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Representations of Dogs in Contemporary Theater

Embodiment, Becomings and Social Empathy


by Ioana Brailescu

A thesis presented for Master`s degree


Theater Studies
University of Amsterdam
Netherlands
January 2015

This is a photograph of people standing in line to euthanize their dogs in Berlin 1926, after the dog ownership tax was
raised. Author unknown. Retrieved from www.vintag.es.

Table of Contents
Introduction
Key Concepts

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Chapter 1: An overview of Animal Studies and its relation to Performance

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Chapter 2: Animal representation, Crisis of representation and Representations of dogs in art


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2.1. Vintila Mihailescu: The crisis of domestic life
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2.2. Giorgio Agamben: The Open
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2.3. Fehr Istem reactionary anti-racism with dogs
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2.4. Animals in art, dogs in art
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Chapter 3: Embodiments
3.1. Man-dog Hybrids
3.2. Performing species
3.3. Animals in theater
3.3. Becoming Animal
3.3. Becoming with

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Chapter 4: Case studies


4.1. Bucharest National Theater: A dog`s heart
4.2. Alvis Hermanis: Ruf der Wildnis
4.3. De Nederlandse Opera: Adog`s Heart
4.4. Reflections

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Conclusions

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Works Cited

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Appendices

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Motto: You are responsible for what you have tamed2.

Introduction
The nature and significance of animals has been important in continental philosophy ever since
Aristotle declared man the only political animal who can tell the difference between right and wrong.
His contemporary, Pythagoras, was an advocate for vegetarianism and, contrarily to Aristotle, believed
that animals` purpose is not solely human use. The debate continued throughout centuries, with
renowned thinkers such as Descartes classifying animals as automatic machines that are not subject of
pain3. Although Kant is the first modern philosopher who extensively wrote about the existence of a
human obligation of treating animals with kindness as a way of reinforcing humanity4, it is only
recently that accusations have started to surface according to which humans are speciesist,
disadvantaging other animals on the plain basis of their species, with an undeniable gain for the
biped, garment-wearing, flavored-cigar-smoking one. Speciesism is thus an arguable form of
discrimination whose mechanisms of functionality and self-perpetuation are no different from those
of other forms of repression which were identified long the years. But while hegemonic domination in
the case of racism or sexism could be negotiated to a certain extent by both sides, here this
constitutes an impossibility. Therefore reconsidering the status of animals as simple subjects is not
only difficult to envisage because of the long tradition which has accustomed us to its being such, but
also due to the fact that it is completely up to people to decide to what extent this is a priority. While
the great majority of philosophers followed in Aristotle`s footsteps, mentioning animals in clear
oppositions to people due to their lack of valued features such as consciousness or reason,
postmodern philosophy with its passion for deconstruction came to touch upon this generally
accepted distinction. In 1997, Jacques Derrida5 was pleading for altogether abandoning the very word
animal, which implies and enforces a distinction between man and animal. Interestingly, this idea
strikes him on a casual morning, while exchanging gazes with his cat. Not only Derrida, but also other
thinkers in the field of animal studies mention encounter and companionship between human and
non-human animals as loci of comprehension. Therefore a way to tackle speicesism would be not to
2

de Saint-Exupery, Antoine. The Little Prince.


Descartes, Rene. Discourse on the method of rightly conducting the reason, and seeking truth in the sciences. Project
Gutenberg, 2008.
4
Kant, Immanuel. The Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals. Cambridge, 1998.
5
Derrida, Jacques. The Animal that Therefor I Am(following). Critical Inquiry, 2002.
3

jump away from the distinction, as poststructuralistically appealing as that may be, but to explore it
step by step, starting from close by. And nothing can be said to be equally close to man, in
interdependence as well as historical duration as dog. The reasons for this symbiosis are difficult to
explain. On the one hand, Zarathustra6, together with our contemporaries the radical ecologists,
deplores the taming of wolves as a wicked gesture, possibly even the first bio political act. On the
other hand, Dona Harraway7 comes to reassure that the process was about human residue instead of
human interest attracting the quadrupeds around the fire. However it is we got here, it is
undisputable that what dogs constitute for people is far more than just pleasant company.
Nevertheless, the feelings towards dogs range from adoration to dismissal, as becomes clear
from a quick glance into the numerous internet forums on which people discuss dogs, both as pets
and as pests. Anthropologist Vintila Mihailescu puts it in a nutshell: we avoid them, but we protect
them from dog captors, we consider them dangerous but we feed them if they are around, we love
them but we abandon their cubs, we consider them close to people, but our conscience is appeased
when they are properly euthanized8. Writing in the context of today`s Romania, where stray dogs do
indeed constitute a chief socio-political issue, many of his arguments can be passed over in the
current paper, which does not intend to deal with the subject of dogs in a localized manner. However,
he is right in pointing out that dog ownership is an indicator of economic development, being on the
rise in stabilized countries, but even more so in countries that are currently asserting themselves. But
alas, dogs do not come with an instruction manual and in most places the knowledge related to their
raising and caring spreads much slower than their numbers increase. This is the main reason for often
abusive treatments on an individual and collective level ranging from selective breeding, castration,
captivity in an improper environment, cub abandonment and, more subtle but of an undeniable
violence, assumed unconditional reciprocal love. We are thus dealing with sheer contradictions that
result from misunderstanding and misrepresentation of dogs and their relation to humans. And since
a contradiction is always more than just an opposition between two possibilities, it ought to be
examined in its complexity.
It is in this area that my interest lies. While some dogs have highly specialized jobs in
6

Man has made wolf into dog and himself man`s favorite pet., via Sloterdijk, Peter. Rules to the Human Zoo: A response
letter on humanism. 2007. P. 22.
7
Haraway, Dona. Companion Species Manifesto. University of Minnesota, 2008.
8
Mihailescu, Vintila. The Story of Leutu Dog: About the New Domestic Order and the Crisis of the Human. Bucharest, 2013.
P. 39.

attending people who are blind or suffer from impairments, in rescue teams or in police departments,
others function as live trophies, nonjudgmental affection providers or pests. In this polarization,
scholars on the topic would argue, the liability can only be laid on people and the way in which they
make sense of the world, invariably through representations. Hence the task at hand is to question
these representations and the assumptions that led to and are reflected in their existence, while also
investigating alternative ways of dealing with the human-animal and particularly human-dog binaries.
After all, who is to say that men are the only political animals when canines have been accompanying
the street demonstrations of the past years? Loukanikos9 is the most famous such individual and has
been featured in international publications for having chosen his side from the start and standing by
the demonstrators against austerity measures in Greece, through tear gas and smoke bombs which
damaged his health.
And if the main problem lies with representation, a solution should not be sought any further.
The notion of crisis of representation, standing at the basis of postmodernism, can be understood as
an inability to reconstitute lived reality, both at an ideological and material level. In our case, it is the
imaginary line dividing man and non-human animals in clear opposition, resulting from a centurieslong adherence to Christian views, which were only minimally challenged by evolutionism: natural
world is still, to a large extent, viewed as a ladder on which humans take the top position, instead of,
for example, a tree-like structure, where different branches visually explain diversity and differences.
In matters of communication abilities, tool usage, interrelationality and whatever else it is assumed
that humans have and animals lack, research shows that differences are merely in degree: most
animals have, to a certain extent, systems of communication, in-group hierarchies, understanding of
tools, and even theory of mind, though not to the full capacity and function as those that humans
employ. So while many aspects are rather unifying of the human and non-human realms, there is one
characteristic, as argued by Christine Korsgaard10, that sets humans apart: they are the ones who have
the power of normativity, that is they can decide for themselves and the others what the rules ought
to be. However tempting it may be to see one`s self and peers as the standard and therefore
privileged group, many philosophers follow Kant`s reasoning that a treatment inclusive of other
species reinforces what we like to call and praise as humanity.
9

Wearden, Graeme. Greece`s riot dog Loukanikos Dies. The Guardian, October 9 th 2014. Retrieved on December 17th 2014.
http://www.theguardian.com/business/2014/oct/09/greece-riot-dog-loukanikos-dies-eurozone-crisis.
10
Korsgaard, Christine. The sources of normativity. Cambridge, 1996.

Far from being a plea for animal rights or their equality to humans, this paper intends to survey
the attitudes existing in philosophy, research and performance art regarding this topic. Ultimately, the
findings will be critically applied to two relatively recent theater productions that attempt to bring
human and dog together not through dialogue, but through bodily experience. The two cases which
were chosen to be studied are (1) Alvis Hermanis`s Call of the Wild, a performance in which a group of
dog owners, distressed by their inability to relate to people as closely as they do to their dogs,
gradually transform into a pack and (2) Heart of a Dog, an adaptation of Bulgakov`s novel about a
scientific experiment: transplanting human organs onto a stray dog. Both of the cases are quite
relevant to the topic because, on the one hand, they deal, each in its own manner, with two different
ways of approaching the animal other: biological and instinctive; on the other hand they both present
a hybrid between dog and human, thus creating an interspecies platform of negotiation. A third case
study then comes to challenge: a different production of A Dog`s heart, this time commissioned by the
Nationale Nederlandse Opera and directed by Alexander Raskatov. This follows the same story, but
realizes it in a completely different fashion: the dog is represented through a big iron puppet
maneuvered by several people on stage. On the one hand, this case, at least apparently, reverses the
question of representation in the form of embodiment. We are dealing here not with flesh and bone,
but with a heavy metal which comes to life, though laboriously operated by people, thus being
confronted with a different medium which in itself casts a new light to the issue of representation. On
the other hand, all the three cases explore the notion of becoming animal in a hybrid form, blurring
the lines of what it means to be dog and human alike, entering an indefinite in-between area that
philosopher Giorgio Agamben calls the open, arguing for its importance in the redefining of humananimal understanding.
Open are also the questions that will guide and give structure to the present research. First of
all, (1) how does embodiment and performance of other species serve as a means of researching into
the other? (2) Does theater dispose of tools that can help create new ways of representation to
contribute to the human-animal negotiation? I will depart from the optimistic hypothesis that the
question of becoming animal in terms of performance can challenge the discussion on representation.
Finally, whether this will be confirmed or not will lead to a more ample question that regards not only
the current topic, but theater in general and its scope: (3) Does theater work along with other
disciplines in contesting current socio-political context or is it merely a podium for recreation and
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reflection on what happens in a tumultuous, ever-shifting global world? (4) And further, departing
from theater into the political dimension, can we extrapolate these ways of understanding and
relating to the animal other into ways of relating to the human other?
The topic and the way in which it shall be approached are relevant not only to the role of
theater, but also to its placement into the new, yet very complex and interdisciplinary field of animal
studies. As for my personal interest, it arose while writing a paper on the increasing presence of
animals in theater and discovering how many loose threads in philosophy can be both applied and
researched into through theatrical practice. At the same time, the body is getting more and more
attention from critical theory, with concepts that intertwine with explorations in the performing arts.
It is very interesting how the humanities took so long to take as a subject of inquiry the very human
body, but current academic tendencies, stirred chiefly by postmodernism and gender studies intend to
make up for the omission. An example in this sense which is too ambiguous and ample to develop
here, but combines theory with transcendental bodily experiences is butoh, a form of dance
performance which completely redefines what the human body can undergo, express and represent.
It cannot be stressed enough that I intend to stay clear of any activist position within the field.
Indeed, it is a difficult task when trying to navigate sources that claim to be manifestos, declarations
for animal rights and ethical cases for an egalitarian coexistence. I am as skeptical about animal
friendly politics as I am about animal friendly meat. Nonetheless, it is interesting to navigate between
different approaches of behavior towards animals and their legitimization in cultural and political
terms. Because these cases depict a schizoid society constantly contradicting itself: loving some
animals while slaughtering others, advantaging pets over homeless people, adopting dogs only to
abandon them again when a house turns out not to be enough. It is a chance for me to reevaluate my
own opinions regarding the place of animals in society between radical environmentalism and
developmentalism, while trying to understand how this extreme reasoning came to be and take from
each the fair share of reasonable arguments. This essay will abstract regional specificity because, as
said before, the issue is one that pertains to humanity and not to a specific government. For instance,
when the mayor of Istanbul decided for the execution of thousands of stray dogs, this illustrated a
problem not only of Istanbul residents, the same way human rights violations are to be dealt with at
an international level.
Therefore the methodology of this thesis will be to a large extent an exploration of
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philosophical ideas about humanity and animality and what stands in between them, as well as what
the overlaps could be and whether it is possible to develop from these common points. Thus it will
become clearer what is meant by becoming and performing animal, crucial notions which will be
scrutinized against the aforementioned case studies, as well as other instances. As said before, this
paper bases its premises in the field animal studies, an emerging interdisciplinary field which will be
introduced and whose relation to performance will be explained in a first short chapter. Then we will
develop on what is understood as a crisis of representation, relate it to different ways in which dogs
are featured in cultural products and explore its ramifications into social and political life, illustrating
why representation ought to be considered with various examples from the art world. Having
described the existing context, the following part will be destined to the discussion of various acts
which challenge it, both in the everyday and in the institutionalized theater world, also with a more
ample discussion of how becoming animal and performing species can be achieved. Only then will we
move to an in-depth analysis of the three performances, discussing whether they achieve what has
been described in the previous part and dealing with the further problematizations they might bring
about. However, before setting off to this endeavor, several concepts require disambiguation.

