Heather Phillipson, Dec 2016 POV
Heather Phillipson, Dec 2016 POV

Let me tell you that when a bitch comes into season, it’s a hot, rough social event. There’s no party the world over to rival the stimulants and grubby fondles and hormones up for grabs. There are not suddenly more dogs of all humours and flavours but there are more dogs, up close, that need what they need. A lot of breath approaches.

These dogs are like forceful men, sidling in on the sniff. Marj is dispatching her message through a silent, sexy signal, sensible for miles. She’s busy transmitting something real, to get back something real. (At last she’s not even scared witless by the stranger blasting into his phone, “I don’t give a flying fuck about the cheese sauce! It’s not worth six thousand pounds.”) Nothing symbolic here. Marj has something urgent to say, and she’s enflaming herself to say it. There’s a touch of blood, and there’s another touch of blood. There’s recurrent, pheromone-charged urine, flyposted along the way. She is undertaking a high-stakes promotional campaign and the campaign reads: ME.

Even before her come-here olfactory offensive, Marj was an enticement. Never mind the dogs – just getting to the shop, great hunks of the world would come lunging at her face, wolf-whistling across streets, kissy-kissy noises, prodding her passing bounty. What lessons could human–canine relations learn from feminism? Does the ‘back off ’ face work also against dog-botherers? (I am one, it doesn’t.)

Now it’s just that things have got a little more acute. Marj is ripening down there and dogs are coming by to taste. To get a whiff of recognition, dogs take the time that they take. Marj is open for association. But these dogs aren’t her lovers. When play turns to shove, there’s not a single one she allows to make unreserved love to her. She places her swollen vulva firmly on the ground. NO TO UNREQUITED SCRUTINY. Intrigue is intrigue’s end.

And all this is happening years after Duchamp came painting Mona Lisa’s tantalising, look-at-me tash. And then named her with that pun – five letters that hint at her other three-quarters being undreamable butter. Like Marj, and some of us, she carries her greater magnetism out of sight. Plural, alluring, either. What you don’t see is not like this at all.

Can this hidden, demented inner and lower life also be a mirror? A mysterious and frustrating feeling depicting the dis/continuity in all we see and are? Meaning: we want in, we want out? Meaning: what’s for real? Oh, I don’t know I hardly know why I’m here and who’s making up the rules but I’m glad we’re not pieces of rock and you’re holdin’ your body next to mine – sudden transparency of relations.

We humans and dogs have a lot in common, spitting foamy mouthwash and pricking our ears for danger. Dogs, too, have to deal with getting the once-over, getting seized by intrusive hands, tumbled head-under-tail into enthusiasm’s steamy cup. Dogs too have to cope with being filled with indecisions, whether to lie on one side of the room or the other, whether today’s mode is electricity or sluggish, whether to drop the chewy bouncing thing.

(Lucky for dogs that they don’t often travel by aeroplane. Imagine being free of having your body dragged through the air by several computers and a couple of people in fitted uniforms driving a can that compresses food into a salty lick and space–time into a few forgettable movies and has little to stop it getting ripped open and cleansed in an icy wind.)

Like a dog, like all species, my species has had some influence on my life, and an immense one on my art and lovers. But, mainly, my species is ‘alive’. Dogs and humans die in the same way. The only significant difference is we spend our lives trying not to wonder how and what terrible silence will rip us out of the world. 

This article first appeared in the December 2016 issue of ArtReview

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