DOG CARPETS (2007)
Interview with Ondrej Brody and Kristofer Paetau by Kristofer Paetau, april 2008.
What is this project about?
Ondrej: The dog carpets are essentially about society’s hypocrisy. It questions the special status that dogs and cats have in our, western society. Although we can see that in China, despite the local culture and cuisine, the pet culture is on its rise as well. The Bolivian experience was about hypocrisy as well, but it involved on a larger and direct scale mechanisms and structures within the society.
Kristofer: It’s about the tradition of producing carpets with wild animals as a hunting fetish. But in this case we were using an inappropriate animal, a pet – and like this we wanted to question the values behind this tradition. Ondrej was speaking to me about this idea already before the Bolivia show, but when I got the opportunity to participate in that show I thought it would be interesting to realize the dog carpets there with Ondrej, mainly for three reasons: more adventure, lower production costs and the problem of street dogs in South America (in contrast to the beloved inhouse pet in North America and in most European countries).
How did you proceed to realize the work and how important was the local context for realizing the work?
Ondrej: The context is always important. In fact in comparison to most countries in Europe, in Bolivia (La Paz) there is a great concentration of street dogs. We were informed then, that there is a municipal company called Zoonosis which is in charge of hunting street dogs and dealing with animals within the city of La Paz. They catch about 100 dogs a week and execute them every friday noon. We were supposed to prepare a project that would take place in a city Museum called Museo Tambo Quirquincho. The communication with Zoonosis was relatively simple, since both institutions were run by the city. We requested to obtain 10 sacrificed dogs for our “installation”. This seemed to be a perfect paradox. A hunting carpet from a dog that is being hunted by the society.
Kristofer: The local context was striking: when we went out in the center of the city at night there were dogs all over the streets eating garbage. We discovered that there is a whole municipal organisation dealing with the problem of street dogs in La Paz. The municipal service Zoonosis is hunting for street dogs during night time and collecting the dogs in a kind of dog prison and then killing them, about 100 dogs every week. We went to visit Zoonosis and talked to them about our project and we also explained our project to the director of the Museo Tambo Quirquincho. She wrote a recommendation letter for us and with this letter we went to Zoonosis again and met with the director. He signed and gave us a small post-it to authorise us to get 10 killed dogs the following week…
Tell us about the killing. Did you assist to it and if yes, how did you feel and what did you think about at that moment?
Ondrej: The killing was a terrible experience. We arrived to Zoonosis maybe one hour before they began with the execution. About half an hour before they started with the execution, the dogs were quite restless, nervous, barking a lot as if this was their last chance to show that they’re alive. When they started killing them the whole cage was in complete silence. I’m sure that the dogs were completely aware what was going on…
Kristofer: Yes we assisted to the killing, which took place around one o’clock in the afternoon. The gates were closed so nobody could see what happened from the outside. The place became completely calm and the dogs stopped barking. I was nervous. I had taken my digital camera because I wanted to record something of this moment – which was of course forbidden – and at the same time it was absolutely not the moment to make photographs… So I nervously pushed the button a couple of times without really looking. Hiding away with the camera from the 5 or 6 guys running around making injections to the dogs with big plastic bottles filled with poison. All dogs pissed and shitted after they got the injection. They died in about 30 seconds and were left there lying in their own excrements. I felt miserable.
What happened after the killing?
Ondrej: After the execution Zoonosis offered us a transport of the cadavers to the taxidermist….or sort of taxidermist…we did some research before (there is no training or career of taxidermy in La Paz) and seemingly the only person who could help us to realize the taxidermy was working in the Museum of Natural history… as a guard. He was also responsible for most taxidermy work within the Museum. The quality of the exhibits were quite terrible but we didn’t have any other choice.
Kristofer: We were asked to chose “our” 10 dogs which were put aside for us and put into plastic bags. The act of picking 10 freshly killed dogs out of maybe 80 killed that day was also like straight out of a nightmare, but I was surprised and terrified to see how easily I started looking at the dead bodies just as aesthetic objects, trying to make the best choice. Zoonosis then gave us a ride with the dead dogs to the Museum of Natural History, where we had found the only taxidermists of La Paz: the janitor of the museum and his friend the night-guard who practice taxidermy as a self-taught hobby (doing the taxidermy for the collections of the Museum of Natural History of La Paz as well). The taxidermy that those two fellows did was horrible. You could still feel and see the meat and the bones in the legs and the dogs were stinking like hell…
How did you display the work in the Museo Tambo Quirquincho?
