Bennett, what should people expect from Dachshund UN?
I think people should, and will, show up to be entertained by the spectacle, but I hope they bring an open mind to what it might be about. People assign different meanings to the interactions of the dogs – this draws out how we think about each other. It’s not really that different if shown in Sydney or anywhere else, but Sydney does have a pretty strong, pre-existing connection to smaller dogs.
If you come to the show, try to make eye contact with the dogs. Whilst the work is set up to appear as a piss-take of a struggling organisation (and on one level that’s exactly what it is), its overall intention is more than that, so the audience should be willing to look at it closely, and to think about it for longer.
It must be fairly unpredictable sculpting with live dachshunds.
It is a tad unpredictable – and having so many animals up on stage always makes me a bit nervous – but now that it’s tried and tested there’s a pattern to the behavior of the dogs. They usually settle down after a while – during which time the audience appreciates the dogs beyond the initial joke of the premise.
Live dachshunds are a great material to sculpt with. I started using them after an argument about ‘form’ following ‘function’ and the difference between a bicycle and a dachshund. A dachshund becomes both performer and walking metaphor, and the rest of the work is built around putting them into context.
What are the hounds in the UK like compared to here?
A lot of the dogs we used were show dogs rather than pets, so were well versed in standing still. The main differences were between the owners rather than the dogs, which is part of the point of the exercise. The dog representing the United Kingdom did seem to have a few more eyes on it. This made it pretty loaded when the UK dog started humping Zambia. That was fairly apt considering some recent and historical aspects of UK politics, but probably too much of a cheap thrill.
What part do the owners play in creating the final sculpture?
The owners make the project both possible and safe. They volunteer their time to take part, and spend the performance largely out of view, beneath the platforms, monitoring the comfort of their dogs. Without them there it wouldn’t work, and wouldn’t be something I’d be willing to experiment with, but because they are there, and because they love their dogs, it becomes doable.
Is assigning delegates for the various countries random or deliberate?
It’s completely random, and has to be for it to work. It’s important to try and break down the differences between countries and between the audience’s perception of countries, so to assign certain dogs to certain countries would ruin the idea.
Previously you created the Golf War series – a commentary on the war in Iraq in the form of a putt putt course. Are there similarities here?
I make work in response to things in the world that confuse and/or bother me. This usually involves imitating a situation that I find perverse or corrupted in a different way. At their most basic level, my works are like saying, "Well, If it already exists like that then it may as well be this too."
Golf War was more of a straight protest piece, in response to something that was astounding in its stupidity. Dachshund UN still comes from the same political context because the reputation of the UN suffered so badly through the ‘coalition of the willing’. The UN was seen as a toothless organisation when ignored in the lead-up to Iraq. That perception has shifted since, but a short-legged animal is still a good fit for the idea of a restricted, pilloried organization. The UN is an organisation with a big heart and tiny legs.
I also make works because I want to see them, find out what they might be like.
Have any human UN delegates seen it?
I’ve heard – second-hand – that it has fans in the UN, but I wasn’t entirely convinced. I’d love to know what a UNHRC delegate makes of this work, but don’t want to get sued for adding a dachshund to the logo.