Key concepts

Embodiment is a crucial issue that could be easily dealt away with by accepting the widely known
definition of transforming an idea into materiality by using the body. However, in the field of theater
and performance so much thought process has been given to this concept that it would be
inconsiderate to take for granted an oversimplified definition. Generally, theoreticians who have
tackled this issue have had as a starting point the split between body and mind as it was understood
by Descartes. Since embodiment means to function as a hybrid between the two, another
understanding which is not so mutually excluding the two is needed. Merleau-Ponty provides an early
and quite extensive treatment of the notion in his Phenomenology of Perception which appeared in
English in 1962 and has widely influenced subsequent theories and practices regarding the body,
setting the tone for the experiments with live performance that were yet to come. To begin with, it
must be understood how he distinguishes between three levels of embodiment. The first refers to the
innate existence of bodies:

In so far as I have hands, feet, a body, I sustain around me intentions which are not dependent upon
my decisions and which affect my surroundings in a way which I do not choose. These intentions are
general... they originate from other than myself, and I am not surprised to find them in all psychophysical subjects organized as I am11.

These given body parts and abilities are trained in order to respond to our surroundings. Given
that the surroundings elicit increasingly more specific response as we advance through life, we can
understand these acquired abilities in terms of skills, which become refined and combined over the
time. Finally, there are cultural characteristics, which are independent of the natural body and its
acquired abilities. Thus a body can be understood as a combination of its innate structures, acquired
general skills and cultural adaptations, which also define its way of being in the world as embodiment.
He then goes on to describe different levels of proficiency in using these components: novice,
advanced beginner, competence, proficient, expertise and finally, the supreme level of intentionality
without representation. These levels are defined both by the skillful use of the three components and

11

Merleau-Ponty, Maurice, Phenomenology of Perception. Routledge, 1962. P. 440.

by the role played by motivation: Sometimes, the meaning aimed at cannot be achieved by the body's
natural means; it must then build itself an instrument, and it projects thereby around itself a cultural
world12.
Although it is clear that embodiment as we will treat it in this paper is not about the physical
body per se, it could be useful to mention other views. Thomas Csordas claims embodiment to have
arisen as an alternative to previous body rhetoric: shift from viewing the body as a nongendered,
prediscusive phenomenon that plays a central role in perception, cognition, action and nature to a way
of living or inhabiting the world through ones acculturated body 13." We can thus derive that
embodiment as a way of being refuses the Cartesian duality, replacing it with an unmediated
connection between the physical and mental. This is very important for the current research, since
performance of another species is not mere imitation, not complete rationalization, but a process in
which the body and the subconscious work together to create a new form of being. As for the role of
embodiment, Erica Fischer Lichte would say specific techniques and practices of embodiment
enabling him (the performer) to generate energy14.
As for the embodiment of other species, the reason why this is worth analyzing is explained by
Una Chaudhuri: if language is indeed a barrier, then the quest for a deeper, richer, mode of
understanding the animality we share with nonhumans might logically lead one to the embodied arts
of performance15.

Space is also a very important coordinate when dealing with animals in general and especially with
dogs, since humans and dogs lead their lives in such proximity. So space can be understood first of all
as a natural territory, necessary for the normal development of a being, who will instinctively fight for
it and defend it from threat and intruders. All animals do this and humans none the less. On the other
hand, we must take into consideration the opposition between public and private space, with their
prescribed roles for people and for animals alike. This will help figuring out whether the place of the
dogs is strictly within the confinements that define them as pets or whether there is still the possibility
to allow other beings to inhabit, however marginally, the busy and increasingly utility-driven public
areas. In the opinion of Mihailescu, the problem with stray dogs lies precisely with the fact that they
12

Merleau-Ponty, (1962) p. 146


Csordas, Thomas. Embodiment as a paradigm for Anthropology. Ethos 1990. P. Xiv.
14
Fischer-Lichte, Erika. The transformative power of performance. Routledge, 2008.P. 98.
15
Chaudhuri,Una. Of All Nonsensical Things: Performance and Animal Life. Theories and Methodologies, 2009. P. 520.
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are out of place (read, agreement as to where they belong cannot be reached) which makes them
dangerous because they can dodge systematic control. It is important to note that stray dogs are an
urban constant across Europe, although the numbers vary greatly: 1 dog for every 1100 people in
London, approximately 1 per 2200 in Paris, 1 dog per 300 inhabitants in Moscow, 1 per 120 in Sofia
and an alarming 1/30 in Bucharest16. Alarming, that is, because what these countries have in common
is a belief that no dog ought to be roaming the streets. The very conviction that this is a phenomenon
that must be fought against is one of the aspects that this paper wishes to challenge.
The appartenance to a spatial coordinate is also important due to the fact that it dictates who
is in charge of managing the population. When a privately owned animal misbehaves, the owner is
sanctioned. However, when hundreds roam the city, it becomes a political and economic problem:
sterilization is more costly than euthanasia and sometimes a quick solution is needed, such as when
Istanbul rid itself of thousands of dogs in preparation for the United Nations Conference in the year
199617. Such situations gave rise to questions of animals owning land and being autonomous within a
certain space. This pertains to the wild, where natural conditions are crucial to survival, as well as to
the urban space, inhabited by so many animals that they cannot be considered marginal inhabitants of
the city or pests. This open discussion which is far from settled will be transposed from the vast
outside life into the limited and highly subject to conventions space of a theater. Will issues of space
then become more pressing or easier to see through?

Representation Although it is dangerous to talk about representation in theater after the fall of the
fourth wall and with the rise of postdramatic theater, this concept is central to our present endeavor.
Therefore it is important to clarify that representation will not be understood in the Stanislavskian
sense of representational acting, but as the conceptual image of dogs that the work positions, since
this will be further on contrasted to pre-existent ideas and conceptions. Of course, distinguishing to
what extent the acting is presentational or representational will be analyzed in order to determine
how both methods contribute to conveying the final ideological product.

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17

Recent official data, via Mihailescu (2013) p. 63


Mihailescu (2013) p. 62

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Chapter 1. An overview of Animal Studies and its relation to Performance


John Stuart Mill said that every great movement must experience three stages: ridicule, discussion and adoption18. The movement for animal rights is, as it seems, somewhere between the
first two stages, having been considered a preposterous proposition at first, but lately it has been
gaining more and more ground and influencing policies of testing on animals and animal rearing, as
well as getting more academics from various disciplines interested in their own ways in the matter of
animalness. The seminal text, considered by many the birthmark of this study, is Peter Singer`s Animal
Liberation, published in 1975, a treaty of applied ethics in which he reasons for a utilitarian approach
that includes non-humans in the consideration of the greater good. As the name suggests it, animal
studies is such a wide field that it could as well be considered a general direction in which several disciplines are heading. In other words, it is a relatively new discipline born out of increasing interest towards animals not as object, but as subject of study in various academic areas. Animal studies encompasses bio science and philosophy, anthropology and art studies, religion, globalization and feminism and many others (see Journal for Critical Animal Studies19 for a two-page long list of possible approaches). The aim of animal studies, with collaborative forces from the aforementioned disciplines is
to bring animals into academic discourse as a serious and long-ignored topic, a subject in and of
themselves and not just as companions, subordinates, victims and objects of human action. As the
opening article of the first number of the Journal for Critical Animal Studies puts it, a constant presence in the academia of animal issues, together with activist actions on the field are their platforms.
The final goal of this would be to abolish what is called speciesism, the form of discrimination based
on species which undermines non-human animals. Although these are some of its components, animal studies is not about animal rights, endangered species or natural reservation, but rather about
questioning and trying to improve the worldviews that have created the current, undoubtedly unpleasant living conditions for many of our contemporary animals.
There is, thus, among animal studies scholars and activists, a wide range of opinions regarding
what course of action ought to be taken: some people, known as abolitionists, would say that any
human influence on animals should be eliminated, from hunting and exploitation, in whatever conditions, to pet ownership. Another strand, deriving from utilitarian philosophy, militate for weighing the

18
19

Via Slicer, Deborah. Your Daughter or your dog? Hypathya, 1991. P. 1.


http://www.criticalanimalstudies.org/.

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benefits against the costs of suffering when dealing with animals, while egalitarians would propose an
equality in rights and privileges between human and non-human animals. An interesting perspective
comes from political theorists Sue Donaldson and Will Kymlicka who, in their book Zoopolis 20, propose
an extended theory of citizenship tailored to include animals, according to the relationship and closeness they have with people. They thus distinguish between three major categories. First come the citizens with equal rights, the ones who have been selected to live in the vicinity of people, which include pets and animals used for their produce alike. Besides being entitled to rights, they are to receive rewards for their favors lent to their owners, who must also ensure conditions for their flourishing. Secondly, there are the wild animals, sovereign over the area they inhabit, with whom humans
are not to interact and whose habitat they ought not to damage. Finally, there are marginal animals
who, for one reason or another, have chosen to live in proximity to people, but whose presence is not
always desired or directly beneficial to these. In this category are animals such as pigeons, rats and
the numerous insects which are at all times so close to us that it is understandable we often consider
them pests. Donaldson and Kymlicka propose for them a status similar to that of asylum seekers who
can be removed, if wanted, but without causing them any harm. Overall, this theory has the quality of
suggesting, unlike others, that the rapport between men and animals is not hierarchical, but rather a
relational one. Another advantage is that they pinpoint how parallels can be drawn between the
treatment of human and-non human others in policies and politics. Nonetheless, their theory is not
the most equitable, since it still gives greatest importance to human agency.
The theoretical backbone of the discipline consists, to a large extent, of philosophical reinterpretations of classical texts with the inclusion of animals in the discussion. For instance, a forefather
of animal studies can be considered to be Peter Singer, who first made a case for ethical treatment
towards animals based on utilitarian principles of ethics. Although Singer`s model was continued by a
number of scholars, Derrida`s famous lecture, The Animal that Therefore I am (Derrida, 1997) proposed a new approach, in which animals and humans are no longer seen as separate categories. What
followed was a turn from the still anthropocentric approach of Singer, in which humans had to
acknowledge their duties toward animals because of their inferiority and lesser powers to a current
tendency in critical theory of problematizing the opposition altogether and attempting to find new,
not so black-and-white ways of tackling the situation.
20

Donaldson, Sue and Kymlika, Will. Zoopolis. Apolitical theory of animal rights. Oxford, 2001

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The structuralist way of seeing the world, reflected in language and behavior is what explains
the genealogy of speciesism, the same way it has been proved to do so with other modes of discrimination on the basis of race and gender. That is why animal studies borrows from postcolonial studies
and feminist writings in order to challenge the deep-rootedness of hierarchical views within the natural world. The following example from Carol Adams is a perfect analogue of how women and animals
are constituted as objects by means of language, minimizing the fact that this is a consequence of
somebody acting upon them. She starts from the explanation given by Sarah Hoagland: "John beat
Mary," becomes "Mary was beaten by John," then "Mary was beaten," and finally, "women beaten,"
and thus "battered women"21. Similarly, Adams argues, animals become abstracted from beings to
meat, leaving aside the fact that this is a result of human choice and not an inherent quality of animals. What the parallel with gender and disability studies means to show is that dependency is not
inherently degrading or undignified, and certainly not unnatural. What matters is how we respond to
dependency, and in both the human and animal case, a central task of a citizenship perspective is precisely to uphold the dignity of those co-citizens who over the course of their lifetime exhibit various
stages and degrees of dependence.
While the relation between animal studies and other disciplines is hopefully articulate by now,
it is still unclear what animal studies has to do with performance. On the one hand, it could be said,
following Judith Butler`s reasoning regarding gender, in that it is a category which gets realized and
enforced through everyday performance, that species is also something that is performed. However,
since animals are restricted in their possibility for action by man-made factors, it is hard to say that
the performance of species can be considered in a similar way as performance of gender. When it
comes to dogs, though, matters are slightly different. They can be said to represent 'natureculture', in
a similar way as humans do: on the one hand, they are guided by instincts, while on the other hand
they are bred, tamed and learn to play a role, whether it is that of the underdog or the high-class dog.
Having clarified this similar double-encoding shared by humans and dogs, it becomes more appropriate to talk about species performance in the case of dogs, which will be useful in further chapters.
Another way to look at this issue would be to analyze the use of the animal in theater, either
as flesh and bone presence or as performed concept. Luckily, this is precisely what Professor of English and Drama at the New York University, Una Chaudhuri has been busy with for several years now.
21

Hoagland via Adams, Carol. The Social Construction of edible bodies and human predators. Hypathia, 1991.

