'our creation is that guru; the duration of our lives is that guru; our trials, illnesses and calamaties is that guru. There is a guru that is nearby and a guru that is beyond the beyond. I humbly make my offering to the guru, the beautiful remover of ignorance, the enlightenment principle that is within me and surrounds me at all times.'
Guru Stotram

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

“Italy's checking out where the action's at,” chuckled one voice in the crowd. “France is rather yappy,” observed another. The square outside Ikon Gallery in Birmingham was agog with obvious but irresistible gags yesterday as Australian artist Bennett Miller broke the first rule of theatre working with 47 dachshunds in a live art meets architectural installation experiment.

For Dachshund UN Miller had built a large scale model of the famous United Nations office in Geneva, Switzerland. Where normally one would expect to see the great and the good of international politics battling it out for the benefit of the world community, we instead saw a kaleidoscope of West Midlands based sausage dogs. Dachshunds of every shape, size and colour fussed about behind tiny dachshund sized microphones and miniature country name plates.

The set was cleverly designed so that doting owners hovered below remaining clear of the audience's view but very much in sight to the dogs. Clear of the audience's view in the loosest sense - hands popped up here and there, heads even, when little Fido needed a spot of reassurance or encouragement to face the cameras rather than showing them his arse as China was wont to do. And when dogs became uncomfortable or fidgety they were moved. The notably oversized United States popped up in Pakistan at one point. In such a scenario the symbolism of the inadvertent was bountiful.

Notions of chance and control, free will even, were raised. On the surface of it owners were puppeting their pets. But as the degree to which a sort of charming chaos was revealed to be the order of the day, the question of who was puppeting who loomed ever larger. Or if anyone was even really puppeting anyone. Cracks began to appear in the illusion of control. And not just in a canine 'discipline' sense.

Even as the definition is ever expanding it might be said that Dachshund UN stretches the boundaries of what might be considered live art. Perhaps it stretches even the boundaries of theatre, tottering occasionally on it's short little legs towards the realms of circus. But for all that it was not without its serious side. A sort of community spiritedness necessarily built up around the event. A sense of convivial interdependence was evident between the artist, the owners and their pets. A joyful, trusting group mentality prevailed, that hinted perhaps at something world politics might do well itself to embrace.

As well as being a tonic, humour has the capacity to be a powerful philosophical and intellectual tool. It is a tool woefully under used in a contemporary art world keen to be taken, and to take itself, very seriously. Dachshund UN treads a fine line though. Once humour descends into farce it risks becoming impossible for it's audience to see beyond. It risks becoming, rather than engaging, a joke.

Dachshund UN
Bennett Miller
Saturday 31 March

Fierce Festival
29 March to 8 April

written for and reproduced here by kind permission of This Is Tomorrow

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