Like fellow contributors, I am going to take this week to dedicate it to something that I myself have dedicated my life to. It isn’t mixed media light art or German minimalist techno or even the “less is more” approach to cooking: it’s dogs! A few may scoff (because they have no souls) and find that these canine friends may not be exactly what the design doctor ordered. But, I humbly must disagree and hope that–within this week–I can change your mind on the subject.
First, we are going to take a peek at the work of British artist Jo Longhurst who has dedicated her body of work to dogs (specifically the Whippet). Her work revolves around the Whippet not only as pet but as athletic and sexualized object. Like playing cards of your favorite athletes or even a centerfold in your favorite adult magazine, Longhurst’s gaze at the animal is very “adult” and is a reflection of them as well as us (the human). You could passively say, “What wonderful photos of dogs!” regarding her work, but to do so is to majorly misunderstand what she is doing.
In her own words, Longhurst describes her art as such:
My work with the British show Whippet – a dog bred to an ideal standard – focuses particularly on the evolution of the visual image of the Whippet, and the construction of human identity through the shaping of the figure of the dog.
With that, we have such works as Twelve Dogs, Twelve Bitches and The Refusal which aim to showcase how this dog has become defined (muscle, perfection, beauty) and that–even though that is their innate “look”–we have had a hand in crafting them into such through selective breeding and training. Breed echoes the same idea even when the dog isn’t “on” and The Queen’s Stud, meaningfully salacious, represents an animal’s unyielding beastliness that is used in both procreation as well as asserting authority.
Longhust’s works with Whippets transcends a simple analysis of animal but rather analysis of self. It wanders through thoughts of why we have this desire to create the perfect animal (family friendly, yet athletically able). However, it does not answer if this is right or wrong, bad or good. Thus, is the nature of her work and why it is so compelling.