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Her interest was aroused by the increased presence of animals in theatrical and cinematographic productions destined for adults, which can be considered a sign that we are moving away from using animal imagery as mere symbols for human life (in a simplified form for children understanding). The
central concept of her work is zooesis, a self-coined notion meant to stand for a complex ideological
discourse of space and place22 consisting of the myriad performance and semiotic elements involved in and around the vast field of cultural animal practices23.Zooesis, as she describes it, refers to
the ways of artistic and meaning creation through the use of the animal as body or figure and fits perfectly with the current issue, for every inclusion of animals in artistic creation comes to either challenge or reinforce the existing associations. Some of her examples, as well as other instances which
fall under zooesis will be further discussed in later chapters. Besides discussing various instances of
zooesis in contemporary theater, Chaudhuri also describes the process of creating a theater show that
has as a basis the relation between men and animals, a case which illustrates how theater can constitute a method for animal studies.
This one project that she was involved in as a dramaturge in 2001 is called The Animal Project,
and was according to her the first self-conscious theatrical engagement, in the United States, with
the new academic field known as Critical Animal Studies.24 This was a way to practically discover
what the fields of performance and animal studies have to offer to each other. The project was
strongly based on the ideas of Deleuze and Guattari, trying to put into theatrical practice the idea of
becoming animal by staging a Hamlet with a twist. The classical playwright and the intention stand in
stark contradiction, as Hamlet is a coronation of human heroism which they intended to strip to the
most basic animal level. While the methods and results of this project will be further discussed when
talking about becoming animal, it is important to note how performance and animal studies can interchangeably constitute subject and method for each other. And this, as Chaudhuri notes, is not always
confined to the stage, but can include the popular, folk, and children`s theatrical and dance forms of
world culture, as well as the numerous performative dimensions of cultural animal practices (including activism, fashion, sports and spectacle)25.

22

Chaudhuri, Una. Animal Acts for Changing Times: When Does the Non-Human Become More Than a Metaphor On Stage?
American Theater, 2004. P. 647.
23
Ibidem, p. 647.
24
Chaudhuri, Una. Animalizing Performance, Becoming-Theatre: Inside Zooesis. Theater Topics, 2006. P. 2.
25

Chaudhuri, Una. Of All Nonsensical Things: Performance and Animal Life. Theories and Methodologies, 2009. P. 523.

15

Chapter 2
Animal representation, crisis of representation and representations of dogs in art
As an inspirational illustration to how representation can forever change the way we perceive
animals and to how we shape our attitudes towards them, this chapter will start with an anecdotal
story presented by John Mooallem in a Ted Talk from March 2014 entitled How the teddy bear taught
us compassion26. He traces down the origin of the extremely common toy to president Theodore Roosevelt`s sparing the life of a helpless bear while on a hunting expedition. This brief story was turned
by the mass media and toy producers into a mascot for the president which, by far, outlived him.
Mooallem argues that it was not as much the historical episode that made this happen as the overall
context of urbanization, increased alienation from nature, as well as fear of the wild-animal that
asked for an alternative medium, so to speak, of approaching the bear and even protecting it. Also, it
can be considered a turning point for people realizing to what a great extent the fate of a species depends on their actions. The confronting conclusion of this story is that it is up to us which animals will
survive and what the quality of their lives will be and that this is much influenced by how we fell
about them. Representation all the way.
Consequently, this chapter will further explain why representation ought to be a central point
when discussing the issue of human-animal relationship. Naturally, it must be clarified from the start
that representation is understood in the broadest sense, ranging from mental imagery to cultural acceptations (though often incongruous, as will be shown) and artistic instances. This will equally include classical and contemporary images of canines, in order to trace a timeline of sensitivities. Special attention will be given to hybrid forms between human and dog, as they lead the discussion further into the chapter on becoming. However, it must first be explained what is meant by crisis of representation, the issue that stands at the core of considering dogs a social problem in Mihailescu`s
book. He tackles this issue from a socio-cultural way, trying to find out why the feelings towards dogs
are so polarized in Romania and elsewhere. Then the focus will move to philosopher Giorgio Agamben, who attempts to understand and challenge the existing ideas that determine the human-animal
relationship. A particularly interesting case, which reflects not only the ideas of Mihailescu and Agam-

26

Jon Mooallem
https://www.ted.com/talks/jon_mooallem_the_strange_story_of_the_teddy_bear_and_what_it_reveals_about_our_relat
ionship_to_animals?language=en retrieved on December 19th 2014.

16

ben, but also the analogy between dogs and other instances of foreignness and marginality in contemporary politics and worldviews, is the recent Hungarian film White God. Therefore the movie will
be analyzed for its parabolic discourse on dog and human otherness.
2.1 Vintila Mihailescu: The crisis of Domestic life
Mihailescu`s ethnography, published at the end of 3013, comes to fill an epistemic gap in a
subject which is very often discussed and regarding to which virtually everybody has a wellconstructed opinion: the multi-faceted issue of stray dogs. He analyzes the genealogy of this problem
by combining a deep look at the nature-culture relationship with an investigation into the formation
and upholding of the cultural other. It is at this intersection that he positions the contemporary dog.
What best illustrates the ambiguous position of dogs in Romanian society (his examples depict a similar image elsewhere) is the case of Leutu, a stray dog whose house is half on the sidewalk, half in a
family`s yard, a part time bum that locals nevertheless appreciate and cater for, a dog in a state of
permanent liminality, like many other dogs and even people. This makes the anthropologist wonder
whether dog has and, of course, whether it ought to have a pre-ascribed place in society. Domesticated common sense might answer that a dog belongs around a household, contributing with its skills
and receiving in exchange food and an environment in which to develop. But is that so very natural in
the man-dog coevolution? Haven`t we so many times been proven wrong in assigning labels and roles
to the ones around us?
Studies cited by Mihailescu have yielded a long list of advantages that those who keep a pet
have over those who don`t: they are more sociable, more extroverted, in a better physical shape,
they present less domestic violence, a lower risk of cardiovascular disease, they are less prone to depression and it may even be that the presence of cats and dogs might strengthen their immunity system27. The author argues that this is not because of an inherent therapeutic property of the animals,
but just an effect of physical contact with the other. This speaks about a repression of the human
body, but also about a need for relating to a natural world that humans have become unwarily removed from. And we are often willing to overcompensate for the privilege of having a pet and the unconditional affection that comes along the way we have gotten to know best: through services, ranging from personal hygiene to relaxation treatments, and even religious services in some places and
special dog yoga in India. It could be thus said that, since people get something from their pets which
27

Mihailescu (2013) p. 70

17

is humanely important, they reward them in a similarly human way. In 65% of cat households and
39% of dog households, they are allowed to sleep with the owner28. A number of people choose even
to be buried together with their best furry pal, which indicates that their family and persona extends
to include the pet. Mihailescu underlines that this is not because dogs and cats were so astute as to
sneak into the modern family, but rather that the concept of family has mutated to the point where it
can include a number of selected others, such as the cute furry critters. It is this that the author calls
the new domestic order, arguing it lays at the basis of a crisis of humanity.
This new domestic order, according to a theory by Richard Bulliet, is what characterizes postdomestic societies, as opposed to the traditional ones. The distinction is based only on the relations
between man and animals. Traditionally, people are not only in direct contact with animals, but also
with their birth, death and physiological functions, from which they learn about the world, and which
dictate their daily and yearly schedule in a reasonable and somewhat predictable way. Conversely, in
the post-domestic world, the connection has been lost with the reality of animal lives, while they continue to exist around us as metaphors. They are either fetishized or victimized, and the organic utilitarian association between man and animal has been replaced with an affective one, of love, hate or
indifference, which no longer needs to be rationally motivated. On the other side, the natural world
which was wished away once people moved to the city comes back with a new luring technique: it is
healthy and good for anyone to consume it regularly, either through diet or generally through practices. While nature is accordingly turned into a luxury product, pets are, unequivocally, a pricy sort of
social capital.
As mentioned before, the new domestic order, though inclusive when it comes to selected
pets, is to a very large extent exclusive of animals and not only on purely arbitrary criteria. Dogs, as
Mihailescu shows, are both adored and demonized by the very same citizens, depending on where
they live and how they look. The same, it could easily be argued, happens to children, homeless people and foreigners. Such contradictory feelings are, in anthropological terms, called cognitive dissonance29, which appears when different beliefs clash within one individual, causing mental distress. Of
course, this can be extrapolated to the macro level, in which case we are talking about social dissonance. Both the individual and the society will have the tendency to wish away one of the elements

28
29

Mihailescu (2013) p. 75
Mihailescu(2013), p. 41.

18

which affect their mental wellbeing, so they choose to forget, hide or eliminate them at whatever
cost. It is therefore fascinating to see that, although people are protected by various rights and
agreements as opposed to animals, the mechanisms for exclusion are so subtle and efficient in both
cases.
2.2 Agamben The Open
Another work that attempts to critically map out the positions of man and animal nature
within our understanding and society is Giorgio Agamben`s comparative theory work, The open: man
and animal. For this book he uses a wide array of texts, from the Bible and early biological taxonomies
to philosophical inquiries of all times, with a significant emphasis on Heideggerian metaphysics. His
argument, continued throughout the differently themed chapters, is a gradual and meticulously
constructed demonstration of how the wrongly assumed superiority of man created a chasm between
species. Although his methods are not very clear, he does plea for a reconfiguration of the place man
and animal occupy in the common imagination and hence representation. Since the work is quite
recent, it has the quality of including perspectives that have proved impactful in the latest decades,
such as Fukuyama`s prediction of an imminent end of history. It is in the light of this theory and, as the
first chapter describes, according to the omens of an antique miniature that Agamben frames his
investigation. The miniature presents the final banquet, dedicated to the righteous, who have
followed the word of God until the last day of life on earth. The crowned heads are not of human
saints, but of an eagle, ox, fish, leopard and donkey, prophesizing that by the end of time the most
righteous will not be humans, but animals. Agamben interprets this not as a fall of human from the
preferential position at the top of the natural chain, but as an imperative to reconfigure the relations
with the rest of divine creation. Moreover, a biblical passage also hints toward a need for change in
position: the wolf shall live with the sheep, and the leopard lie down with the kid; the calf and the
young lion shall grow up together, and a little child shall lead them30. Thus, not only will there be no
more interspecies fighting, but man, having transcended to an incipient stage of innocence, will rebecome the shepherd of beings, to paraphrase Heidegger.
As the title announces, the book sets out to investigate that which lies between the thresholds
of humanity and animality and, more importantly, what it is that has created this division. His search
starts at a biological level, consulting in this respect the first to ever have made a classification of all
30

Agamben, Giorgio. The Open: Man and Animal. Stanford University Press, 2002. P. 3.

19

beings alive: Linnaeus. The biologist himself wonders at the achievements of his fellow humans,
although from the perspective of his work he cannot see any difference between man and apes, save
for the fact that the latter have an empty space between their canines and their other teeth. 31 He
continues in trying to define the particularity of the superior apes, arriving at the ironic conclusion
that they are the only ones who need to rationalize their own existence in order to become that which
they claim to be, humans: man is the animal that must recognize itself as human to be human32.
Another distinction is that made by Biacht, an 18th century anatomist, who classified beings according
to the functions they perform. Thus there can be seen an organic function of bodily operations and an
animal existing outside33, who is the one responsible for relating with the world. Whereas the first
one is common to every living being, the latter is interestingly combined in the case of humans: their
relation to the world is not solely made for survival purposes.
These two distinctions lead Agamben to argue further on that indeed there is no intrinsic
difference between man and animal, but that this is artificially created with the help of what he calls
anthropological machine an ironic apparatus that verifies the absence of a nature proper to Homo,
holding him suspended between a celestial and a terrestrial nature, between animal and human. 34
He argues these mechanisms are so imbued in our everyday world that the basic social institutions
take for granted the apartness of humans and, implicitly, their power over the other species; in this
sense Agamben calls to exemplify the increasingly mechanized industry of animal products. This
anthropological machine is also held accountable for the existence of the open space between man
and animal, one that is ever increasing and harder to bridge.
What Agamben pleads for is an inhabitation of this space by human beings who, by having
changed their intentions towards animals, will have transformed themselves into a new species that is
capable of bridging between the two. The attitude that would make this possible is, in his view, and
sustained by the writings of Heidegger, one of allowing life to exist naturally, without imposing upon
it: In what way can man let the animal, upon whose suspension the world is held open, be?35
Walter Benjamin is the one who, in the end of the book, helps Agamben find the solution within the
very source of the problem: letting go of the constructed order of things, returning to a stage where
31

Linnaeus, via Agamben (2002), p. 24.


