of Animals”), the exclusions effected by the European Union, epidemics of animal disease, the fate of Montenegro in the breakup of former Yugoslavia, and so on. In particular, he returned repeatedly to relations between Eastern and Western Europe, and representations of contemporary Russia in the constitution of a new Europe as a deprived, unsophisticated, mongrel “other” that is charming as long as it remains passive, submissive, excluded, and doesn’t bite back. Kulik’s explicit critique of anthropocentrism seems to be a posthumanist extension of his radical misgivings about Eurocentrism, and a logical development of his critical stance on democracy’s blind spots and limitations. Kulik’s utterances contain echoes of a “deep ecology” in their utilitarian critique of the human subject. There are all sorts of other knowledges outside of the center, he proposes, if only one could create a new “united culture of noosphere” (in Watkins and Kermode 2001:14), an inclusive zoocentrist culture of the senses and of embodied perception”

(…)

What kind of dog was being represented here? The Kulik-dog, “a rag of wolf’s tongue redpanting from his jaws” (Joyce [1922] 1960:52), was ill-tempered, confrontational, combative; a wild, mad or fighting dog devoid of any of the other possibilities dogs actually possess. On some levels, it seems to have been little more than a rather reductive cartoonlike vicious dog, a “beware-of-the-dog” dog, territorial and irredeemably antagonistic, although arguably a great deal of courage must have been required to carry out this degree of pretence in many of the performance contexts Kulik chose. Becoming-dog here seems to have been a mimicry of selected attributes of canine behavior, an imitation game as spectacle directed at human beings (rather than, say, dogs). As Phillips has remarked in her critical appraisal of the Deleuzean trope of becoming animal: “Becoming is a fantasy that we do not really want to play out to its very end: to remain on the border-a human in a partial dog site, a dog with a human attitude-is about as far as we are willing to go” (2000:130). What remains remarkable, however, is the level of Kulik’s investment, the monstrous, amoral, libidinal, and exhibitionist energetics of his performance as “dog,” and the contextual, critical focus of his interventions.

Recently, Kulik has expressed certain reservations as to the effectiveness of his strategies in the Zoophrenia series (see for example Kulik 2004:56)-the reiteration of metaphor and stereotype in his representation of the animal as “non-anthropomorphous other,” as it is described by his collaborator Mila Bredikhina (in Watkins and Kermode 2001:52); the tendency for him as performer to collapse through immersive mimicry into a state of incoherent affectivity-and his recent work has moved away from Kulik-dog interventions of this kind. Nonetheless, in the unrestrained excess of his mimesis of aberrant canine behavior, Kulik managed to produce an indeterminate creature within which elements of the “animal” lurk alongside those of the “human,” rendering both terms and their constitutive difference unstable and in question: in Alan Read’s words, a “divided self of species relations” (2004:244).”

excerpt of Inappropriate/d Others or, The Difficulty of Being a Dog, by David Williams, in TDR (1988-), Vol. 51, No. 1 (Spring, 2007), pp. 92-118

┐ Terike Haapoja – mind over matter over mind └

MG_3413-640x400MG_3419-640x400© Terike Haapoja, Anatomy of Landscape, Durational images, 2 parts, 2008 Glass, plywood, live plants, light, electronic, water, 150 cm x 90 cm x 20 cm

When one stands before a landscape, two lines of thought appear. One treats the landscape as a framed fragment of our field of vision, distanced plane of forms and tones, structured by our viewpoint. The other, in contrast, follows the grass from underneath our feet to the distance, hears the resonance of the wind in our ears, smells the soil, synchronizes the pulses of the body with the life inside the view. Abstractions, mathematization and objectification of nature emerge from the first line of thought, just as theories of perception, duration and experience from the second. But still they exist as parts of the same view.


It has been estimated, that if we would have to build all that which the earth provides for us now for free, the number would exceed all measurements. The great machine is, it seems, economic by nature.


ANATOMY OF LANDSCAPE consists of two large, painting-like landscape images. As the viewer comes closer to the painting, it becomes visible that the image consists of live plants and real soil. Automatic watering-, ventilation-, heating- and light system, necessary for sustaining life inside the painting, is visible from the other side of the frame. The lights change accoording to the daytime from sunrise to sunset.

databaseworks2WC3000L2jpg-700x400-11_15_13© Terike Haapoja, In and Out of Time, 2005. Video diptych, duration 4,5h, mute. Size of the projection 180x4000cm.

When a creature dies, it’s inner time ceases. It does not experience time, but becomes an object in the flows of the other’s times. This is why photographic time is always ponting out to the viewer: the absence of the other, revealed by photography, makes the viewer painfully concious of her or his own presence. Photographing a dead body, as the early photographers did on battlefields and graveyeards, doubles this absence. The other is dead, and in the photograph even the death itself has passed away.


