Greg Kucera Gallery
Marie Watt: Companion Species Calling Companion Species
September 11—October 23, 2018
There is no shortage of kitsch featuring man’s best friend. Rare is the nuanced exploration of the primal pact between humans and dogs, as portrayed in Marie Watt’s exhibition, Companion Species Calling Companion Species. In her array of textiles, etchings and sculptures depicting dogs, wolves and wolf-dogs, Watt regards humans’ fierce and beloved partners with unabashed reverence.
Archeological evidence places the advent of domesticated dogs well before that of organized agriculture, let alone written history. In fact, anthropologist Pat Shipman argues compellingly in her book, “The Invaders: How Humans and Their Dogs Drove Neanderthals to Extinction,” that it was the domestication of dogs by early human hunter-gatherers that allowed the two species to dominate wherever they roamed—the beginning of the end for countless other species, including ancestral wolf-dogs themselves.
There is, thus, a dark side to this coexistence, one that becomes clearer if one attempts to step outside an anthropocentric frame. Watt seems at first to be doing the opposite, literally putting human words in the mouth of a baying wolf-dog on an embroidered wool blanket (the exhibit’s eponymous piece). However, the concepts conveyed—of family, determination, conflict—are essential to social animals, with or without a common tongue or abstract thought.
The exhibit was dominated by a nearly 11-foot tall, reclaimed-cedar monument of a reclining she-wolf resting on a crate-like pedestal. This served to scent the gallery with the flavor of the wilderness and declare the reverent nature of this body of work. Most affecting, however, was Watt’s preoccupation with the canine tongue, which appears throughout the works. The softness, the silliness, the affection associated with it stands in such contrast to the creature’s sharp, predatory aspects. (In one work that shows only the tongue embroidered on a wool blanket, she refers to it as a “petal.”) Amid the show’s exuberant caninophilia, these gentle lingual gestures remained exercises in ambiguity rather than sentiment, a sign that—even without a common tongue—we’re still learning from each other.