Ibidem, p. 26.
33
Agamben (2002), p. 15.
34
Ibidem, p. 28.
35
Agamben (2002), p. 91.
32

20

hierarchies do not exist. And since man is, as argued by Linnaeus, the one who constructs his
humanity by believing in it and making representations in accordance, stepping into the open is as
easy, or maybe as difficult as thinking there is such thing as a humanity that we are to accomplish at
any cost. Agamben`s book thus encourages critical reflection not just on human nature, but on
relationship with the other, whatever be its form.

2.3 White God Reactionary anti-racism with dogs


Fehr Isten, internationally known as White God, is a Hungarian movie by Kornl Mundrucz. The
simplest way to sum it up would be calling it a remake of the infamous Birds by Alfred Hitchcock
featuring dogs instead of birds. It features 250 dogs that were trained especially for the movie, as the
director did not want to use special effects which he felt would undermine the emotions he was trying
to convey. All dogs came from asylums and found an owner after the movie was shot.
The plotline features a crossbred dog called Hagen who is put out on the streets because the
father of the girl owning the dog does not want to pay the high tax that you have to pay for owning a
crossbreed dog. On the streets, Hagen falls in the hands of Turkish immigrants who use dogs for
fighting and when he escapes from them he is quickly caught by the government and placed in a dog
asylum. It is foreshadowed in the opening sequence that Hagen will not put up with the treatment
there, and indeed he manages to escape from the dog asylum, together with the other 250 dogs,
starting on a revenge rampage, killing every human being that has harmed them. The movie ends with
a melodramatic scene in which the girl who used to own and love Hagen plays the trumpet to the
army of dogs who all seem to find solace in the sound of the trumpet and fall asleep, finally finding
some peace and quiet after having been hunted down through the streets of Budapest.
The idea of the film is based on an actual taxation system that the right-wing Hungarian party
tried to introduce: very high taxes for crossbreeds, lesser for purebreds and no taxation for dogs of
Hungarian breed. Though this did not pass, it certainly rang an alarm bell concerning how
categorization reflects in opinions and in legislation, concerning not just quadrupeds, but also fellow
humans. The dogs also stand for the migrants who fall between the cracks in Europe at the moment.
According to most western European cinema reviews the movie was supposed to symbolize the rise of
fascism in Hungary and the threats that come along, but apparently this was not the case as can be
deduced from the following interview extract with the director:
21

Talking about freedom. The third party of Hungary is a neo-nazi party. Was the rise of the extreme
right in Hungary a reason to make this movie?
Not really. How countries deal with groups that they consider as different in not only a
Hungarian problem. I think that the revolution that occurs in the movie is far more likely to occur in
Western Europe with its huge masses of second-tier citizens36.

It is interesting to realize that western cinema reviews want to portray the dog revolution as a
metaphor for Hungarian problems with migration and right wing politics extremist, while the director
clearly states that the problem is pan-European, and probably has even deeper roots in Western
Europe where the income and rights gap between poor migrants and the rest of the population is
indeed a huge problem. One strength of the movie is that it focuses on the persecution of dogs that
are considered crossbreeds and, as an anthropologist would have it, out of place. It is those who fall
outside the easy categorization based on origin of a state and species who will be persecuted most
vehemently, and this goes for both humans and dogs. In that sense we have still not fully outgrown
the century of eugenics for the movie still implies our total control over dogs. This is not demonstrated
in the plotline, where dogs resist human hegemony successfully and kill the bad guys (perpetrators),
but in how the movie was made. Dog trainers applied there pavlovian expertise for six months before
shooting the movie, installing set responses in 250 dogs. The movie is meant as an allegory of
freedom, but it had to use opposite techniques to achieve this representation. On all levels, humans
still rule the dog asylum.
The enclosure of this film in the current research is not just due to its innovative inclusion of
dogs in a quite successful contemporary cultural product, but due to the subtle way in which it merges
representation and political allegory. As mentioned before and confirmed by the director, the film
touches upon xenophobic attitudes which are on the rise overall in Europe. Nevertheless, and here
lies the achievement, it does not stop being a picture about dogs; they are not converted into a
metaphor for the human other. It problematizes it to a similar extent as it questions the equity of
human-dog relationships, as well as the level of autonomy and respect that animals are entitled to in
the current circumstances. These layers, which are all significant pillars in the construction of this
36

Rovers. A dog day afternoon. Retrieved from the filmkrant, January 5 th.
http://www.filmkrant.nl/TS_december_2014/11384 (My translation).

22

research coexist in a way which is both persuasive and thought-provoking. Hence, White God does, to
a certain extent, set a standard of discursiveness that will serve in the scrutiny of the case studies from
the realm of theater.

2.4 Animals in Art, Dogs in Art


In an attempt to analyze what are the implications of the act of gazing between human and
non-humans, John Berger (artist and novelist) wrote: The first subject matter for painting was animal. Probably the first paint was animal blood37. Thus he pinpoints that art, from the earliest times,
has been concerned with animals. As results from his chapter called Why look at animals, Berger
pleads for an engaged practice of looking at animals, one which is not based on taking for granted the
animal, but which contains reflection on the nature of animals and their relation to humans. Writing
in the late 1990s, Berger observes the practices of his time and encourages them to take an open
stance, problematizing the assumptions of human superiority. Nonetheless, he acknowledges the long
tradition of representations which reinforced the separation, and which therefore ought to be discussed before moving further in the direction wished by Berger.
While dogs were not the subject of cave murals, they caught up as soon as their relation to
people developed, to such an extent that in 1981, the first dog museum was founded in St. Louis, Missouri. The museum`s mission is to enhance the appreciation for and knowledge of the significance of
the dog and the human-canine relationship38. Let us now pay a closer look to some of their exhibits
from different periods. The oldest piece is an undated ceramic sculpture found in an antique Mexican
grave (Appendix 1), where its role was to ward off evil spirits. It can be derived that the guarding role
of dog extends far back and is not limited to the household, but even to the afterworld. Taking quite a
temporary jump, we find a 14th century painting by a European artist named Granger which presents
the grooming process of seven hunting dogs (Appendix 2). This is a procedure which involves many
people who seem to be quite knowledgeable about what they are doing, although they are probably
not the owners and beneficiaries of the dogs` services. This painting not only illustrates the social
stratification, in which some servants were employed to care mainly for the dogs, but also shows

37
38

Berger, Steve. Why look at animals? New York: Pantheon, 1997. p. 12.
Core purpose of the museum as described at www.mueumofthedog.org.

23

what qualities were most important in a dog: teeth, fur, legs, but also a properly submissive relation
to humans.
While images of dogs next to hunting trophies continue to abound through the coming times,
the 17th and 18th century start to feature dogs in domestic settings, moving into the owner`s house.
These are, without exception, small and quite furry dogs that the painters do not hesitate to present
in their irresistible cuteness, such as Renoir`s dog portrait (Appendix 3). Other imagery includes portraits of aristocrats with their mascot-dog, but also sleeping dogs in household settings, a clear sign
that the quadruped has made its way within the comfort of the house, turning into a sign of wealth.
No longer kept exclusively for utility purposes, dogs become a delight due to their playfulness and a
great past-time for children. As Berger would have it, we are entering a new phase of keeping animals regardless of their usefulness, the keeping exactly of pets - a modern innovation39. The breed
becomes increasingly important not in the sense of ability, but esthetically, while grooming practices
continue. A humorous sculpture realized by Johann Valentin Sonnenschein in 1775 (Appendix 4) criticizes the exploitation of a dog by an aristocratic monkey who overburdens and shamelessly rides it.
Later on, the development of photography constituted a new challenge to house dogs, who would be
forced to sit through excruciatingly long exposure times.
What this brief and shallow history shows with respect to outlooks on dogs is a gradual passage from fetishization for their presumed spiritual abilities (this was the case for many animals in
pre-anthropocentric religions) to assistance in men`s daily chores and hunting practices and back to
fetishization in the context of the household, where they become object of attention for women and
children as well. At a quick glance it becomes clear that the general attitude, whether it be respectful
or endearing, is governed by affect. The works are mostly representational and mediated. It is against
this sort of representations that Berger warns us about, the looking at animals without allowing them
to glance back. The look dominated by human affect and knowledge is one that intrinsically seeks to
create distance between species.
The one most notable work on how the understanding and representing of animals changed
with the passing into postmodernism is Steve Baker`s Postmodern Animal. Postmodernity, he argues,
brings a refreshing view on animals, which had been overlooked throughout the nineteenth century.
Baker distinguishes two main directions regarding the ways in which the animal is represented, each
39

Berger (1997), p. 14.

24

with its own implications as to how the human ideas concerning the animal are shaped. On the one
hand, there is animal endorsing, which tends to represent the animal as such and is usually the work
of conservationists or animal advocates. On the other hand, there is animal-skeptical art, which tries
to challenge the connotations attached to the animal by culture and the very process of constructing
the concept of animal in a way that is relevant to humans. Postmodernism thus proposes an approach
to animal whose ambiguity or irony or sheer brute presence serves to resist or to displace fixed
meanings40.The following pages will analyze a number of art projects from contemporary artists
dealing with dogs and their relationship to humans.
One example of pastiche are the works of Belgian Thierry Poncelet, an art restaurateur who
got the idea of replacing the face of an aristocrat in the painting he was working on with the face of
his own dog, thus starting the project he calls Aristochien (Appendix 5). The result is not merely humorous, it can also be read as a critique to anthropomorphism of pets, chiefly dogs, of dog clothing,
dog beauty salons and obsession with breeding. Dog ownership reinforces social hierarchies, discarding what falls below. Austrian artist Deborah Sengl41 goes one step further with commenting on the
way in which people deal with breeds, assigning to them human traits, mostly negative ones. She
overexposes how dogs have become not just coded, but also expected to fit within pre-determined
stereotypical images society has of them.
Another centuries-long way of forcing an interspecies relation into the common imagination is
through astrology. Taiwanese artist Daniel Lee (Appendix 6) has made a twist-off on the Chinese zodiac assigning an animal symbol to people according to their year of birth, which is supposed to determine their character and serve as spiritual guidance. With these morphed figures, he points to the absurdity of such analogy, while also stressing the inevitable presence of animality lingering within every
individual. That is why his images, although clear fusions, are not monstrously exaggerated, but quite
aesthetically acceptable. Nonetheless, people`s fear of hybrid man-animal forms, especially in the
light of bio-scientific advances, is genuine. Patricia Picciny beautifully played on this fear by realizing a
sculpture bearing features of the female human and dog body feeding its cubs and launched on the
internet as proof of a successful scientific experiment carried out by a fictional Chinese team. She obtained the expected results and more, as her work went viral, thousands of people bought into it, de-

40
41

Baker, Steve. The Postmodern Animal. London, Reacktion Books, 2000. p. 20.
http://www.deborahsengl.com/tag/dogs/

25

ploring the advanced state of social and human degradation. The grotesque family wonderfully blends
the characteristics of both species and it cannot be said that they are either human or canine. Though
repulsive because of their unfamiliar looks, the feeding scene does carry some candor. As the artist
declares, her intention was to pull the alarm on practices of growing organs on animal bodies for
transplanting them onto humans. Whatever the direction in which such practices would go, she calls
to taking responsibility and respect for life, noting that man-made life is, not life in a lesser way, but
also worthy of respect and consideration.
It is at this point interesting to note how people react to the works of artists who involve animals precisely in such a way as to provoke the public. A perfect example of this would be the Dutch
artist and activist Tinkebell.42 Her works attempt to challenge how cruelty towards animals is accepted in some cases and unthinkable in others. Thus, she turned her own cat into a purse, claiming that
she wanted to keep it close to her after its death, caused by a long period of depression. In a public
performance, she offered people to adopt baby chickens who would otherwise be thrown into a food
processor before their eyes. These were very controversial projects, since they touch upon blind spots
in a world where the distinction between right and wrong concerning animals is taken for granted.
However, what is most fascinating is how people took it forward, inventing gory projects and circulating them on the Internet, assigning them to her. It was claimed that she feeds paint to dogs and then
squeezes them to puke it on canvases and that these works are sold for immense amounts of money.
What is at play here is, on one side, a tendency to exaggerate while, on the other hand, assigning unthinkable behavior to other people. This points to a very unsettling combination between sadism and
distress in the general public, but also to how things are understood outside of context and blown out
of proportion.
One thing which is even more outrageous within common acceptation than genetically engineered life forms is close bodily contact between species. This is equally tackled in contemporary art,
for instance in Jean-Luc Vilmouth`s photographs which present young women breastfeeding dogs
(Appendix 8). Inspired from actual practices in Guinea, Venezuela and Peru, he breaks into taboos of
sexuality, but also excessive domestication of dogs, which in many cases are taken to make for a lack
of children within families. This work, together with Liv Bugge`s video Agitator, which deals with the

42

Tinkebell, 2012, Everything is Permitted, at TedxAmsterdam http://tedx.amsterdam/2012/11/tinkebell-everything-ispermitted/ retrieved on January 3rd, 2015.

