ABSTRACT: Signed comment of a speech given by Don DeLillo at the New York Public Library’s “Stand In for Wei Jingsheng.” Wei Jingsheng is an imprisoned dissident Chinese writer. … Last month, there was a man in a cage in SoHo–a performance artist, a Russian, impersonating a dog. He padded about on hands and knees, naked except for a thick collar, and he growled occasionally, took water from a bowl, and sniffed at his rubber lamb chop… The cage had a small, barred slot where visitors to the gallery could get down on all fours in order to talk to the dog… In Kafka’s story “A Hunger Artist,” a man lives in a small cage for 40 days and nights without eating. People pay admission to watch him starve, to gawk at his bony arms and bared arms. The man has a manager, and the manager placed a 40-day limit on the hunger artist’s performance, not because the artist may die of starvation but because the manager has calculated that 40 days represents the far edge of the public’s fickle interest. In China, somewhere, a writer lives in a small enclosure–a barred room, perhaps, or a dark hole with a slot for food. We can imagine that the writer has made and shaped his own fate. He has a name, Wei Jingsheng, and a history outside the charges and documents assembled by the state, and maybe he has an art outside the strict limits of the written word. In this sense, his high blood pressure and arthritis and depression, his dizzy spells and rotting gums may be seen as strong-willed symptoms of the artist’s enduring effort to realize his role–a writer in opposition to the state. In a culture, ours, that tries to absorb and neutralize every threat to consumer consciousness, the spectacle of a man living as a dog has a kind of shifting eloquence. It offers a genuine sense of the latitude of free expression and places a small, incisive shock in the midst of all those SoHo apparel shops and restaurants. But it also suggests the grim idea that the performance artist, liberated from Soviet state control, may be carrying his own culture’s atavistic wish for order and repression. The Chinese writer’s art is to be still… The writer’s classic condition, to be alone in a room, has been cruelly extended here. Wei is a still figure, working out his fate in a confined space, refusing to eat at times, living for long periods on a teaspoon of sugar a day… The total state wants to drain all conviction from the writer. It wants to absorb the dissident writer. In the West, every writer is absorbed, turned into breakfast food or canned laughter. But the more nearly total the state, the more vivid the dissident artist. The artist is so vivid and singular, so unassimilated into the state machine, that the state must find a way to make him disappear. In fact, the hunger artist in Kafka believes he can fast for more than 40 days. It is the tragedy of his life that he isn’t allowed to stay hungry… The Chinese writer is treated by police doctors. His cell is so cold that frost forms on the door. He suffers chest pains and can’t sleep. The doctors address his symptoms in a traditional manner, by deciding they are faked. The writer stops eating again. A hunger strike is a free act, and Wei starves himself to protest local conditions, and to grow ever more still as well… When the hunger artist dies, they decide to put an animal in his cage… [The animal receives] a far greater audience than the hunger artist could ever command. The deeper they conceal him–the more remote the cell, the smaller the cell, the colder and stonier the walls of the cell–the more vivid and living is the writer.
A man said, Woof
March 6, 2010
a friend passed the following article on to me and it totally blew my mind. You can read it in its entirety by going here.
On Becoming a Dog By Acting Like One
By ROBERTA SMITH
Published: April 18, 1997
UNTIL April 26, Oleg Kulik, a 36-year-old Russian performance artist from Moscow, is living his life as a dog, and a pretty unfriendly one at that. Pit bull is the breed brought to mind by the sound of Mr. Kulik’s ferocious growls and barks bouncing off the walls of his cagelike room at Deitch Projects in SoHo; likewise, by the sight of his square, close-cropped head and muscular body as he roams about on all fours, craning at barred windows, growling at onlookers, pausing at water and food bowls and finally curling up on his pallet, all the while wearing nothing but a thick studded collar.
Mr. Kulik has been a dog since he passed through customs at Kennedy Airport last Friday, entered a waiting van, stripped off his clothing, put on a dog coat, collar, leash and muzzle and began communicating only in canine-speak. His first stop was the Esplanade in Brooklyn Heights, where he was taken for a walk by his wife, a writer named Mila Bredi khina — his collaborator and, during his performances, his ”trainer” — and where, judging from a snapshot, he frightened off a real and rather large dog. Mr. Kulik intends to stay in character until he returns to the airport on the evening of April 26.
It may sound ridiculous — and it never reaches the sublime — but this is not a Conceptual exercise, the kind that you can ”get” if someone simply describes it to you. It is neither an explosive mind-bender, like some of Chris Burden’s early performance pieces — which most people only heard or read about — nor an amorphous psychodrama, like some of Vito Acconci’s pieces, or an amorphous epic, like Matthew Barney’s. And while it will probably bring out sadomasochists in droves, it is an effective, narrowly focused bit of theater — which is to say that direct experience of it is required and that it uses illusion to make us think more deeply about reality.
Its efficiency is striking. There is nothing extra, superfluous or obscure about Mr. Kulik’s performance. For all intents and purposes, he is a dog: he can be scary and unpredictable and territorial. After all, he’s in his prime, about 5 dog years old; visitors who wish to enter his cage may do so one at a time and must put on the quilted overalls and arm-guards that hang near the chained and barred door to his cage. In his quieter moments, he can be disarmingly cute, mustering a doleful, hopeful, moist-eyed expression that can make one want to dispense a kind word, a rub behind the ears or a small snack. And so, as dogs are relentlessly anthropomorphized in our society, where people tend to love them more easily and openly than they do other humans, the emotions his performance touches on can be complex, even painful.
Mr. Kulik’s contribution to the erratic history of performance art, endurance art division, doesn’t appear to be a sudden idea. He began his art career as a maker of large sculptures of animals and has also photographed them. Since shifting to performance art a few years ago, he has impersonated a bird, which required being suspended in the air for long periods of time (although he has also been suspended to portray a human disco ball, covered with small mirrors). He ran for President of Russia as a bull, wearing horns, as well as clothing, while campaigning.