BY Ronald Jones in Reviews | 10 SEP 97
Featured in
Issue 36

Oleg Kulik

BY Ronald Jones in Reviews | 10 SEP 97

Just as the bearded lady's freak show begins the moment she stops shaving, Oleg Kulik's art begins with his first bark. Kulik (an endearing name for a dog) has been prancing around on all fours within a very sturdy kennel, a kind of doggy Alcatraz, erected within the Deitch Projects space. In one corner there were bowls of water and food, in the other a place to go poo-poo. As does my dachshund Mies, Kulik passed the time napping until the unexpected visitor alarmed him into a barking fit.

Not wishing to place a value judgement on simplicity, it must still be said that Kulik's ambitions are uncomplicated. His performance though efficiently effervescent possessed all the weight of an anomaly ingenue. Much ink has flowed over how convincingly he has become a dog, but he was, after all, never a dog. He was never a dog in the way, say, that Chris Burden was a target. The return of the real had little room for manoeuvre in Kulik's kennel, and even as he grovelled in his black collar, there was none of the humiliation, violence or sexuality that Pasolini's SALO wilfully unmasked.

Offstage is quite another thing; with his studded collar unbuckled, Kulik speaks. He 'kennels-up' he says because he is for 'true democracy'. The kind, he drones on, 'established on the politically inclusive idea of zoocentrism (man is but a part, rather than a measure of, our planet's biosphere)'. Kulik has thrown in the towel on anthropocentrism and is nominating a society whose basis would be a symbiosis of humankind and the natural world. Deep Ecology it is often called. Immediately, the conclusion dawns that his constituency would largely be animals and plants. Getting them together on the issue of 'true democracy' would be the easy part ­ remember, the animals in Paradise shared language with humankind before the Fall brought us down a notch or two. The sticking point seems to be that few of the rest of us on Earth have much invested in the idea that our planet's salvation is a matter of taking to all fours butt naked. Kulik's politics are both wide-eyed and bushy tailed.

This is not to say that others have never shared Kulik's sentiments, though admittedly, few have possessed his unsinkable enthusiasm for the canine characterisation. Vito Acconci may be happy to know that Diogenes was given to masturbating in public having taken to the life of a quadruped, claiming that the simple life is a virtuous life; one as unencumbered as a dog's. Kulik apparently concurs. Listening to his pit bull 'vocalisation' one might even recall Jacques Lacan's seminar, 'L'Identification', in which he reflected on his own dog Justine's acquaintance with language, as it applied to human-wholeness and animal-wholeness, and how they overlap. When the subject is the symbiosis of humankind and the natural world (let's not ever mention Beuys), history passes judgement that Kulik is only a common-or-garden peculiarity.

Perhaps someone in the Kulik camp expected the spectacle of it all to carry the day. If his dog act, 'The Symbiosis of Humankind and the Natural World', stirred deeply rooted sentiments for 'true democracy', all the better. If so, their timing was disastrous. He had to compete with a comet that will not pass by our tiny planet again for more than four millennia. But who wants to gawk at a comet, much less a 'man as dog', when you can positively drool over the Heaven's Gate crew who went chasing after Hale-Bop fuelled by pills and vodka, wearing uniform Nikes, and armed with pockets full of quarters? The learning curve on giving good spectacle in America is pretty steep ­ Kulik hails from Moscow. Wasn't it Mme. Roland who famously said 'the more I see of men, the better I like dogs'?

Ronald Jones is on the faculty of the Royal College of Art, London, and a regular contributor to this magazine.