26

same imagery, bear a disturbing resemblance to Christian images of the virgin with the baby. Beyond
the blasphemy and the deviant sexualization of female breast there is an undeniable accepted vulnerability from both sides. The nature of domestication is based on reciprocity, on renunciation from
both sides of inherent privileges: the venerated breasts produce nourishment and care for the dog,
while the tame wolf resists its instinctive urge to bite into flesh: it has learned or been taught to
choose affection over meat. Whether this kind of affection is to be applauded or condemned is a different matter. In either case, Agamben`s open gap is slightly diminished.
Another example, however, declaims the human-dog closeness as illusory, trying to say that
dog-keeping, especially in urban settlements is an act of alienating dogs from their nature and condemning them to the same loneliness humanity has chosen for itself. This melancholy screams from
behind Martin Usborne`s photography project The Silence of Dogs in Cars 43. His photographs reflect
intimacy and thus identification with the subjects, possibly because of his own childhood trauma of
being left alone inside the car. In spite of this interpretation, it would be inappropriate to say the dogs
are being anthropomorphized. The dogs themselves are alone, trapped and desperate not as an allusion to people being in the same situation, but because of them. Nonetheless, the parallel is profound
and digs into anyone`s fear of being alone, something that runs against the innate social configuration
of most men and animals.
However visceral the images and ideas presented so far have been, the following one might
top them all. It also happens to be the last one, as it bridges into the notion of becoming animal. This
is the ingenious project of Brazilian artist Rodrigo Braga (Appendix 9), who had a silicone copy of his
face made, which looked extremely realistic, then had a surgeon sow onto it the eyes, ears and muzzle of a euthanized dog. He then uploaded a video of the fake surgery on YouTube and waited for reactions to pour in before disclosing the truth. This work pokes at the idea of becoming animal and
empathy towards animals: what can one do to get involved in the mistreating of animals? Is selfmutilation a way of getting closer to the suffering of the animal other? These are questions to be kept
in mind for the coming chapter.
To put it in a nutshell, what all of the examples presented in this part have in common is a
strong critical aspect, referring in one way or another to human practices that concern dogs. Even if
they touch upon very sensitive situations, they avoid appealing to the emotional side of the onlooker
43

http://martinusborne.com/dogs-in-cars/

27

only. On one hand, this could be seen as a demand to take a position and not just deplore the treatment of animals as all too many NGOs do. On the other hand, as Steve Baker notes, artists fear appearing to be sentimental because it will be taken to indicate a lack of seriousness a very popular
concern44. All the aforementioned artists chose to take the second path in Baker`s distinction: they
are animal-skeptical and use their methods to find new ways of interpretation. An example of animal
endorsement in art would be a performance by Eva Meijer, artist and teacher at University of Amsterdam who tied herself to her dog Pika, letting her take the lead and carry her around town for a
day. This was a way for Eva to get to know what her dog wants instead of imposing her own preconceptions, while also commenting on the inequality involved in as simple an action as going for a walk
with a dog.
It is thus generally agreed upon the fact that art ought to be concerned with the issue of animals. While the first examples were mere representations of dogs in various situations, in the past
couple of decades mark a shift towards increased personal involvement of the artists and, implicitly,
their audience in the presentation of our quadruped companions. Also, such works give the dog a
chance, as Berger would have it, to look back. Although none of them succeeds to capture the animal`s attitude, it would be argued by Derrida that we are as much subject of the other`s gaze as they
are to ours and thus any work on dogs is, at the same time, a work on humanity. In the long run, it
cannot be said that any of these works resolve the issue from the start: dogs are still out of place in an
anthropomorphized world and the open between man and animal is not getting narrower.

44

Baker (2000), p. 177.

28

Chapter 3 Embodiments
3.1 Man-dog hybrids
The urge to draw a line between man and dog as radically different species and to warn against
the dangers of contamination dates far back, long before the hyper circulated image of the werewolf,
a dual form which loses control of its human rationality, being taken over by its dog-like bestiality.
Canonical books and representations of the world of various cultures place at the edges of the known,
regulated society, the figure of bestialized men, often with a dog-like head, to indicate danger and
perdition. As the Bible reads, Outside are the dogs, those who practice magic arts, the sexually
immoral, the murderers, the nonbelievers and everyone who loves and practices falsehood 45. It is
clear that the passage does not refer to actual dogs, but to dog-like humans, who are seen as
individuals who either don`t want to or cannot be included in the society and are thus doomed to
perdition. Medieval imagery does, however, shed a beam of hope on these outcasts: through baptism,
one such cynocephalus is restored to normality46, proving the unlimited inclusivity of the Church.
On the other hand, Anubis, the Egyptian god with a human body and dog head was the one
taking care of the dead and thus ensuring the connection between the seen and unseen worlds. This
introduces a different twist to the mixture, in which the qualities, powers and abilities of man and dog
combine in a productive way. Conversely, there are individuals who would even renounce their
humanity and the advantages that come along with it for the higher virtue of being a dog. That is the
case of Diogenes, a particularly remarkable Greek philosopher, if not for ideas then certainly for his
practices. He aimed for living out his beliefs rather than spreading wisdom, so all that came down
from Diogenes is a number of anecdotes. He rejected societal conventions and lived in the streets
inside a ceramic jar off what others were giving him. However, he did not identify with homeless
people, but with the dog, laying the basis of the cynical 47 school of thought. Diogenis`s behavior had
no concern for anything man-made, as he would urinate and masturbate in public, pleading for a full
return to natural order of things and a neglect for the concept of shame. As for his dog-like behavior,
he would say I fawn on those who give me anything, I yelp at those who refuse and I set my teeth in
any rascals48. Along these lines, Diogenes the philosopher was trying to live in the present and
45

Revelation 22,15
David Gordon White, p. 32
47
Cynicism, deriving from the Greek root kynos, meaning dog, is a philosophical branch that denies any man-made belief
or practice. Its adepts are known to lead quite subversive lives
48
Diogenes, via James Miller, p. 78
46

29

sharpen his instincts rather than rationality as a tool for the search of truth. His approach keeps
getting attention from modern day analysts such as Sloterdijk and Foucault, both of which see in
Diogenes an embodied method of practicing philosophy, but also a militant for unmediated social
change.
Russian anarchist and artist Oleg Kulik could be said to be one modern day cynic. His works
prove a commitment to the theme of dogs, though his approaches are varied. With his notorious dog
performances he makes a critique of the human and dog worlds alike, not through representation, as
the earlier examples, but by using his body to bridge between the two. It was common for him to
either tie himself to a wall or be carried around town on a leach acting like a vicious dog. People`s
reactions were of complete shock, but, as can be seen in the videos, they expect an end and an
explanation to the bestiality, but they wouldn`t get that, since Kulik`s is certainly duration art. In 1997
he resonated Beuys`s famous performance with a work he called I bite America and America bites me;
Kulik spent two entire weeks in a dog kernel in a New York Gallery, naked and without speaking.
Instead, he would fiercely bite visitors and anyone who would approach him. His shamelessness and
endurance would certainly make Diogenes proud.
Some 30 years before Kulik`s performances, artistic duo Peter Weibel and Valie Export were
also experimenting with putting themselves on leach, but for different ends. Feminist artist Export
would tie and walk Weibel around the city of Vienna in an experiment with people`s perceptions and
reactions. They were thus questioning why it is acceptable to walk a dog in that way and not a human.
Could it be because dogs are inferior? Maybe. But are all people equal? Don`t they subject each
others to similar hierarchical treatments? It became surprising even for the artists how so simple an
act could touch upon so many issues, from patriarchy to racism and power struggles between people,
without the two of them even intending it. In the long run, Weibel concluded the meaning of their
action: For freedom I let myself kept on a lead.
Another example of an artist who uses her human body in an attempt to become dog is Finnish
Eija-Liisa Ahtila. She plays out her phantasy of being a dog in a photo series entitled Dog Bites. The
series is made up of pin-up-style photographs of her, naked, in a number of dog-specific poses such as
urinating with one leg up, panting like a dog, scratching and giving paw to an imaginary human entity
she poses as inferior to. Far from actually wanting to embody dogness, Ahtila points out to the
implications of Deleuze and Guattari`s becoming animal which will be discussed in a couple of pages:
30

it is always a regression. With this she also comments on sexism, placing women on a more instinctual
level, thus inferior to masculinity; Ahtila embodies not the dog, but the bitch, analog for female
hysteria, aligning in solidarity to the discredit of non-hegemonic life forms.

3.2 Performing species


Theater and performance scholar Marla Carlson takes a different approach to fusions between man
and animal by looking at individuals who either dress up as animals or even go through extreme bodily
modifications in order to get closer to an animal they feel connected to. As her findings show, in most
of the cases it is a feline that these people are pursuing, and their urge finds a platform in the several,
well attended fur conventions that take place regularly in the US. The people participating at these
conventions form what Carlson calls the first of four networks of performance, in which humans
perform as something other than human by taking on an alternative-species identity49. As interviews
with her subjects reflect, they do not achieve any sort of transformation into felinity through their
costumes, games and body alterations. Instead, what these meetings do is create a context for people
with certain animal affinities to interact with each other in a context organized around their
preference for acting like animals. A second level of performance would be performing as animal,
finding a way out of human norms that have become unduly restrictive50. This is, according to the
author, exclusively the case of those who undergo serious body alterations, such as the most famous
four: Leopard Man, Stalking Cat, Katzen and Lizard Man, all of whom feel strongly connected to their
chosen animal, except for Lizard Man, who is pursuing the mere aesthetics of transformation into
animal. Their performance is, first and foremost, a farewell to their everyday commonality. What
follows this level is an attempt to find new sorts of ethical performance with companion species51,
that is, to gradually adapt to the new physicality with adequate behavior. Whether that manifests in
defending endangered species or basic animal rights, increased care for various other species is a
common place for animal impersonators. Their transformations thus are not just at a physical level,
but they also imply a questioning of what it means to be on either side of the line in terms of rights
and obligations. The fourth and last performing network comes back full circle to the norms for
behavior and cognition that are implied in human nature, reminding of the idea that animals make us
49

Carlson, Marla. Furry Cartography: Performing Species. Theater Journa, 2011. p. 191.

50

Idem, p. 195
Idem, p. 191

51

31

human52. The author insists on pinpointing that the four levels of performance are interrelated and
that they are each important in understanding and performing species.

