Downwards Facing Dog
In the studio stands a very large sculpture, bursting with color and joy. It has an orange tail with stinger held aloft, almost brushing against the ceiling, and an undulating blue body, and a huge red claw stretching forward, and another small, stout yellow leg, and a long green haunch. Each limb interlocks somehow with the other, like pieces in a toy construction set. The color is so gladdening one cannot find a place for such an emotion in days such as these; it’s funny, unserious, it does not look serious. Sculptures look like serious business, ponderous in thought and weight, when they exhibit the material of their making in its unadulterated potency, bronze cast as bronze, wood carved as wood, marble chiseled, Cor-Ten steel plates laid down, plywood panels screwed together. Even a painting should consist of the pigments themselves, of their distinct resonance within the spectrum of human vision and their consonance with the chemical properties of the gouache, the oil, the acrylic medium, the watercolor binder. Real art ought to be made of real materials, otherwise it would just be a conversation about art and not actual art. Such was, for many years, the thinking about photography as well, only black and white – like the colors of the darkroom – for isn’t color a disguise in the interest of seduction and transaction? It is wrong to assume that this attitude faded away with the decline of the Clement Greenberg’s inveterate formula for modernism, or that it is solely to be blamed on Johann Joachim Winkelman’s Romantic colorblindness. And yet, this sculpture is baldly colored and therefore impure, it is two–faced, coated with all sorts of distractions. This sculpture is unserious and does not speak earnestly, why say color when you should first say material or volume? It is so very colored that it begs to be played with, to be tickled, or disassembled, it’s actually a construction set, composed of fetchingly colored parts that elicit a smile and the urge to move. A game-builder is not an artist but a craftsman, he works, or rather can be said to be working only when his games are purchased, otherwise he is just playing. An idler. He plays but also fears that his game will become art if the sculpture ends, that is, completed, for then it must be taken seriously, not disassembled, only exhibited, in its completeness, finished.
Completed puzzles are sad, Lego less so. The will to put together is the will to move something more than it is the will to make something, to take the spirit somewhere. Such a colorful sculpture already takes the spirit somewhere, because it shows not only itself, it plays with concealment and with becoming something. It is also very large and lithe, standing on tiptoe, and it seems that rather than crashing downwards its only possible disintegration is upwards. We circle it before touching, we must play before it, at first to probe whether it will react, to test what it will or will not permit, and then to please it, to prove that we too can stretch our limbs, that we too harbor a smile. Were it a serious sculpture, you would dare do nothing but gaze at it in motionless silence. This is not a serious sculpture nor is its paint-job serious, it is neither uniform nor smooth nor shiny. It’s called staining, letting the color sink in and build up wherever the wood permits. In other words, this colorful coat actually emphasizes that which it covers, highlights what the eye usually overlooks, the pattern of the wood’s growth, or the seams of glue, or the action of the chisel and the chainsaw. This paint-job is actually a three-dimensional affair, a sculpture on a sculpture, sculpture multiplied. This independent coat of color is the sculpture that brings the sculpture back into the fold of art, for it does not satisfy the use-value of the smoothly colored game-piece, but brings out once more the handprint of the artist at play, who refuses to finish. The color is then suddenly trapped between the act of making art-for-art’s-sake and the transformation of labor into commodity, and the viewer needs an answer.
The answer arrives perhaps from the sculpture’s unserious title. It is called Downwards Facing Dog, and that makes it look like downwards-facing-dog, the yoga position, and the animal waking up at home. What do you do with a dog that does yoga? It really is looking downwards, there seem to be two eyes there, in the crossed bones at the front of the long, hollow, blue part of the body, eyes that also gaze inwards. Entering that position in the daily Salute to the Sun, one should also look inwards. The proper form involves letting the head hang loosely between the arms, the eyes may even close. The head thus loosened in adho mukha svanasana, the gaze turns feetwards, the eyes roll back, are sent back to the rear of the skull, the mind empties, consciousness lets go. What does it see there, the dog looking downwards? It sees that which holds it, the world.
The world must be shared, apparently, with large, colorful sculptures, born of a mere scribble, a seemingly unwilled roaming of brush over paper, just killing time, playing for time. The world permits the intrusion of serious sculptures, but begrudges the intrusion of the colorful ones, and certainly not of those craft-bastards born of chance, even though the hand of chance beckons only when time is played out and freed up, when the day is unknown. And when that scribble is called drawing and drawing implies sculpture, one runs the risk that here is after all a serious undertaking bent on shutting down the waiting-for-something-to-happen, on eliminating the game that has no winners. The remedy for such risk is the opposite risk, the risk that the game might collapse, that someone might come along and assemble it differently, that the heart might move to the face, that the dog might turn out to be an artist who was put together otherwise.
Once you have plowed through all that color, once you cannot help seeing the dog, it’s much more fun to caress. Here you meet such a joyful animal, and it will clearly dismantle the barrier between the two of you called language, and replace it with a warmer common denominator, called life. And fiction also enters right from the start, you and the sculpture real or unreal to the same degree more or less, you watching it watching you, it is no longer a sculpture and you no longer a viewer, you are both playing at being. This is not about metaphor and all that literariness already embodied in the word-string downwards-facing-dog designating a physical exercise, there are after all so many animals in the assanas. This is the graver matter, regarding the right to fiction, the right to shake free of oneself and to enter other states, such as being-animal or being-inanimate or being-dead. Every animal bears this promise because its biological life is not so tied up in the fact of its existence in the world as we have shackled our birth and death to beginning and end, the animal is here far before we have appeared, with deep pasts. Even so, the animal is still inscribed in all our imagery as though it never changes, as though it does not return our gaze, as though it has no name, forced to be personified in order to earn our gaze which it never needed in the first place.
Downwards Facing Dog extends a hand to the fictional, and that is a life saver.
Noam Gal, Tel Aviv
[translation: Uriel Miron]