PIT BULL FLOWER POWER EXHIBIT
This mixed-media immersive exhibit is an extension of my Pit Bull Flower Power series. It explores the world of shelter pit bulls, the most abused and hated of all companion animals, and what it means for them to be at the mercy of humans. Below are the descriptions of some of the installations. The exhibition revolves around my Pit Bull Flower Power series, the beautiful portraits of these dogs waiting for homes. It reveals the heartbreaking reality behind the glamorous portraits.
The exhibition was first presented in Brooklyn, NY, at The Invisible Dog Art Center in October 2018.
The red frame
Video installation / sculpture, 2018.
This piece is about the way we create narratives around things we don’t understand, and the way we feel the need to embellish things.
Over the years, I have visited many shelters and rescues of all kinds, from huge open-admission (“kill”) shelters with high turn-around, to small isolated “no kill” rural shelters. Although many dogs are doing fine in the shelter environment, it can be too much for a lot of them and I would compare it to solitary confinement. This is Connor. He was a high-strung pittie who was desperately trying to connect with a couple of people who were walking among the kennels (he was adopted later). If you swipe, you’ll see his portraits. The bouncing was maddening to me and I often thought about him over the years.
For dogs who are in “no kill” shelters, the wait can last a lifetime. I photographed dogs who had been waiting 10 years in a cage and had developed mental illnesses or unhealthy behaviors. How could they not? In the animal welfare community, people tend to favor “no kill” shelters and insist that all lives must be saved at any cost. But what about the invisible cost that these animals pay? Their distress, their mental health? There is something grand about saving animals and in a way that’s when our humanity shines the brightest. But when you have witnessed as much as I have, you question the idea of “saving lives at all cost”, and what that cost really means. “No kill” is a glorious concept, but the reality of it isn’t that simple. I am not sure stacking up dogs in a warehouse just to keep them alive is very humane.
This piece is a reflection on the dichotomy between saving animals, a beautiful, grand act, which is philosophically fascinating, and the reality of that act and the responsibility that comes with.
Dog collars, Chains, Padlocks, 2018.
These collars and chains were taken off dogs when they arrived at a shelter in Atlanta, Georgia. Some of these dogs were seized by the Police in cruelty cases, others were surrendered by their owners, still wearing those. Often shelter staff or Police have to use tools to remove chains from dogs. The rusty padlocks reveal how long the dogs were locked for, outside day in and day out.
The padlocked chain is strongly attached to the negative image the pit bull has. It is reminiscent of the dog fighting culture, where animals are chained to poles. It also perpetuates the idea that pit bulls are dangerous, not to be trusted, and commodities that are worth less than other dogs.
In January 2019, the clothing brand Forever21 released a hoodie featuring a pit bull wearing a heavy padlocked chain around his neck. This was a reminder that the pit bull is still vastly misrepresented in pop culture.
Velvet, red yarn, metal clasps. 2018.
This is an interactive installation. Pillows were made using intake photos from various city shelter around the U.S. Open intake shelters are mandated by cities to welcome all strays and owner surrenders. They may not turn any animal away. For that reason their intake numbers can be astonishing. In cities like New York or Las Vegas, an average of 80 animals a day have to be processed, every day, all year-around.
As soon as an animal comes in, it will be assigned an ID number, a tag, and its photo will be taken while the animal is briefly assessed medically and behaviorally. Although the use of digital photography has greatly improved the intake process, in many open-intake shelters, the dogs’ intake photo is taken hastily, sometimes with a webcam. The dogs are often stressed, scared, ill, injured. The photo is sometimes the only chance these dogs will have to find a home.
Some of these dogs will be returned to their owners, others will be adopted, many will be euthanized. This is the cruel lottery for shelter animals. For the purpose of this installation, the ID numbers and statuses were assigned to each dog randomly. The real fate of the dogs pictured here is not known.
The pieces are meant to be picked up, petted, establishing an emotional connection between the viewer and the distressed animals.
CHAINED DOG (AUGMENTED REALITY)
Video, iPad, chain, collar, augmented reality. 2018. Made possible with the support of Current Studios.
During a trip to Houston, Texas, I visited what local rescuers named The Corridor of Cruelty. Assisting a local rescue on their “feeding route”, I saw a few stray pit bulls, and many more chained outside. The neighborhood counts hundreds of dogs chained, abused, neglected. Under local laws, it is acceptable to chain a dog outside, as long as the dog has some kind of shelter, water, and as long as the weather is not too hot. Rescues have little to no power in the matter. They sometimes spend years negotiating with the owner of a dog, offering to unchain, vet, care for their dogs. That day, two dogs were successfully negotiated with an older man the rescue had been assisting for many years.
This is the video I captured of a dog, who was chained in front of a warehouse. On the opposite side of the street, a female pit bull who had recently given birth, was tied to a makeshift shelter, sitting on a pile of excrements and dirty rags. The warehouse dog was friendly yet petrified. He refused treats, but accepted gentle pets. There was nothing we could do for him, and leaving him there broke my heart. As we prepared to leave, the owner of the female pit bull arrived, furious, shouting to leave her dog alone. “I love her, she is my everything. Don’t you dare taking her away from me!”, she yelled at us. Apparentlt someone had spotted us and warned her we were about to steal her dog (aka, rescue her). This wasn’t true of course, but it shows how important working with local communities is. The distrust on both sides leaves the dogs in harm’s way. A couple of cars started circling us, men scrolling down their windows, hollering at us, asking what we wanted with the dogs. It was time to leave.
The video of the brown pit bull is one of the most heartbreaking moment I have witnessed. Driving away from the dog tore my heart apart. With this installation, I wanted to make sure his story could be told and seen. Thanks to the generous support of Current Studios, the video was turned into an Augmented Reality piece. The visitor are able to “scan” a target on the floor (a collar with a chain) and the video of the dog appears on an iPad screen.
From an empty space, emerges the chained dog. Reminding us of all the invisible dogs of the world: those who belong to someone, but live alone, isolated, with no care and very little affection. Chaining a dog is one of the worst kind of torture one can think of, for these highly social animals.