At the center of Yoshua Okón retrospective, a piece whose bite is worst than its bark

Note: Turn up your sound, and please forgive the "F-word."

How shall we look today at Yoshua Okón’s video of two dogs fucking? Perhaps, most fairly, from a dog’s point of view, which is to say from a height well below a meter and with a somewhat unpredictable disposition that, on one hand, is capable of offering unconditional love and, on the other hand, mercilessly mauls the feathers off of baby birds and shits on the street leaving others to clean it up.

Which is to say further that dogs react to things with an instinctual and unfiltered honesty few humans are capable of and that they aren’t afraid to rip things to shreds with no regard for how it impacts others. Dogs are simultaneously fawning and vicious, which is say even further that they are a lot like art critics, and so it might be interesting to consider what they think of Yoshua Okón’s video of two dogs fucking since they are closer to the experience of having sex with dogs than most art critics.

So, let’s assume we get the canine formalities out of the way, the sniffing and the evaluation of whether the thing can be eaten, and move on to the possibilities of an intellectual parsing of the show-stopping piece, titled Chocorrol, that features the artist’s own dog, a black hairless Xoloitzcuintle breed, mounting a white French poodle, made in 1997 and resurrected for the career retrospective Collateral, which closed at Mexico City’s revered MUAC in February and moved to Puebla’s Museo Amparo in March. To do this fairly, we must acknowledge that dogs have some limitations in the way they think. They can’t read, so catalogue essays are no use to them, nor is the verbiage on the wall beside the video telling human viewers that the poodle was hired for the making of the art, although from a height of less than one meter the dog probably couldn’t see the signage well-enough to read it even if he could read.

Which is to say that the dog is going on just two senses, sight and sound, since there is really nothing to smell or touch and the piece is rather unsatisfying to lick. For a dog, Chocorrol stands on its own without any of the associated context that a human might use to understand the work, but with the additional context of belonging to the species being depicted, which a human would naturally be disadvantaged to fully understand.

For example, a human might see the work in the context of some sort of nature documentary designed to help us comprehend animal behavior, while a dog might see it as something closer to pornography. If dogs had their own internet and could type and Googled something like “BLACK ON WHITE BAREBACK TRIPLE X DOGGIE STYLE” they might come up with something like Yoshua Okón’s two dogs fucking, which brings us to the first actual conclusion a dog might come to, which is that the piece is trash. Sensational smut. Sophomoric and immature. And who is to argue with a dog in this case without seeming insensitive to the cultural differences varied viewers bring to art. The dog, we must agree at least publicly, is right.

And porn, of course, is complicated. At once titillating and political. So while the dog might start off wanting to clean its private parts upon watching Yoshua Okón’s Chocorrol, its higher canine self intervenes and wonders if one or both of the parties in the video is or are being exploited. And so the dog ponders the participants in the video as individuals and how willing they were to be part of the project or whether the artist was just using animals, and possibly abusing animals, possibly sexually abusing animals to make this work happen. The dog finds this disturbing and, because he is our best friend, we probably should find this disturbing, too.

And the dog, whose first tendency is over-the-top, unabashed, admiration to anything that might throw it a bone, similar to many curators, examines the artist’s motives looking to give him the benefit of the doubt. The dog takes into account that the artist is very important in his country and has very important judgements about people around the world and how they treat other people who are a different color than they are and that other people value these judgements as insightful, and that maybe the best way the artist could come up with to say this particular thing is by letting his own dog, who likes to fuck anyway, fuck for the camera, and by paying the owner of another dog to let his own dog fuck it even though in the video it is hard to tell if the bottom dog is enjoying the fucking in the least. She doesn’t seem to be enjoying it, more like tolerating it without much choice.

Of course, this is how it goes in the breeding of animals, and all animals including dogs but also horses, cows and zoo pandas know this, although the dog realizes that this isn’t breeding for the sake of creating life, rather it is breeding for the sake of political argument and that these animals are being used, possibly abused, possibly sexually abused, for the sake of art. And the dog finds this disturbing, too, because even though the dog loves art as much as a tennis ball, he does think artists and the institutions that exhibit their work should show some ethical restraint

Still, the dog reserves judgement because, it must admit, it is a bit flattered by the appearance of two dogs in such an esteemed museum and thinks back to all those other dogs portrayed in art all the way back to when cavemen started decorating their caves, He thinks of the art of Greece and Rome and how it used dogs as symbols of loyalty and fidelity. He thinks of all those Renaissance royals who insisted their dogs appear in their painted portraits to show their wealth and status, and of all those hunting dogs the Dutch honored in oils to prove their patrons bravery and sportsmanship. He thinks of van Gogh’s dogs and Picasso’s and Alexander Calder’s. He chuckles over Jeff Koon’ ridiculous over-sized dog covered in flowers and gets all sentimental remembering those adorable Weimaraners William Wegman photographed as if they were humans. He always wanted to meet those dogs, there were so normal.

He would not want to meet the dogs in Chocorrol because he simply would not know what to say. Did they wonder, like he did, why a dark-skinned dog would be fucking a light-skinned dog instead of the other way around. At least that might drive home some point about the sort of racially-based rape that’s dogged North America from Hernán Cortés to George Bush.

But a black dog humping a white one? There might be some message of taking back the power in that; of saying “no bitch, it’s my turn,” of making all the wrongs of history right. But is that really a way to accomplish self-determination? Through a violent fucking back, with a dog who has no choice and whose trafficker is paid for her sex work? The dog thinks the whole thing is misguided, and dogs, who have lead the way for everyone from Lewis & Clark to the very nice blind lady who lives down the hall from you, know a thing about guiding.

And so the dog worries who is guiding things for Collateral overall and he wonders if the widespread admiration for Yoshua Okón clouded the judgement of curators who chose to include the piece in the retrospective. The dog has seen the rest of Collateral. He believes in the artist and his borderless indictment of mistreatment, exploitation and human selfishness and stupidity across the hemisphere. And he’s actually not mad at Yoshua Okón. The world wasn’t so clued into animal abuse 20 years ago; times have changed around the piece and he was a young man back then, experimenting and, hard as it is sometimes, we must give artists the power to make the things they have impulses to make.

But about the gatekeepers, he wonders if they might have presented the piece in some kind of context, with some acknowledgment about the evolution of animal rights. Or not presented it at all. He wonders if they might benefit from seeing this piece from a dog’s point of view.

 

Yoshua Okón: Collateral, continues through June 18 at Museo Amparo, Puebla, Mexico.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here