Animals as Actors - Performances for Pets by Krõõt Juurak and Alex Bailey
Since the 1960s living animals have been part of art works and emerge especially in the context of performances. In 1963, Carolee Schneemann worked for Eye Body with a snake, in 1964 Robert Rauschenberg included in Elgien Tie a cow into his performance, and in 1974 Joseph Beuys spent some days with a coyote called Little John for his most famous performance I like America and America likes me in the gallery René Block in New York.
A special position within this tradition is taken up by the Performances for Pets by Krõõt Juurak and Alex Bailey that have been performed by the artists since 2014. Designed for house-hold pets, especially cats and dogs, these performances take place in the usual habitats of the recipient: in the apartment, the house or at another desired location by the animals (for instance a park). The artists deliberately did not choose a staged room, a theater stage or the context of an exhibition, but leave these spaces behind to move closer to the world of domestic animals. Although viewers from the immediate environment of the animals can take part in the performance they are not explicitly addressed, since the performances apply only to the pets.
The performances develop from the special relationship between the animals and the human beings who respond to and communicate with each other to create an interaction. Through gestures, facial expressions, sounds, and the use of props the pets are addressed directly. By performing mostly on all fours the artists pick up the various movements of the animals to approach their perspective. This is a form of becoming-animal of the human being, based on the precise exploration of the animals' physicality: crawling, sneaking, settling down, laying.
However, the process of the performances is determined mainly by the individual characteristics of the animals (age, gender, preferences, fears and need for movement) and their actions. The human performers must respond to these specifications as the animals define the rhythm of the performance with their movements and presence. Therefore, the performance is a direct, unpredictable and open-ended form of communication between humans and animals. Despite recurring elements, improvisation is still a necessary part of the performance. The performance itself has to be seen as an offer which the animals can also decline.
Not only the place of the performances, the home of the animals, here is particular but also the way in which the human-animal relationship and the connection between production and reception is renegotiated. In Performances for Pets the pets are recipients, that are addressed by the performance and thus break a centuries-long tradition where trained animals had to entertain people. Exploited animals that were given away as toys. Here, however, the pets are the audience for whom cultural offerings are created. Not only food and shelter is provided but also entertainment formats are developed for them.
At the same time the performances also make clear that the animals are not mere recipients. The pets are actors who perform naturally out of themselves without being trained. They act by their specific body movements and sounds to appropriate the space, so that the apartment becomes a stage. With these performances the pets perform, as many artists do, a form of immaterial labor, which is often not appreciated by the owners, invisible and being reappraised here.
Performances for Pets is an interspecies collaboration that brings together human and animal performers. The pets are freed from a purely pictorial function. They are not just extras, but included as active collaborators in the performance. The pets therefore take up a constituent role to create the art work in interacting with the artists who initiated the performances.
Here the animals are not anonymous representatives of a particular species, but are made visible as subjects with specific characteristics. As individuals that are active protagonists capable of making situational decisions in their environment and thus act autonomously. The human performers fade into the background and put the animals in the center of the performance.