Ondrej: The carpets were not ready for the opening. They were still wet and extremely stinking. We decided to hang the dog carpets in the patio of the museum in a way like you hang clothes to dry. The idea was that the dogs would be drying during the time of the show. Visually it was certainly a freak show.
Kristofer: We could not show the work as planned since the dogs were not dry yet. So we wanted to just put them up to dry outside, in the courtyard of the museum. This was a terrible “installation”. But since the whole show was all about “the process”, we and the curators accepted this display. The museum director didn’t like it though, so the next day we had to put them into a smaller courtyard where the public could not see them. But since the show was about the process, the museum was open for visitors before the opening as well and the display of the hanging dogs was seen by a couple of persons on that one day when we first hang them up to dry in the courtyard of the museum…
What were the reactions to the work in Bolivia, La Paz?
Ondrej: It created a scandal. The animal right people pushed the Mayor to investigate the matter and ordered the same city company, Zoonosis – that gave us the dead dogs – to give him a report and an explanation of the situation. So what Zoonosis did was to enter into the Museum and steal the carpets from the show with the help of the Museum director herself… it was a complete paradox since we had all the legal and written permissions from the Museum and from Zoonosis to realize our project. We got a phone call to the hotel where we were staying and ready to leave from Bolivia the next morning, informing us that somebody is taking away – stealing our work. The scandal was covered extensively by the media… Different TV channels issued interviews and even set a confrontation between us and the animal right defenders…
Kristofer: During the one afternoon that the dogs were on public display in the courtyard of the Museo Tambo Quirquincho some visitors saw them and created a scandal, alerting TV stations, animal rights associations and making a lot of direct pressure on the mayor of La Paz, who actually has both the Museo Tambo Quirquincho and the Zoonosis under his control, since both institutions are municipal… So a couple of days later we got a phone call from the curator of the show, telling us that the dogs have been “removed” and that there is nothing we can do to get them back. The mayor had ordered Zoonosis to go to the Museo Tambo Quirquincho and remove the dogs, in collaboration with the director of the museum. When we arrived to the museum there were several TV crews there making interviews. We tried to get hold on the tapes from the different TV channels but because of the lack of cooperation of the director of the museum and of the bolivian curator we did not have a chance. We had our return flights the next day so there was no time to organize anything really. We even heard from the transport company we had hired to transport the dogs and other works we had made, that the mayor of La Paz had made a new law the same day, making it illegal to export dead dogs… Just in case we would have had some more in stock. He was very afraid of losing his job if the scandal would have spread internationally.
You decided to realize the Dogcarpets in Europe after the Bolivian experience. What do you think of this transition?
Ondrej: Well, actually I tried to realize the project in Prague shortly before coming to Bolivia. The idea of the carpets was already about one year old. The carpet itself is an extremely powerful image, which is inevitably confronting the viewer. Hypocrisy is still the main aspect of the work, even though it confronts you on a more personal level. The dogs are obviously pets and not street dogs, which is quite important, since I mentioned the special position pets like dogs and cats occupy within our society. People sometimes develop a closer relationship with their pets than with their own family or friends. Another striking difference is the realization of the taxidermy. I wanted the carpets resembling a bear or a tiger or other hunting carpets which are formally realized very professionally. The dogs and cats were obtained from a pet hospital, where they died mostly from natural causes and the owners didn’t want to take care of the dead bodies…
Kristofer: After Bolivia I went directly to Rio de Janeiro for a residency of 2 months and Ondrej went back to Prague. As we were about to participate together in the Prague Biennale only 2 months later, we decided that we would like to show the Dog Carpets in the Biennale, so Ondrej concentrated on getting the dogs produced in Prague while I was working with rats in Brasil. The Prague dogs came from a hospital where the dogs had died and nobody had wanted to take care of the corpses. They are real pets that were abandoned after death – not street dogs. So the difference is quite big to the bolivian dogs. Also the context is completely different. I was more interested and more involved in the crazy Bolivian adventure, but I think the Dog Carpets – as they turned out finally – are very well made and very disturbing objects.