Good Dog Bad Dog

Good Dog Bad Dog

Good Dog Bad Dog

Ed Janzen (Kingsville, ON)
January 23rd – February 27th 2015

I too am not a bit tamed, I too am untranslatable.
I sound my barbaric YAWP over the roofs of the world.(1)

And what I assume you shall assume.(2)

At his accompanying talk to his sculptural / video installation at paved titled Good Dog Bad Dog, Ed Janzen cited a number of very graphic and telling historical depictions of “dog”. There’s Otto Dix’s The Match Seller, with its Weimar Republic Post WW I despair and disgust, where the dog gleefully urinates on the quadriplegic veteran. This can’t help but be greeted with our contemporary eyes as an indictment more of that period, than the dog (and perhaps evil spawning later evil…). Goya’s The Dog was presented, from his equally (and literally) black period that also spawned The Disasters of War (I might add that the dogs seems far more civilized than the ravenously cannibalistic god, Saturn, in these paintings…) Only one painting of the Mexican artist Roffino Tamaya was presented, but dog is a motif that appeared in many of his works, often feral and fierce.

Ed’s research was augmented by The Dog in Art: From Rococo to Post-Modernism, by Robert Rosenblum. The words from his artist statement are as follows: “the dog is a diverse being- at one time exemplifying all the best of human traits, such as loyalty, dedication, unconditional love, obedience; at another, the most deplorable ones, such as viciousness, filth, disgust. Cross-cultural opinions of dogs vary from “man’s best friend” to pariah. By extension, in human encounters, the “other” is often judged in terms of good or evil, trusted or feared. Through video, installation, and the hybridization of familiar dog/human artifacts, these works are intended to occupy the space between two opposing poles.”

As you enter paved, you “interrupt” the dialogue between the newest work, appropriating the rabid dog scene from To Kill a Mockingbird: Atticus Finch, the civilized voice in depression era Alabama now demonstrates a more traditional performative masculinity. To his daughter / narrative’s initial horror and then typical amazement that her father might be anything more than she expects, he quickly slays the dog. I’m unsure if I agree with the common reading – one Ed referenced – of the dog as the racism of the town of Maycomb. Perhaps I feel the dog is being maligned, as so often happens to the “other”, as though our sins can be placed upon it, expunging us. The two projections are arranged so that the gun, when wielded by Finch in one, is aimed at the jumping, jarring dog in the opposite. This works seems to sit behind you, as you walk the gallery, and you need to break their relationship as you leave, walking between them through the door.

The massive glowing MILKBONE cross hangs high enough to invite worship or at least deference: this rules the room. The video work directly before it, on a white clothed “altar”, is just as religious, if more nuanced. An arm is outstretched, Jesus – like, offering a treat, almost glowing against a dark background. Various dogs enter the frame, approaching and taking the proffered treat (though one, at least to my knowledge, seems less than impressed, but others respond with an eagerness more expected of their species). The old adage that man is a dog’s idea of what a god should be comes to mind: but that’s what a human said, not a dog, so I’m neutral on that assumption.

There’s a large doghouse, a found object that incorporates an image of a man (the artist, but easily a metaphor of everyman) in its door. A bit decrepit, a bit askew, it sits in the corner, looking as forlorn or as sad as any of the dogs from Georges Seurat or Alberto Giacometti that inspired Janzen.

Other works play more specifically – sometimes heavily, sometimes lightly – on Biblical quotes about dogs (I’m pleased that Janzen used the King James Version, not just for the poetics of its language, but also because many of its idioms have become part of our larger dialect).

A large white MILKBONE (half eaten, starkly spot lit), hangs at the opposite end of the gallery. Text is projected onto it, flowing off to the side rapidly. Like most KJV Bible text, it’s poetic. Even Deuteronomy, the “rule book” of the Old Testament, has an erudite phrase: Thou shalt not bring the hire of a whore, or the price of a dog, into the house of the Lord they God for any vow: for even both these are abomination unto the Lord thy God. Or Isaiah: Yea, they are greedy dogs who can never have enough.

I might inject two things here, external to the gallery: the “Christian” usage of dog to degrade an enemy is like the usage of the term “Satan”, which Elaine Pagels explored in her research(3), and is more about social groupings and clearly labeling “others” as unclean or foul than any theological distinction. The other is that this is still going on, with recent racial strife often denigrating into “assertions” of the “animal” nature of the “other.”

I have often described the Canadian art world (whether the institutionalized spaces of academia or other equally inertia laden sites) by citing Proverbs 26: 11: As a dog returneth to his vomit, so a fool returneth to his folly. Perhaps this is unfair – to dogs, that is, as they’ve been often exploited and used as tools and metaphors that seem to project our own failings and follies upon them. After all, their mouths are cleaner than ours, and I may be speaking allegorically.
Ed Janzen in Good Dog / Bad Dog explores this ongoing trope in a variety of ways that alternately can amuse and horrify, and perhaps forces us to think more of ourselves than about dogs.

(1) Walt Whitman, from Leaves of Grass,
(2) Walt Whitman, from Leaves of Grass,
(3) I suggest Pagels’ The Origin of Satan, where she talks about the usage of the term moreso in the split in the early Church between Jews and Gentiles.

~Text written by Bart Gazzola

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