3.3 Animals in Theater


Una Chauhuri is Professor of English and Drama at the New York University. Her recent works
have focused on bringing together contemporary performance and the field of animal studies, by
analyzing how animals are presented in various theater performances and how these shape both the
current scene as well as the discourse on animals. The reasons why she chooses to inquire into such
topics are various: first, it is only recently that animals have started to appear in cultural productions
(be it plays movies or novels) that are destined to adult audiences. This indicates a new approach,
from an anthropocentric one towards a genuine curiosity about how the other animals experience
the world that we humans are increasingly shaping and defining for them.53 Secondly, she argues that
the mystery that the encounter with the non-human can hold is one that has not been much exploited
by theater. For the actor, as well as for the audience, it is like crossing into another country, hearing a
strange language, experiencing a frightening recognition that is at the same time a delicious
bafflement.54 From these two arguments it can be seen that both theater and the animal world,
although largely considered opposite domains, can profit from this collaboration, as it sets the stage
for the reinvention. Animality borrows from the political power of theater, while performance dives
into the mysticism that the non-human offers, regaining a sacred dimension. All in all, nature and
culture come together, offering a platform for politics and identity to be forged 55.
One question she attempts to answer with her work is: When does the non-human become
more than a metaphor on stage? (this is also the title of one of her articles) She looks at a number of
contemporary performances, searching for new ways of representation in which the animal is present
as such and does not stand for an aspect of human life or behavior, as theater has been doing for the
past decades: Albee`s Goat is really about homosexuality, just as Ionesco`s pachyderms are really
fascists, O`Neill`s hairy ape is really the proletariat, and Peter Shaeffer`s Equus is really a pagan god 56.
What these new cases have in particular is not an abstractization, but on the contrary, a pursuit of
52

Carlson (2011), p. 203


Chaudhuri (2013), p. 105
54
Chaudhuri (2004), p 37
55
Chaudhuri (2003), p. 647
56
Chaudhuri (2004), p. 37
53

32

animal details, from biological accuracy in costumes to well-documented, empirical approach to


animal behavior which is transferred on stage. What this marks is a shift from anthropomorphisation
of animals to animalization of humans. In other words, the accent no longer lies on how humane
animals are, which includes the assumption that we know about them as much as we know about
ourselves, but the other way round, in which acknowledging its radical unknowability is to let go of
political and psychological certainties, to question the assumptions of human superiority, and so also
to dislodge the systems of preference and privilege that sustain oppressive social distinctions based on
race, class, gender and nation57.

3.4 Becoming Animal


The seminal text Becoming Animal, featured in Deleuze and Guattari`s book A Thousand plateaus discusses the possibility of becoming animal in a dense and quite bewildering way. As a matter
of fact, the authors rather clarify what becoming animal is not: Becomings are neither dreams nor
phantasies58, nor something that happens through mimesis. Therefore it is not a result of either imagination, or of copying behavior, because both of them have to do with a form of subjectification to
something that is known or interpreted. In this sense, becoming the animal cannot come from within,
but rather it is a form of external contagion. They also underline the fact that characteristics, whether
scientific of mythical, must be kept outside of the discussion: what interests us are modes of expansion, propagation, occupation, contagion, peopling the wolf is not fundamentally a characteristic or
a certain number of characteristics; it is a wolfing59.
At the same time, it is important to note that there are traps to becoming animal. The human
imagination is inhabited by animals with private characteristics, as well as private meanings, such as
the so-called inner animal, favorite or totemic and even related to one`s experience with various individuals of the animal kingdom. According to Deleuze and Guattari, these are Oedipal anti-animals,
they invite to regress and self-contemplation60 as opposed to the animal pursued in the process-act

57

Chauhuri (2004), p. 39.


Deleuze, Gilles and Guattari, Felix. Becoming-Intense, Becoming-Animal,. In A Thousad plateaus: Capitalism and
Schizophrenia. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, 1987. p. 238.
59
Idem, p. 239
60
Idem, p. 240
58

33

of becoming animal, which comes from the outside and overtakes the person, also overturning humanist assumptions of behavior and hence performance.
If the methods of becoming animal are unclear, the result is even more so. It goes without debate that one cannot truly, fully and definitively become animal. Nevertheless, the authors pinpoint
that there is a reality to becoming animal even though one does not in reality become animal. 61 It
only seems that this reality is not to be described through language, but rather felt. This is also why it
is particularly interesting to look at animal becomings within the context of theater; the reality which
they describe is transferred from the actor who is living it into the audience, becoming a communal
contagion. The transformation is not just a personal one, the exterior setting must also morph in order to accommodate the animal that has become. Last but not least, there can be no talk of a final
outcome of the becoming, since it is a continuous and self-perpetuating process.
However confusing and imperceptible the notion of becoming animal is in the writing of
Deleuze and Guattari, it is nonetheless also quite inviting since, even at first read, they make it clear
that it is not just a philosophical concept, but something which can best be understood by means of
experiment. With this in mind, director Fritz Ertl, playwright Steven Drukman and dramaturg Una
Chaudhuri created The Animal Project at NYU. The latter describes in an article the process and challenges of exploring such a complex concept in practice. The project took place in 2004 and involved
students, who also contributed with their personal, often unquestioned, animal imagery. One of the
scopes of the project was to question how knowledge production takes place and whether innovative behavior (leads to) ideological breakthrough which allows new behavior/knowledge to spread
throughout the species62
The challenges of the concept also determined the challenges of their endeavor: becoming animal cannot be scripted or rehearsed and thus could hardly materialize in a final show; also, the audience could not be demanded to simply assist the becoming, but ought to be included in the transformation. Therefore the set design was kept to a minimum, allowing the focus to be entirely on the becoming bodies. And, not only as to include the audience, but also because this proved to be inherent
to animalness, identity was treated in its plurality: the one belongs to a pack or herd, while at the
same time containing the group within itself. Much as animals do within their natural habitat and
61
62

Deleuze, Guattari (1987) p. 273


Chaudhuri, Enelow, p. 3

34

people do within society, though this is often overlooked. All in all, the makers of this project envisioned a performance that would allow not seeing the animal, but seeing as an animal 63.
The choice of the team to build the story around a group of teenagers can be explained at different levels. First, they find themselves, similarly to how animals are generally perceived, in a liminal
space that dictates a number of strengths and vulnerabilities. Secondly, the collective defining of
identity by appartenance to a certain group and distanciation from another is also most poignant at
this age. Lastly, it can be said that adolescence, as well as wildlife, is to a large extent shaped by external factors. Beside the fact that the audience could more easily identify with the transformations
implied by adolescence, this metaphor constructed an open space from which the actors could transition into becoming animal. Hence the main conclusion of the coordinators as to the importance of
their project and their discovery in the realm of setting up and practicing animal becomings: the imperative of becoming, here, is not to bring the human into the realm of the animal, but rather to bring
animal and human into proximity with each other64.

3.5 Becoming With


What has not yet been clearly pointed out in this paper is that, for Deleuze and Guattari,
becoming animal is not just a philosophical exercise for the sake of it, but a politically strategic
mental operation, a way to imagine alternative assemblages that is, alternatives to the family or the
state65. With her own methods and arguments, Donna Haraway argues for an alternative way of
being together which can be directly learned from interacting with other species, which she calls
companions. Her background is radically different from the authors discussed so far, coming from
biological sciences and developing on this knowledge with wide experience in animal behavior, as she
is also a dog trainer. Haraway`s way of looking at things is truly special because her interests are
genuine and natural. For instance, she tried to figure out whether slime`s natural function of holding
things together could also be employed at the social level. Also, she tends to look at the marginal in
order to draw conclusions about the world we live in from their perspective. So far, she has
formulated manifestos for cyborgs and domesticated animals and claims the two perspectives to be

63

Chaudhuri, Enelow (2006), p. 11


Ibidem, p. 15
65
Deleuze and Guattari (1987), 247
64

35

quite complementary: Cyborgs and pets elicit in a similar manner the issue of human and non-human,
organic and technological, carbon and silicone, freedom and structure, history and myth, rich and
poor, state and citizen, diversity and finitude, modernity and post-modernity, nature and culture. In
the present book, When species meet, she makes a case for how people can learn from their daily
interactions with close individuals, be they human or non-human, to be together in an acceptant,
curious and collaborative way which would prescribe a new way of being together globally or, as she
puts it, to create an autre-mondialisation.
The running thread throughout the book consists of two questions which she does not clearly
answer, but which introduce every new chapter, making the reader wonder whether an answer is yet
in sight: (1) Whom and what do I touch when I touch my dog? And (2) How is becoming with a practice of becoming worldly? There are many more implications in these questions than it may seem at
first sight, which will be explained in the following lines.
First of all, it must be clear that, although Haraway talks about her dogs very much, the scope
of the book is not dogs, but companion species. What she means by this is any species that we interact with, both human and animal. The term comes from the Latin cum panis, meaning with bread66.
This means that a companion could be the one with whom food and other resources are shared, but
also the one who helps the digestion process in any way, even just by being present. For Haraway, the
act of eating is very important, as she notes at a later point in the book that one can never eat alone.
With this she means to highlight the importance of other beings both as food, but more importantly
as elements who make the world we inhabit that which it is, thus conditioning our lives in ways we
are often not aware of. In other words, there is no such thing as independence of an individual or
even of humanity, but a constant being together, with its implied privileges and duties. The second
part of the central term, species, also comes from a Latin term, specere, which means to look or to
behold, and is crucial to understand both the relative origin of taxonomical thinking and Dona Haraway`s implications: the term companion species includes whoever we construct as other and with
whom, more or less willingly, we share livelihood. It is these companion species that the author urges
us to learn to become with.
Becoming with is a method for achieving not just worldliness, but also one`s own individuality.
As mentioned before, Haraway strongly believes in the collective character of every individual, but she
66

Haraway, Dona. When Species Meet. University of Minnesota Press: Minneapolis, 2008. p. 17.

36

does mention that the healthy way to do this is by grappling with, rather than generalizing from the
ordinary67. We are advised against taking the other for granted and ignoring essential otherness,
which lights the spark of becoming with. She argues that this is what happens when she comes in
contact with her dogs, when both sides open up to know and be known. Hence a beautiful definition
of the ensuing feeling: Caring means becoming subject to the unsettling obligation of curiosity, which
requires knowing more at the end of the day than at the beginning68.
It must well be noted that the author`s view is different from the aforementioned theories
about becoming animal: The making each other available to events that is the dance of becoming
with has no truck with the fantasy wolf-pack version of becoming animal figured in Guatttari and
Deleuze`s famous section69. Haraway admits to being quite angry at the fact that, although their subjects and scope are quite different, the approach of the philosophers turns out to be so unsatisfactory. She accuses them of being patriarchal and failing to show any respect for animals as such, as well
as for anybody who is emotionally invested towards animals. Haraway also expresses her disappointment at how Derrida touches upon the issue of the animal, because he glances at his cat and then, in
spite of underlining that it is a real cat who is capable of looking back, he looks away and dives deep
into his own thoughts. What he gets accused of is a lack of curiosity and closing himself to what the
real cat, standing in front of him, and not his realization that there is a cat, can make available to him.
Needless to say, becoming with is a continuous and self-perpetuating process as well: the
coming into being of something unexpected, something new and free, something outside the rules of
function and calculation, something not ruled by the logic of the reproduction of the same 70" . This is
the sense that the Spanish activists that Haraway borrowed the term alter-globalization from were
demanding in the street: not altogether rejecting globalization, but finding a more empathic, creative
and peaceful form of living together in which, of course, each has a role to play.

67

Haraway (2008), p 3.
Ibidem, p. 36.
69
Ibidem, p 27.
70
Ibidem, 223.
68

37

Chapter 4 Case studies


4.1 Heart of a Dog (Bucharest National Theater) A medical, social and mental experiment
This adaptation of Bulgakov`s novella was first shown to public in 2007 and is till shown occasionally, although the theater has been completely reconfigured in the meanwhile. The show was designed for the Studio Room, which fits it not just because of the proximity between public and stage,
but also because of the oval shape of the stage, which allows the audience to watch the performance
from many different angles. As most plays at the National Theater, the case is a parade of big names,
but this is irrelevant here. What is interesting is that for the director this is the first Romanian production, as he is originally from Ukraine and trained under the Russian school. This determines both the
high fidelity to the original text, which is already quite theatrical in itself, and the method acting, with
a great emphasis on embodying not just the prescriptions of one`s character, but also the underlying
connotations, chiefly the commitment to characteristics of 19th century Russian society.
The storyline is not very complex, but it allows for a strong series of conflicts and an interesting development of characters. A renowned Moscow doctor, Preobrazhensky71, adopts a stray dog
with the intention of conducting a below the radar experiment, implanting onto him a human pitulary
gland and human testicles. Once the operation is carried out, it turns out that the hybrid has inherited
only negative traits from the human side, who also happened to be a homeless, disgraceful man.
Sharik the dog, having become Sharikov the abominable, disrespectful man, demands to be turned
back, threatens the doctor, but eventually immerses into society, getting a job as a cat exterminator.
In the end, the operation is reversed, just as the police break in to search for the unlawful monstrosity
and professor Preobrazhensky accepts the bleak conclusion that humanity cannot be improved.
In this configuration of actions, it is the doctor that leads. He decides when and what happens
to the dog, his servants, the house and even the group of revolutionaries who threaten his preferential position. That is in part due to his advantageous social position, but also because he is an adept of
doing things in a properly conservative way. In stark opposition with him is the dog, whom he wishes
to transform into a disciplined citizen, an experiment which, if successful, could be developed into a
social practice for the new Russia. The opposition between the two leads to extremes: the professor is
extremely pedantic, passionate about classical music, an insurmountable archetype of the bourgeoi-

