Interspecies Art: Collaborative Being

A paper to be presented at the Animal Ecounters: Human-Animal-Contacts in the Arts, Literature, Culture, and the Sciences International Conference at the Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg, Erlangen, Germany, November 2016


Dogs have been a recurring image in my paintings and drawings, serving primarily as symbols or metaphors in an autobiographical exploration. This paper, however, addresses my efforts as an artist to escape the use of dogs as stand-ins and to allow them to exist in the work as individuals with individual subjectivity and agency. My efforts draw on Donna Haraway’s concept of “companion species” and explore artist-animal encounter through the act of collaboration: how can I as an artist collaborate with dogs to create work that is both the dogs’ and mine? I have found two primary arenas for this collaboration. First is shared space in the form of a dog sanctuary that I founded and run. Here, collaboration is also co-habitation, the constantly evolving design of living space to accommodate both human and dog. Second is portraiture. Historical pet portraiture features dogs as accessories to human lives, not as actively co-constitutive of a human-dog/dog-human life. I have recently begun a series of portraits of the dogs who have been part of the sanctuary, presenting them as the vital collaborators they are or were. Presenting them as the individuals I have come to know.

The sanctuary is a space for considering what it means to be a “dog,” and how those considerations feed my paintings and drawings of dog portraits. Ultimately, the dog portraits actually serve as expressions of the human-dog collaboration, the human-dog encounter. When biologist Ray Coppinger says that today’s pet dogs are no longer “dogs” because human manipulation has rendered them simply “pets,” he overlooks the encounter itself. If dogs are no longer dogs, humans are no longer humans. The encounter is or can become a “becoming with,” a new, shared identity that supersedes narrow speciesist definitions, a collaboration of species in the creation of new work.