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 pit bull who was desperately trying to connect with a couple of potential adopters who were walking among the kennels. 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 – and who is paying it. “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.
Connor was adopted.
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.
This Augmented Reality piece features a video I captured in Texas (Houston) during a visit with a local rescue. Chained dogs are not illegal in that area, and pretty common.
With Augmented Reality, it is possible to overlap two realities into one experience. By scanning an empty space with the device, the visitor discovers the chained dog, which is invisible to the naked eye.
Playing with the visible/invisible, this piece reminds us of the fate of so many animals who live isolated lives, away from our eyes.