My dog doesn't get invited to many cultural events. The reasons for this are multifold, with the most obvious being that he's a dog. So when Nacho received an invitation to Ari Richter's gallery pre-screening on Friday at CentralTrak, I was overjoyed. Like most single mothers who work full-time, I want an enriching life for my fur child. Getting it isn't easy.
I took him to experience Erica Felicella's performance piece, "Visible Shell," when she sat in that box in Oak Cliff. He wasn't riveted. Occasionally I take him to explore street art in a program I call "Do Dogs Love Graffiti?" He doesn't. In fact, he's never responded directly to a piece of art until Friday, when he toured and sniffed Richter's collection of tails made out of re-purposed animal fur and human hair.
It was his first gallery show, and holy fuck. My dog loved the shit out of that art.
I feel that I should explain the less visibly obvious reason why my dog doesn't get invited to, well, anywhere. Nacho started crashing with me about seven months ago; it's time he's used productively to destroy every material possession that I've ever loved. To give you a peek at the extent of his appetite, I created a Tumblr for you to browse. I left out a lot. Some things, like the Wonder Women knee socks with attached capes, were too heartbreaking to photograph. Others, like my vibrator, were just too disgusting.
His smoke monster tendencies began stereotypically: Couch. Shoes. Soft materials I had worn. Then something shifted. His destruction became more targeted. One night he focused the entirety of his frustrations on a book about the Bermuda Triangle, a piece of primitive artwork and a garage rock/soul album from Memphis. That's when I knew: My dog fears high-concept work, and is intimidated by art, as a whole.
I was crushed.
To negate my feelings of parental failure, I tried gateway introductions: 'Art 21' episodes, Squirrels Squirrels Squirrels (a blog about squirrels in art) and the entire cliche catalog of C.M. Coolidge. He just splayed his legs and licked the spots where his balls once lived. So before you judge me for bringing a self-animated 60 pound wrecking machine into a setting where he -- most likely -- would destroy some artwork, do know that I was at the end of my rope. I did it for the fur children. So did Ari Richter.
The New York-based artist has had a hair gathering compulsion for some time. He's fascinated by the different ways we perceive the stuff based on the stage it's at in its life cycle. When attached, hair and fur represent vitality. We celebrate it by running our hands through it, fluffing it and pampering it in every way imaginable. But once it falls out, the story line changes. It's dead. Repulsive even. It's in that squeamish transition that Ari finds amusement, which is why he chose bodily cast-offs as the subject of his residency work, and subsequently as the topic of his solo show "The Skin I Live In." (We've already discussed much of Richter's exhibition on this blog, so check out these preview and review articles for background on the art he makes out of his chewed cheek skin, toenails and pubic hair.)
Tails poked squirrely out of every vertical surface at CentralTrak. Mounted onto cylindrical plugs inserted into the drywall, the furry appendages strangely resembled tail trophies. One came from Ari's own dog's fur, who was also in attendance. Others, which interested Nacho much more, were gathered from cats. After circling the crowd and making his formal introductions, Nacho headed gingerly towards the art, which was positioned at various heights around the gallery. He got damn excited, sniffing and rubbing his face into several that were installed nearer to the floor.
Richter watched and giggled nervously. "This is what I wanted!" he said. "I wanted to see how they would react to and interact with the art." Nacho's fascination was pulled a dozen directions. Dogs were barking. Leashes were tangling together. And then, he saw it. A rodent-like tail poked out like a bristle brush, roughly four feet off the ground. He bolted for the thing, and jumped against the wall, wrapping his lips around it. He had nearly removed the tail from the wall when I wrestled him to the ground. "This is good!" said Richter, eternal optimist. "I was hoping there would be some paw prints on the walls."
Did Nacho grasp the existential principles of "The Skin I Live In" or assess the collection as a whole? No. He's both a dog and a cultural neophyte. But that doesn't mean it didn't affect him. When I fell asleep that night, Nacho was restless. He pulled every trash bag out of the box, separated them, and went on to strategically place all 42 black plastic sacks thoughtfully throughout my apartment, draping them over table tops. Wadding them beneath the curtains. When I woke up, he couldn't wait to show me his installation.
"The Skin I Live In" is intended for humans: Dog night was a one-time experiment. The exhibition runs through September 22. Visit it from noon to 5 p.m. on Saturdays, and also by appointment.