71

The name literally means he who transforms

38

sie, while Sharik is extremely miserable both as a dog and as a human, overall rude and violent, the
pinnacle of revolutionary spirit.
A very strong image is that of the first operation, implanting the human organs onto the stray
dog. Needless to say, a good deal of speculation could be dedicated to the choice of organs, which
would probably reveal much of what Bulgakov was aiming at, but this is not so relevant to the scope
of this paper. However, it cannot be overlooked how the surgery is made to look more like an occult
procession, which starts ritualistically with everybody making the sign of a cross and proceeds to the
organ transplant, using tools which seem to belong to construction work, while a number of them are
solemnly standing by and reciting arias from Aida. Thus it is underlined that it is not just a regular operation but, at least for the doctor, a major breakthrough, akin to a grand work of art.
The dog in the beginning of the play is humbly crawling across the stage and unable to articulate his thoughts. As soon as he gets brought to the doctor`s apartment he adapts to the new status
of company dog, leaving behind his so-called bad habits. These return tenfold after the operation,
when Sharikov takes to drinking, smoking and cursing, all in an excessive fashion. This is also when he
starts contesting the doctor`s authority, threatening to sue him for operating without asking for the
dog`s approval, but he receives a cold reply: the doctor is not much concerned about such ethical issues. In other words, the doctor still has the upper hand, even if Sharikov`s behavior is at times out of
control. The distinction is made clear when the doctor escalates with anger at being called comrade
by the man-dog. All in all, there is no cooperation whatsoever between the two and the doctor soon
gives up, sadly acknowledging that it is because his heart has also turned human, this being the most
mischievous kind of heart.
The way in which the dog is portrayed is purely presentational; it is only conventionally and
thanks to the fur the actor is wearing that the being crawling in the beginning can be identified as a
canine. Nonetheless, the dog is there, in the beginning at least not as a metaphor, but as a dog in itself. It becomes a metaphor after the surgery, when the actor stands, dressed in rags, marking the
fusion between man and dog, to the point where Sharikov has political opinions, affiliating with the
revolutionary underdogs. Moreover, the dog figure is in the context of this performance necessary
because the director holds it is only against otherness that humanity can be contrasted. The overall
approach of the story is very anthropocentric, and the director makes no attempts in the direction of
remedying that, the same way the satirical view on revolution and its proponents that Bulgakov de39

picted is left unchanged. In the end though, having reached wit`s end, the professor bows before the
illiterate, the mediocre who have taken over the soviet world, in spite of being their most fervent opponent. Accordingly, if exaggerated conservationism is used to critique an outdated hierarchichegemonic world, could it also be that the blown up anthropocentrism displayed on stage contain the
seed of its own destruction?

4.2 Ruf Der Wildnis Domestic wildness


The Call of the Wild is Latvian director`s Alvis Hermanis adaptation of Jack London`s classic
with the same name. Nonetheless, rather little is kept, in terms of script, from the original text. Only
one character`s name and a few passages as read directly from the book reminisce of Buck, the sleigh
dog who astonishingly becomes the leader of a pack of wolves. The book is an ample encouragement
to following one`s natural instincts in the most romantic sense possible. The stage adaptation, however, advances one hundred years in time and thus the romanticism fades out. At the beginning of the
performance, six characters are sitting on different sofas, each holding his or her dog of different
breeds. The setting, which does not change throughout the one hour and a half, is demarcated by sofas and cozy carpets, making for a perfect living room atmosphere: comfortable, intimate, oblivious
and terribly lonely. This is already an allusion to what Peter Sloterdijk would describe as the human
zoo72: human behavior is dictated by the degree of individual isolation up to the point where very little is still permitted, such as dog keeping. Hence each of the characters makes a grand narrative out of
what they share with their dogs. From touching stories of adoptions to small time adventures, they
enact what people without pets hate about pet-owners: they won`t stop talking about them, even
when it is clear that nobody cares. Given the way in which they take turns to speak, it seems as if the
six people are part of a support group, their biggest issue being that they can no longer relate to people the same way they do with their quadruped companions.
At first, the transition to animality is dictated by one of the characters, who calls the fattest,
clumsiest man by the name of Buck (also the name of the heroic dog in London`s book), this time in
humiliation and demise. This gesture resonates with the naming of all animals as presented in the Bible and criticized by Derrida, since language, through categorization, has the predisposition to simplify

72

Sloterdijk (2007).

40

and undermine. Indeed, as soon as this man is put under leash, his movements become grotesque; his
flesh is showing more and more and he becomes incapable of speech, howling himself into physical
and emotional exhaustion. The others do not seem to approve of this and violently attack him with
pillows. The group dynamic, or illusion of one, is shattered.
As it was noted before, the six characters suffer from a sort of impairment in their ability to interact with other people, which is why they virtually ignore each other in the beginning. It is even unclear if the short monologues are uttered for the others, for the audience or for one self. This is why
they need to invent a new way in which they can relate to one another. Individually, each of them
starts timidly morphing, experimenting new movements, sounds and actions, but it is not until they all
gather on the carpets in the middle that they become comfortable with their new form. It takes the
confirmation of the others to stop feeling uneasy and enjoy this exploration, together. What they try
out is the opposite of what they were doing as simple people: destroying the furniture, touching each
other and themselves, hiding and exposing themselves. Not only do they become animal, but also, as
Jean-Luc Nancy73 would have it, they become plural. What is meant by this is that individual identity is
formed through coexistence, and thus every I is preceded by a we. Plurality, or belonging to a
pack, is inherent to animal nature in a much stronger way than to modern humankind; hence things
seem to fall into place when everybody is crawling on the floor, exuberantly shredding apart second
hand couch cushions. But the pack is not fully formed, and its members still experiment with exclusion, such as when everybody is moving from one couch to another running away from the older
male. In fact, none of them has found a form yet, which is why they oscillate for over an hour between talking and crawling, listening to one another and hiding under the sofa, arranging the setting
and ripping everything to bits.
Towards the end of the performance, the setting is entirely changed. The couches become
building blocks for a new configuration: they do away with ownership and decide to all share one
couch, celebrating togetherness by ripping apart one last pillow full of golden confetti. After which
they get up and leave, one by one, without showing any relation to each other. The curtain falls on
the six dogs, who seem just as helpless, lonely and confused as the people.
All in all, the game between species and the becoming of the six characters seems to be a
mere pretext for Hermanis to expose the otherwise inexpressible loneliness of people. First of all, the
73

Nancy, Jean-Luc. Being Singular plural. Stanford University Press, 2000.

41

pet dogs are just an accessory, an introduction to the theme. They disappear unwarily and only return
at the end. Although they are at the center of the stories being told by their owners, the dogs are absent and only become relevant in as much as the people include them in their discourse. This is the
kind of man-dog relationship that Mihailescu criticizes when talking about the new domestic order;
the dog is simply a prosthesis, a replacement and ailment for something which is missing, and only in
this sense an extension of the human individuals. Nonetheless, they do stand in some sort of opposition to the people, by being closer to a freedom which is not accessible to them. Although Hermanis
resists the temptation of romanticizing the wildness in the way Jack London did, he is looking for
common points between the species, trying to find the animal in human, the human in dog and the
wildness of the wolf in both of them. He detects a desire to go wild which is associated with freedom,
but often gets censored by reason. Although his associations are at times obtuse, representing dog as
a destructive force and man as passive attention seeker, Hermanis also boldly touches on some open
wounds.
Two more points are worth mentioning regarding Ruf der Wildnis: fist, the way in which the
space is used ties in with our discussion of territory. Each couch is marked as belonging to one character only, and the six people always return to their own spot, no matter what. The middle, however,
the common ground, is the place where things can go askew. The delimitation between the private
and public spaces has the following effect: when each person is sitting on their own couch, the stage
dilates; when they all crowd in the middle, it has a claustrophobic effect, as if the stage cannot contain them, giving the group a massive appearance. Second would be the choice of music, Patrick Watson`s Great Escape, which keeps on repeating with obnoxious sadness at both emotional and violent
moments. One cannot help but wonder what Hermanis sees as the great escape. Is it just an escape
from loneliness or from all the many other human limitations, an impossible escape, since our nature
is built around these limitations? And to what extent can the other, whether human or animal, help?

4.3. Heart of a Dog (Amsterdam StadsOpera) The dog that can`t walk alone
The more recent adaptation of the same story by Bulgakov deserves attention not as a comparison with the first one, but as a unique approach in the realm of dog representation on stage. Before diving into its dogness, it is interesting to note how the projection is used to document the de42

velopment of action, showing a typewriter entering fragments of the doctor`s diary and introducing
the story in the beginning: it was written in 1925 but got banned by authorities in 1926 and was only
published in the Soviet Union in 1987. This can be seen as a motivation for the director`s choice, but
also a reinforcement of the work`s importance. Indeed, opera fits marvelously with Heart of a Dog,
partly because of the doctor`s passion for classical music, but most importantly because it enhances
the superhuman strength of all characters` beliefs.
Pointless to say, differences between thr two performances occur at all levels, in spite of the
story being followed quite faithfully in both cases. But the most interesting here is the portrayal of the
dog in the first act, which is also the opening image and is followed more lengthily. The dog, which is a
life-sized skeleton puppet made from what seems to be a heavy, dark colored metal, is lying rigidly on
the floor until it gets brought to life by three handlers with very well-coordinated moves and two
singers, both interpreting the sounds of Sharik, one pleasant and one more screeching, representing
the dual nature of the dog. The six, people and dog puppet, move as one organism and react together
to external stimuli, falling apart when the dog is hit and reconnecting afterwards. Thus it can be said
that the handlers do not only enable the puppet to move, but move along with it, in what is already a
hybrid, collective body. So, although this case was mainly chosen as a non-embodied representation
of a dog at first sight, it turns out that the handlers do embody their subject not just as a concept, but
as an actual presence whose nature cannot be clearly pinpointed. It is this collaborative energy, combined with a clear focus, this time on the Sharik Sharikov character that defines the understanding
of this performance. Raskatov changes the ending from a return to normal in the original story, with
the doctor relaxing in his study with the restored dog calmly sitting beside him. Instead, all the revolutionaries, policemen and common people who appeared throughout the performance transform into
dogs and menacingly circle round Preobrazhensky. The show thus ends with a gargantuan dimension
of the dog presence, which is explained in an interview with the director:

RM: What does Sharikov and his clones represent to you?


AR: This is probably very pessimistic but they represent the danger we see every day on our planet. We
are losing our culture, we see an invasion of people who want to eat our civilisation, like in my
opera.

43

RM: What

do

you

mean

by

civilisation?

Do

you

mean

specific

country?

AR: This has not to do only with Russia, I did not mean one country or two, I mean humanity. The
world is so pitiless, we became all tough to each other. The news are full of murders, we watch horrible movies about money, blood, sex. I understand that life covers all spectrum of the existence, but we
only look for bad news and this increases every day74.

