Monday, January 12, 2009

Unite And Take Rover

Here's a dream from a little further south. Federica works as an artist and puppeteer in Mexico, and we welcome her to the 31 Dreamers as today's contributor. Federica writes:
There was a dog, a big dog, a not dark color. It was dead on the floor, and next to the dog three or four puppies, all dead. I was looking at the mama and I could see something moving and I get closer and I can see there is a heart beating inside her belly—another puppy was alive inside the dead mama. I took a knife—I didn’t know what else to do—and I started taking off the skin in layers, basically peeling away layers, and I could see more and more clearly the shape of the little creature inside, and I think I remember that was a tiny little baby, a little face . . . but I'm not so sure . . . and it felt very strange, what I was doing. But it felt the only thing to do. 

I don't remember if I took the little thing out.

But yes, I clearly remember a little face under a thinner layer of skin.

What do you think?

Federica, I don't know how it is in Mexico, but dogs in the U.S. are insane.

I mean, wouldn't you be if you had no freedom?

I'd always wondered what things would be like if we just undid all the leashes and opened all the cages and let the dogs run free. Probably a lot of bad stuff to be sure. Someone who's been locked down in captive servitude for his or her whole life has little practice at being free. Dogs would die, get hit by cars, contract rabies from feral lagomorphs, attack people and each other—in short, a massive mess of absolute canine chaos. Then things would settle down and the dogs would sort thngs out though their intelligence and cooperative instinct—they are pack animals, after all. The learning curve would be slow, but they'd get there eventually. And then what?

I was recently in a place where dogs run free: Kolkata (also called Calcutta) in the Bengali part of India. There the dogs share the city with humans in a tenuous nocturnal/diurnal arrangement. By day we humans overrun things with our hustle and bustle, making enough noise and garbage and pollution to satisfy the needs of 15 million people, while the dogs sleep in curled-up crescents on almost every sidewalk. At night the humans go to bed and the dogs run things, going through our hominid detritus and refuse and scavenging what they need before we humans wake up and take over again. My favorite of times were those crepuscular moments—early mornings when the chai and poori and vegetable sellers were just setting up shop and the dogs held quiet conferences on street corners, just standing around calmly, bidding each other "good morning" before retiring for the day. These were not American dogs, and admittedly their lives are much harder than the well-groomed poodles of the West. Mange is common, as is canine pregnancy and abandoned pups. But these dogs get to be dogs, to be with each other as is the nature of dogs to do.

Federica, I am no expert on what's best for dogs, but I do know that the dogs in your dream have seen better days. You have come into their lives a little too late—too late for all but one of them who has not yet even been exposed to the air and all of beauty and horror which wafts upon it. It's too late for the rest but not for this one. Yet what can you do—a mere artist—to save the lives of future generations who are destined to just be miserable and neglected anyway? The wisdom and protection of their elders could not save them, so how can you? Like any resourceful artist, you use the tools and skills that you've got and give it the old college try. But for every problem that you peel away, more layers of problems are revealed. Will you ever be able to save this itty bitty puppy, let alone the entire canine and human races? Can the work that you do really change anything or save anyone?

I was looking for some books on Indian art at the local branch of my library and another book caught my eye: a retrospective of "masterworks" from the Museum of Bad Art  (MOBA) in Dedham, Massachusetts. MOBA's collection is made up mostly of pieces that people didn't want. They are culled from the curbside trash heaps, thrift stores and flea markets of the world. I took this book home thinking, "How bad can this art really be?" Then I saw the portraits that people had made of their dogs (like Erin Rothgeb's, pictured here). It made me think about the art that I make, and how sometimes it is truly bad. But I keep making it, and sometimes it's pretty good. The fact that it has the power to make others feel good isn't totally coincidental—I mean, that's part of what we artists are trying to achieve, right? We just can't force people to feel good with our art, it just has to happen. We can try and try and try and it might not work, Then we might not try and *bing!* Incidental magic happens. One person's trash has the power to be another's treasure, like at MOBA, or on the streets of Kolkata and anyplace else in the world.

As far as the power of art to change the world is concerned, we just gotta keep doing what we do, Federica, even with the circumstances of dogs dying and people living "like dogs" all around us in every corner of the earth. Whether or not we can clearly make out their faces and uncover all the problems that put them in their desperate situations, the people and the problems are still there. We cannot fix all of it with art alone, but art can be an integral part of an ultimate victory. 

Your dream is telling you to persevere through these trials, to listen for and seek the beating hearts of others, even in what seems to be the most hopeless of situations, and to continuously expose the truth by peeling away layer after layer of injustices with your craft. It may feel unreachable, even disgusting at times, but we must persevere, freeing each other from the subtle kennels and dead bellies that keep us locked away from the world and from each other. One day we will peel back that last layer and all finally breathe the same air together. Joyous. United. Free.

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