Q & A
• What inspired your Performances for Pets project?
Animals have been entertaining humans throughout the ages in circuses and zoos, entertainment by pets has overtaken the Internet, every pet is in a sense a performer for humans. We wanted to reverse the roles and offer the animals the position of the viewer. When it comes to performing and being interesting pets are superior to us in several ways. When a pet comes on stage, for example they instantly capture everyone’s attention. So the inspiration for the performance was really a “what if” we reversed the roles for a moment. Making this performance has enabled us to see the world from the pets’ point of view and we are hoping to learn from them. And we also wanted to expand our audience across species.
• How did you come up with the idea?
The project started when some years ago we were gave a talk about the artists’ responsibility. We tried to compare all the various types of artists in the world to all the various types of pets there are. In the 19th century artists were condescendingly referred to as the lapdogs of the bourgeoisie, which was perhaps more condescending to the lapdogs than the artists? In any case, both artists and pets have not only survived but have also become exponentially many more in the past hundred years.
Contemporary pets no longer have a practical function in the household. Cats don’t need to catch mice, dogs no longer need to guard the house. Pets have upgraded their job descriptions and line of work to what we call immaterial or affective labour. In short, pets manage to make a living out of just being themselves instead of producing something. And that we find very contemporary.
• In practical terms — what do you do, how long is a performance?
We perform in the pets’ natural habitat - the home or a place they frequently visit. We meet the pet(s) and their owner and find out about the character and any special likes and dislikes of the pet and adapt the performance to the particular pet and the home. The performance itself is a mixture of mimicry, body and mind techniques imitating various forms of non-human voice and body languages, empathizing with possible meaning or connection with our audience. A performance for dogs is typically 15-20 minutes long and performance for cats lasts between 20 and 30 minutes. From the human perspective what we do looks like a hybrid between dance, theatre and performance art, but for pets the distinctions between dance, theatre and art are anyway not so relevant. We have come up with the routines in collaboration with our pet audiences and the cat and dog therapists-collaborators Bina Lunzer and Petra Ott from Vienna.
• How do the animals react to your performance?
Animals typically find this a bit strange at first. For most of them our performance is the first one they’ve ever seen, so that is only natural that they find it a bit awkward. The reactions vary a lot, from dogs focussing intently on ripping their toy apart and pretending we are not even there to enthusiastic play involving biting, licking, humping and barking. A typical cat always leaves the room as soon as the performance starts, and comes back after a few moments to follow us around the house, in some cases even to the door after the performances already finished.
In general young pets and pets who like to play are more responsive towards our performance.
• And how do humans react?
Humans are usually emotionally connected to their pet and thus when their pet seems to enjoy the performance they also enjoy it. They usually watch the performance as though through their pet’s point of view. Some humans told us they’ve even felt a little nervous for their pet, if they would “get” the performance or not and felt proud of their pet's behaviour if everything went well. For some humans it is simply an interesting experience to watch a performance that is not meant for them.
• What’s the most eventful thing that’s happened during a performance?
Human understanding of eventfulness is quite different for the non-human perspective. We feel it would be unfair to point out some moments that seemed like events to us. Only the pets will know of the most eventful moments for them.
On the other hand for us as humans it was quite extraordinary when today one dog seemed to tell the other dog off for barking too much during the performance, kind of like when getting shshsh-d in the theatre.
• How do you deal with "difficult pets"?
Dogs or cats that have psychological problems, stress, unexplainable behaviour — we would say Performances for Pets might not the best option for them. Our ideal audience is regular happy (sometimes a bit bored) domesticated animals. We don't perform for aggressive pets or pets who’s characters are unknown (due to being recently picked up from the shelter for example) - this would be safety measures for ourselves and for the pets.
However some dog owners say their dog is "difficult" - when in fact they mean that their animal is shy or doesn’t sit or roll over every time they ask. That is of course not a problem for us. The performance is usually even enjoyed more by dogs and cats that have a “free education” and are making some decisions independent from their owner. We are able to adapt our performance to a rather wide range of characters and types of pets.
The project was initiated by Krõõt Juurak and Alex Bailey in 2014, and stems from another project AUTODOMESTICATION which deals with labour conditions of human and non-human species of creative workers. Performances for Pets is represented by the Galerie International.
Krõõt Juurak and Alex Bailey have been dealing with performances for pets since 2014. In addition to exploring our companion species’ tastes and humour, the project also address the fact that entertainment provided by pets working from home is often not recognised as actual work. In an aim to return at least part of this favour, Krõõt Juurak and Alex Bailey ended up devising Performances for Pets, individually adapted to the interests of dogs, cats and other species based on preliminary briefings by their owners. Although Performances for Pets is created solely for appreciation by pets, their human owners and friends are invited to join and view the performance though the eyes of the pet. Performances for Pets has already been performed over 90 times to pets in Zürich, Erlangen, Brussels, Bristol, Tallinn, Berlin and Vienna.
Adriano Wilfert Jensen and Simon Asencio - consultation
Alissa Snaider - image consulting
Roland Rauschmeier - video
Bina Lunzer - dog consulting
Petra Ott - cat consulting
Jessica - website
Performances for Pets is supported by SHIFT: Programm zur Förderung innovativer Kunst, Vienna
Krõõt Juurak (Estonia) and Alex Bailey (UK) are artists and performers working and living in Vienna. They received there MFA from the Sandberg Institute of Fine Arts in Amsterdam. Their recent performance collaborations include Animal Jokes (for Animals) performed at Secession, Vienna, Xing, Bologna and Bonnefanten Museum Maastricht, Animal Show performed at WUK Performing Arts, Vienna and since 2014 Performances for Pets which has been performed at various homes in Zürich, Amsterdam, Brussels, Erlangen, Vienna, Tallinn and Berlin.