Still, death as absence of time is just one point of view. Time does not cease – instead, vivid life continues inside the corpse. The community of microbes live on, interaction with the surrounding world continues as gazes and organic compounds are relesead from the body. The transition from subjectivity to an object is a proces much longer then the moment of dying. The ritual of a wake besides the dead body has served as a way to live thought this phase of transition.


The video installation IN AND OUT OF TIME shows a diptych of a calf, that has just passed away. The image on the left shows a recording of the calf as seen with an ordinary video camera. The image on the right shows the same calf, as seen with an infrared camera. The video’s are in synchrony: as the body of the calf cools down, it’s image slowly vanishes from the infrared image. The original recording time of 7 hours is visible as a time code in the video. The duration of the projection is 4,5 hours

3COMMUNITY2COMMUNITY© Terike Haapoja, Community, 2007. 5-channel video installation, 5-channel sound

Terike’s amazing body of work can be “seen” here

┐ when a cause turns into thoughtless hypocrisy* └

© Tinkebell, Brutus with Idiot, photo printed as a poster, made in collaboration with Mirjam Muller, with special thanks to the idiots

© Tinkebell, Her name is Sarah, performance

(the animal is used as a commodity article: as part of an individuals carefully build image and ego, rather then being acknowledged as a being with own needs and characteristics.)

© Tinkebell, Saving a Broiler, installation

(Saving the broiler was part of an installation in which the animal of just a few weeks old got the most perfect habitat the artist could think of.)

© The Idiots, DON’T WORRY WE’LL STRAIGHTEN HIM OUT!,2009 – taxidermy skunk, ironing board, textile, wood, felt. An interview about their work here

© William Hundley, Chihuahua on Cheeseburgers

© Jouko Lehtola, from the series Dogs (left) + © design by The Just Us Collective (right)

*may it be clear that the title of this post refers not to these artists’ provocative work but to their haters. it’s very easy to stay with what’s in front of you, much more difficult to actually stop bitching, stop being an hypocrite and actually think about what you do, what you eat, what you wear. If I were to be wrong about this judgement, all their haters would be morally irreproachable, which would mean our world should be a better place, – with all these animal lovers and environmental activists – when in fact most of them just sit and send hate mail, they wouldn’t get up and go save a pet about to die. Tinkebell already did the test.

┐ Hallgerður Hallgrímsdóttir └

© Hallgerður Hallgrímsdóttir, Untitled, from the project the light of day, 2010-2011

© Hallgerður Hallgrímsdóttir, Untitled, from the project the light of day, 2010-2011

© Hallgerður Hallgrímsdóttir, Untitled, from the project the light of day, 2010-2011

© Hallgerður Hallgrímsdóttir, Untitled, from the project the light of day, 2010-2011

More of her work here

┐ Isabella Rozendaal └

© Isabella Rozendaal, Sedated and shaved, ready for castration, from the project On Loving Animals

© Isabella Rozendaal, from the Hunting project

Irony is part of Isabella’s projects portraying animals, either as objects of love or as desirable preys. Hunters will argue no one loves animals as they do. I find this such an absurd statement I don’t even argue with them. Her images manage to highlight several incongruities in these supposed loving relationships with animals. The ownership seems to liberate a perverse sense of power; the same happens with propriety. Here is no different.

For more of Isabella’s words and pictures here

┐ Kyle Zeto └

© Kyle Zeto, The Residents Keep It All, from the series Folk Logic, 2010

© Kyle Zeto, The Residents Keep It All (2), from the series Folk Logic, 2010

“Human imagination and nature intersect at many junctions throughout cultural history. From William Blake to Bliss Carman and Henry Thoreau, the ephemeral collection of biological systems have provided stimulus to human fantasy. A representation of nature has a vision projected onto it. Anthropomorphism is an allocation of human characteristics to something inhuman or perhaps inanimate. Nature, to us, is both those things.”

Kyle’s blog and his website

Short-listed for Fresh Faced & Wild Eyed

┐ Elisa Noguera Lopez └

© Elisa Noguera Lopez, Untitled, from the series Perhaps finally alone

© Elisa Noguera Lopez, Untitled, from the series Perhaps finally alone

© Elisa Noguera Lopez, Untitled, from the series Perhaps finally alone

“I use photography because of it exasperating insistence on reproducing whatever is left in front of the camera. By making every mistake relevant, photographs become so easy to look at, and so difficult to understand.
In this project I am drawn to textures, miscalculated lines and imperfect circles.
By using simple homely fragments and with help from some little dainty creatures, submerged in excessive patterns, I highlight some forgotten corners in our comfortable surroundings, to create an absurd combination of foolish melancholy and incomplete comedy.”

Elisabet’s home is here

Short-listed for Fresh Faced & Wild Eyed