This project outcome has to be one of the wonderfully weirdest of my practice so far, and I feel am definitely well experienced in presenting the strange. I think it’s fitting considering my focus on the dog / human relationship, dogs being the silly things they are. My conclusion at the end of this is something I know deeply as a devout dog-lover and mum1 to a 3yo whippet: dogs make us more than human. Dogs also give me a break from being human. I think all pets do, that’s why we attach ourselves to them, with dogs transcending private / public space much more than other species (not including on the internet).
This project intended to map out literally, emotionally, and sensorially the ‘more than human’ landscape of the City of Melville (CoM) as experienced by the dog/human unit. Research included readings on planning policies for the ‘more than human’ spaces of the built environment, public health / well-being and pet ownership, the provision of green and exercise spaces in LGAs, and the walkability of suburban space.
The initial process was to participate in the normal routines of suburban dog life: walking, park play time, stop n chats/sniffs, and weak-bond social interactions (and sometimes quite philosophical conversations!) with other humans at off-leash areas. This was to acclimate myself and my collaborator Shelly (whippet) to the dog exercise spaces of CoM and their regular visitors. Initially I didn’t have a car so this was tricky, necessitating UberPet rides to a central location and attempting to link dog-friendly green spaces on foot. After getting a car we would target particular spots further afield, sacrificing some human exercise and interaction but gaining convenience and variety in the process.
These experiences I came to call ‘doggy dialectics’ after the open back and forth play and butt-sniff circling of the dogs and the interactions between humans at the dog park or on the street. Being neurodivergent myself I enjoy how these interactions delineate or simplify certain social rules and etiquette whilst delivering manageable doses of unpredictability, chaos, and bonus social points. After months of this passive research I designed formalised activities to gather materials and foster experiences to culminate in (at that stage) some unknown creative outcome. I had folks draw maps of their neighbourhood dog walks emphasising memory and the senses of smell/sound/touch, and ran a ceramics workshop making low-relief sculptures that triggered tactile memories of participants’ pets. At the grand open day of CoM’s first fenced off-lead play park for dogs at Piney Lakes I gathered dog volunteers to wear GoPro cameras to capture the action from their perspective. And finally I filmed Shelly and her favourite playmate scrapping around using an infra-red camera, capturing the heat signatures of the dogs, their shadows, and even their warmth left behind on the ground.
How to synthesise these materially disparate elements for any kind of public presentation? I like organising things into holistic ‘containers’ of detail, story, and stimuli. These elements were all so rich in memories, feeling, and visual or tactile wonder. The main threads connecting my Know Thy Neighbour activities were mapping and perception of space, so the digital realm seemed obvious! Working with Jamie Sher of Spacescan3D, we created a totally absurd collation of all these visual elements and plenty of free-form digital jamming. And of course it needed to be tactile, so I made a custom joystick controller and the Shelly Telly itself: a screen unit that references wonderfully weird 1970’s television design, a time when screens were sculptural objects. The unit is painted in the colours visible to dogs and decorated with casts of the tactile pet portrait workshop participants ceramics. The console and game soundscape also reference nostalgic vintage video games as a reflection on the ‘real-world’ simplicity of being out in the sunshine with your dog.
The Shelly Telly is presented on a plush rug and the users can sit on fluffy ottomans and touching the console is encouraged. The game is open-ended and exploratory, a useless map only vaguely referencing ‘real’ space, but evoking the free-flow of dog play. The nature of the visual elements provided by workshop participants to me seem universally evocative of memory, and hopefully encourage the player to reflect upon their own multi-sensory and multi-temporal navigation of space in their daily lives, without or without a doggo.