Facing The Animal
May 29 - June 28, 2012
“A dog,” reads the familiar saying, “ is man’s best friend.” We favour these animals for their unwavering loyalty, devotion, and the inherent desire to protect their ‘owner’ in all situations, often regardless of the impact on their own well being. In return (presumably), they demand little from us and despite our questionable treatment of them within certain industries, remain consistently faithful. While the relationship between humans and animals is a vast one, it is our longstanding relationship with the dog, specifically, that is addressed in Facing The Animal, curated by UBC CCST Masters’ candidate, Tarah Hogue. Showing at the Or Gallery from May 29 to June 29, the exhibit features the work of Julie Andreyev, Mary Anne Barkhouse, and Bill Burns, three artists who are dissimilar in their preferred mediums, but similar in their collective inclusion of a central subject: the dog.
Julie Andreyev is a Vancouver-based artist, who collaborates regularly with her dogs, Tom and Sugi. Boasting both their own website and Twitter account, Tom and Sugi have become indispensable allies in Andreyev’s on-going exploration of animal consciousness. Employing primarily installation and video pieces, Andreyev gives the viewer the opportunity to comprehend the personalities of both Tom and Sugi. Shit Dogs Say (2012), Dog Walking Dog (2012) and Dog Dreams (2012) are all featured pieces in the exhibit, offering us a chance to directly observe the unique traits of each animal.
Mary-Ann Barkhouse encourages discourse on environmental issues and indigenous culture through the regular use of animal imagery, one of her regular appearing creatures being the wolf (an early predecessor of what we refer to as the domestic dog.) Barkhouse works within a wide range of media, ranging from sculupture and photography to jewelry. Red Rover (2012), a new piece featured in Facing The Animal, is an installation comprised of foam play mats, and two “teams” of wooden toys. Wolves stand on one side of the playing field, and directly face their opponents- the poodles. An image of the proposed Enbridge Pipeline decorates the playmats and sits directly underneath the animals.
Bill Burns explores the relationship between dogs and industry in Dogs, Boats and Airplanes (2003-2010), a photographic series that the artist compiled throughout many international journeys. Throughout the series, we observe the dog in a number of global settings and major cities. Each is embedded in a different location within a wide range of social, cultural and economic contexts, thus making for a drastically different reading of the canine in every photograph.
The North American dog industry is a multi-faceted one, especially when we consider it in relation to its domestic partner-in-crime; the feline. Modern dog “culture” includes specific breeding strategizes to produce designer dogs, a selection of culinary options and meal plans for our furry friends, dog hotels, boutiques, and furniture conventions, and an objectification of the animal that forces us to reflect on whether or not we are, in fact, still treating the dog as mans’ best friend. Each artist in Hogue’s exhibition invites us to reconsider this relationship in different ways, by presenting the dog with three drastically different representations.
Interspecies collaboration, such as that practiced by Andreyev, may be rare in practice, but is effective and directly addresses our common practice of rigidly separating the relationship lines between human and animal. In not only using the image of the dog in her work, but incorporating them directly into the creation of it, Andreyev breaks down the somewhat-challenging notion of appropriating the animal image/body for use in contemporary art. The notion of the Other is challenged, and the species is genuinely regarded as companion, by Andreyev’s equalization and value of her contributors’ position.
Barkhouse’s Red Rover is immediately visually stimulating, given both its central position in the gallery, and the effective use of hot pink, soft pink and black base colours. On one side, we have a pack of wolves, directly opposing what one could deem their polar opposites- a small group of poodles. Though all of the animals are “leashed”, the wolves are assembled in a pack form, and the poodles align themselves in a perfect line formation. The stereotypes that the viewer immediately assigns to both reveal themselves almost immediately, especially given that these creatures are standing on opposed sides of the Enbridge Pipeline. Traditionally, the game of Red Rover requires a certain degree of risk and determination. Both sides engage in the game knowing the outcome is unknown. There is a strange irony in the prospect of a group of wolves opposing a group of poodles, in our assumption that the wolves would clearly be the victor. These stereotypes, and the specific use of such two opposing animals, call to mind conversations of nature, animal culture, and the human imposition into a natural habitat.
The dogs that we encounter in Dogs, Boats and Airplanes, as aforementioned, are varied. Some of them are visibly more healthy than others, and in some we are able to more easily identify breeds. The human form may be visible in one image, and not in another. Some of the dogs sport outfits, or accessories. In particular, Burns is effective in reinforcing the different classes of the canine, which are ultimately determined by their human-centric societies.
The viewer is asked to look at the dog in three different ways in Facing the Animal. Andreyev asks us to reconsider the line of relationships between human and animal. Barkhouse directly gives us a glimpse of our involvement (and possible destruction) of both the natural environment and pre-established interspecies relationships within in. Last but not least, Burns offers us an international portrait of the dog, the canine, and the extreme variances within the images.
“Dogs”, reads another familiar saying, “are our link to paradise. They don’t know evil or jealousy or discontent. To sit with a dog on a hillside on a glorious afternoon is to be back in Eden, where doing nothing was not boring--it was peace.” (Kundera). Perhaps this is why the mysterious individual first said that dog is man’s best friend. The canines in Facing The Animal give us the opportunity, at many times, to both reflect and re-connect upon this familiar paradise. For those of us who have not yet had the privilege of living with a dog, we can experience it for the first time. Ultimately, Hogue’s curatorial union of these three artists prompts this: it is skilled, strategic, and directly invites us to face the animal(s).
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Zoe Peled is a writer in Vancouver Canada.