The dog invasion as imagined by Raskatov bears striking resemblances to the one in White
God. In both, the dog stands to represent an outside force which is clearly human, but its intentions,
anger and determination give it an inhuman dimension. Also, both cases feature packs which seem
out of control and whose purpose is mainly destructive. However, while in the case of the film they
act reactively, Raskatov does not seek to excuse them in any way. What both these directors do essentially is to criticize the ways in which their fellow humans interpret reality, creating a distorted image of the world.
4.4 Reflection
Given the diversity of issues raised by the three case studies, it is due to analyze them more indepth, discussing how they reflect on topics that were previously raised by the theoretical framework,
but also new aspects that the exploration of these cases brought up. These remarks will also be crucial in attempting to answer the questions which fueled the present research.
On the one hand, there is the medium through which the transition from man to man-dog hybrid is realized differently by each of the performances and what this choice does to the overall effect
as followed in this research. In the first one, the strategy was to exaggerate the characteristics and
actions of the Sharik-Sharikov, playing to a large extent on the potential for impact of showing the
degradation of the acculturated body. To a large extent, Hermanis also uses this shock quality of the
body in regression, but not as an end in itself, but rather as a means to achieve the group synergy and
transformation. In this performance in particular it appears as if the actors tap into a sort of bodily
subconscious which helps them morph in a way which is not guided by reason. In the third case, reason and bodily movement concur in a fascinating way in order to generate the collective body made
of living flesh and metal. Though this latter case was chosen for being a non-embodied representa-

74

Raskatov (2014)

44

tion, it turned out that the puppeteers` interaction with the dog skeleton occurred in a very bodily
engaged and transforming way.
Another important aspect is how the relation between the dogs and humans are achieved in
the different performances. In this sense, at a quick glance it can be said that the Romanian A dog`s
heart features most clearly a conflict of energies, between Sharik and Preobrazhensky, one which is
set from the beginning by the differing status that none of them is willing to renounce. Willingness,
but also a set-up that encourages it, mark the existence of a collaboration of forces in the latter two
cases. In Ruf der Wildnis, the owners are inspired by their dogs to be in that setting and also stirred by
the other humans, who are undergoing the same transformation process. Similarly, in Raskatov`s A
dog`s heart, the puppeteers vanish as individuals, becoming part of a hybrid mechanism. These two
ways of relating, through conflict and cooperation can be paralleled to the currents of relating to the
natural world that Mihailescu distinguishes: the utilitarian, specific to traditional societies, and the
affective, which comes to compensate with emotions for the loss of spontaneity. So while Preobrazhensky is in a constant power struggle with the humanized dog, altering anger, annoyance and even
hate, the subjects of the other performances experience things differently and more fluidly, losing
themselves so as to gain insight into a new, communal identity.
It is thus, through renunciation of the self and by consenting to contagion that forging a platform of negotiation similar to what Agmaben describes in The open becomes possible. His conclusion
towards the end of the book is that the establishment of an ideal space in which man and animal can
coexist beyond hierarchical restrictions depends on the readiness of humans to change their intentions to own, alter or control. In essence, this echoes the major difference that Korsgaard identified
between humans and other species, that is their tendency to act as source of normativity, instead
dwelling in diversity. What is special about the last two case studies, in comparison with all the
aforementioned works is that they accomplish not just a way of reflecting human-animal relations,
but indicated a direction through which they could be reconfigured.
All in all, I think the starting hypothesis, according to which looking at embodiment in performance can challenge the discussion on representation, has been confirmed by the case studies, particularly the latter two. On the one hand, there is the generating power of embodiment, which succeeded in creating not just new hybrid forms of existence, but also a specific energy. On the other
hand, the performances make it in transforming an idea into materiality with the use of bodies,
45

whether they are individual or collective, tame or out of control. As we have seen, many of the philosophical ideas encountered in the first part, as well as the question of how relating in a different way
to the animal other can give insight to new approaches in dealing with the human other were echoed
in the performance. Although the ideas put across are not radically different from the critical stances
present in the contemporary artworks featuring dogs discussed in chapter 2, the embodiment of
these ideas has a different impact on the viewer, as it acts primarily at a visceral level, creating empathy or revolt before the detached function of reason kicks in.

46

Conclusion
It seems as much of a challenge to draw conclusions regarding representations in such tumultuous times, a couple of months after some visual representations have, for many people, legitimated
crimes against humanity and freedom of speech. For many others these representations, humorous
and absurd though they may be, constituted a way to search for alternatives, to challenge things taken for granted and to open discussions. From simple images they became vectors of change. Many of
the works discussed in these pages also take up assumptions and they do so in many different ways:
by amplifying, endorsing, extrapolating and creating unforeseen parallels. The results do not, in any
way, amount to a unifying conclusion, but show how many-faceted a topic so close to us can be. This
paper set out to investigate how dogs are interpreted in arts, chiefly in the corporeal, yet very anthropocentric theatric art and how these representations reflect or challenge the dominant worldview
that we are cultured within. One witty trap that I, as author fell into, but which I considered not revealing until this point is that the only dog that has been dealt with is canis lupus familiaris, the domestic dog and the one that pops into imagination when seeing the three letters, disadvantaging subspecies of the canis lupus family which are no less numerous and even present around human settlements elsewhere, such as the dingo or coyote. Whether this reflects a Eurocentric attitude or merely
the power75 of language when it comes to shaping reality, we are falling into the trick Derrida unmasks when talking about l`animot: the human need to create categories is our most limiting instinct. Dona Haraway`s question echoes - What do we touch upon when we touch upon dogs?
The artists and works discussed in this paper have by no means exhausted the topic, but have
touched upon many issues which range from cultural to political, social and even economic, all
connected to dogs. We have been over critique of dog eugenics in the form of selective breeding,
alienation from a natural state of being for both dogs and humans, humanization of dogs and
bestialization of humans with the aid of dogs. They have been presented both as beings in and of
themselves and as metaphors for human mores, human minorities and human vulnerability. The main
curiosity and the reason for writing the current paper were to determine how embodied
representations of dogs differ from the non-embodied. A helpful and inspiring description of
embodiment could assist answering this question: Embodiment is a matter not of being specifically

75

Agamben (2002)

47

situated in the world, but rather of being of the world in its dynamic specificity76. In this light, what is
asked regarding the case studies is whether they manage to capture some concrete aspect of lived
reality relating to dogs, in its complex and fluid nature and put it across through the agency of the
human body.
First of all, in the Romanian A Dog`s heart, this did not seem to be one of the goals, as the dog
which was mimed by the actor constituted no more than a prop in an altogether presentational work
on humanity. As mentioned before, in retrospect it can be said that this approach could in itself be a
critique of what it represents, but that is beyond the present analysis. Secondly, Ruf der Wildnis, also
being the only case study in which the notion of becoming animal as Deleuze and Guattari define it
can be observed, does reveal the many layers of domestic human-animal relationship in a compelling
way. Rather than displaying one perspective or another, what this performance does through serial
thoughtless becomings, is search for alternative ways of being together, eliciting something more
visceral than empathy and more impulsive than community and leaving it up to interpretation
whether or not this succeeded. Finally, the Dutch A Dog`s heart, by putting forward a conglomerate
creature made up of several bodies, creates the idea of a multi-dimensional character with ambivalent
goals, dictated by the two distinct, yet instinctual voices. The fact that what lies in the middle is a dog
skeleton might well be a reminder of a common animal foundation which can be activated through
human action.
All in all, it can be said that only two of the performances are embodied representations,
displaying an interpretable, dynamic aspect of reality in an original manner. What sets these two apart
from the other representations mentioned is that they open up a discussion instead of just presenting
a critical stance. The viewer is invited not just to become involved with the subject, but to go along
with it for a while, without knowing for certain where it will lead. In a way, it can be said that, as
opposed to the purely visual representations, which look the viewer in the eye, the embodied
representations allow the viewer to look back, thus suggesting a way of relating to the distant other.
This is, to a large extent, due to the fact that humans can more easily, not just in a cultured way, but
also reflexively, with the aid of mirror neurons, relate to other human bodies. In this light, the bodies
on stage serve as medium between the onlooker and the represented other. As a consequence, it
seems that theater is indeed a strong way not just for representing the animal other, but for doing so

76

Barad, Karen. Meeting the Universe halfway. Durham, Duke University Press, 2007. p. 289.

48

in a manner which elicits an affective response. While other instances of representation did, beyond
doubt, critically touch upon important aspects, the embodied cases did so in a more engaged way,
also where the animal other could be substituted for the human other. While the cases discussed did
show how actual the issue of animals is, there are, nonetheless, many cases of injustice amongst
people which need to be represented in order to be understood. The path is long and embodiment is
just one of the tools.
As assumed in the opening, my personal determination in writing this project was to explore
areas of life which I myself take for granted and do not question enough. Animal studies has turned
out to be a great environment to do so, given its interdisciplinarity and the ways in which it allowed
me to combine anthropology, philosophy and performance in a coherent manner. However, I cannot
say that thinking, working and reading on this topic has radically altered my attitude towards humananimal relations, though much of the writing I came across is very critical of the current paradigms
that dominate this relationship. As Donna Haraway beautifully puts it, I was nourished and instructed
by these writings, yet I resist the tendency to condemn all relations of instrumentality between
animals and people as necessarily involving objectification oppression of a kind similar to the
objectifications and oppressions of sexism, colonialism and racism77. On the contrary, I see animal
abolitionism as a great potential loss to society, stripping people of one most important adaptation:
the ability to relate to the other beyond species and continue the path of evolution the same it has
been so far: through cooperation.

77

Haraway (2008), p. 74.

49

References:
Adams, C. (1991). Ecofeminism and the Eating of Animals. Hypathia, 134-137.
Agamben, G. (2002). The Open: Man and Animal. Stanford University Press.
Barad, K. (2007). Meeting the Universe Halfway. Durham: Duke University Press.
Becker, S. (2000). The Postmodern Animal. London: Reaktion Books.
Berger, J. (1997). Why Look at Animals. New York: Pantheon.
Carlson, M. (2011). Furry Cartography: Performing Species. Theater Journal .
Chaudhuri, U. (2004). Animal Acts for Changing Times: When Does the Non-Human Become More Than a Metaphor On
Stage? American Theater, 36-39.
Chaudhuri, U. (2009). Of All Nonsensical Things: Performance and Animal Life: Theories and Methodologies . 520-525.
Csordas, T. (1990). Embodiment as aParadigm for Anthropology. Ethos.
Derrida, J. (2002). The Animal that Therefore I Am (Following). Critical Inquiry.
Descartes, R. (2008). Discourse on the method of rightly conducting the reason, and seeking truth in the sciences. Project
Gutenberg.
Fischer-Lichte, E. (2008). The transformative Power of Performance. Routledge.
Gilles Deleuze, Felix Guattari. (1987). Becoming-Intense, Becoming-Animal,. In A Thousad plateaus: Capitalism and
Schizophrenia. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota.
Haraway, D. J. (2008). When Species Meet. University of Minnesota Press: Minneapolis.
Kant, I. (1998). The Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Korsgaard, C. (1996). The Sources of Normativity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Merleau-Ponty, M. (1962). Phenomenology of Perception. Routledge.
Mihailescu, V. (2013). The Story of Leutu Dog: About the New Domestic Order and the Crisis of the Human. Bucharest:
Editura Cartier.
Nancy, J.-L. (2000). Being Singular Plural. Stanford, California: Stanford University Press.
Raskatov, A. (2014, January 19). Alexander Raskatov about his Opera A Dog`s Heart. (J.-C. L. Toquin, Interviewer)
Rovers, R. (2014). A Dog day Afternoon. De Filmkrant.
Rovers, R. (2014, December). A Dog Day Afternoon. Retrieved January 5, 2015, from De Film Krant:
http://www.filmkrant.nl/TS_december_2014/11384
Saint-Exupery, A. d. (n.d.). Little Prince. New York: Harcourt, Brace & World.
Singer, P. (2002). Animal Liberation. New York: Harper Collins.
Slicer, D. (1991). Your Daughter or Your Dog? A Feminist Assessment of the Animal Research Issue. Hypatia, 108-128.
Sloterdijk, P. (2007). Rules for the Human Zoo: A Response Letter on Humanism. Environment and Planning: Society and
Space, 12-28.
Sue Donaldson, Will Kymlicka. (2013). Animals and the Frontiers of Citizenship. University of Oxford.
Una Chaudhuri, Shonni Enelow. (2006). Animalizing Performance, Becoming-Theatre: Inside Zooesis. Theater Topics, 1-17.
Wearden, G. (2014, October 9). Greece's riot dog Loukanikos dies. The Guardian.

50

Appendices:

1
Mexican tomb dog. Retrieved on December 9th 2014 from http://www.museumofthedog.org/.

2
Diseases of dogs and their cure - facsimile of a miniature in the Manuscript of Phoebus (Fourteenth
century). Retrieved from http://www.museumofthedog.org/ on December 9th 2014.
51

3
Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Head of a dog, 1870. Retrieved from http://www.museumofthedog.org/ on
December 9th 2014.

4
Johann

Valentin

Sonnenschein,

Monkey

riding

http://www.museumofthedog.org/ on December 9th, 2014.


52

dog,

1775.

Retrieved

from

5
Thierry

Poncelet,

from

series

Aristochiens.

Retrieved

from

http://www.thierryponcelet.com/galerieang.html on January 12th 2015.

6
Daniel Lee, Manimals, 1993. Retrieved from http://www.daniellee.com/projects/1 on December 10th
2014.
53

7
Patricia

Piccinini

The

Young

Family,

2002.

http://www.patriciapiccinini.net/The+Young+Family/ on December 10th 2014.

8
Shot from video performance of Jean-Luc Vilmouth.

54

Retrieved

from

9
from

Rodrigo Braga, 2004. Retrieved


http://www.vyperlook.com/shocking-things/brazilianman-hassurgery-togetthe-faceofarealdog

on January 12th, 2015.

55