Not Without My Dog

mixed media

Art trail for dogs, five stations:

The Dogs of USA
Treasury of Smells
Free Run
Together Through Thick and Thin

Commissioned by Laumeier Sculpture Park St. Louis with funds from the Mark Twain Laumeier Endowment Fund and Purina

The Dogs of USA from Not Without My Dog 7
Free Run from Not Without My Dog 2
Free Run from Not Without My Dog 1
Howl-Along from Not Without My Dog 2
Howl-Along from Not Without My Dog 1
The Dogs of USA from Not Without My Dog 6
The Dogs of USA from Not Without My Dog 5
The Dogs of USA from Not Without My Dog 4
Treasury of Smells from Not Without My Dog
The Dogs of USA from Not Without My Dog 3
The Dogs of USA from Not Without My Dog 2
The Dogs of USA from Not Without My Dog 1

Click image to enlarge.

Not Without My Dog

It was Tea Mäkipää’s dream to make an artwork for animals, a job that she had always been looking for, and the opportunity finally came from Laumeier Sculpture Park in St. Louis (US). In the decades since its founding, the sculpture park has become surrounded by suburbia. As the only larger green space in the area, the art park developed a totally new audience: dogs that were brought to look at the artworks and enjoy the fresh air on walks with their owners.

A dog’s ways of sensing its environment is often very different than a human’s. Our perceptions seem very limited when compared with the animals’ extremely developed senses of smell and hearing. Animals have the possibility to read the landscape and the traffic through it not only visually in the present as we do, but they can also read the signs of what has happened before from the odors and pheromones in the atmosphere and objects. Dogs can communicate with each other through pee-mail, which delivers all the important information of the sender piss-easy. In this artwork, Tea Mäkipää wanted to explore all the ways one could engage the canine visitors to the park.

The artwork is comprised of five stations. The first station is the "Treasury of Smells", an airy wooden shack that contains a composting bin for food and garden waste from the museum workers and the park. The architecture of the building is like that of a garden shack, allowing air and the smells of decomposing biomaterial to pass through the building for the dogs to enjoy and to host worms and saprotrophs.

The next station is called "All American Dog Houses". It consists of dog houses in five different architectural styles. In each house, a happy dog life is possible, independent of the owner’s social status or wealth. There is a "Gone with the Wind" doghouse in the style of a southern plantation house, a Harlem project high-rise doghouse, a trailer park mobile home style doghouse, a half burned down Detroit doghouse with graffiti on it, and a modernist villa following the style of Eero Saarinen. The buildings are arranged to form a village on a clearing by a walking path that passes through the forest in the park.

The third station is for dog karaoke, offering a stage with a microphone, glittery backdrop made from dog chains, and a ceiling depicting the full moon. When dogs approach, music starts. Consisting of dog sounds and tested on dogs, the "St. Louis Dog Blues" is composed by Swiss sound artist Claudia Mattai del Moro to encourage dogs to sing along.

The fourth station is a free run made from steel wires suspended between trees with leads for dogs attached to them. The owner attaches a lead to the dog’s collar, and then the dog can explore the area as they please. Since it is illegal to let dogs run absolutely free in the park, this artwork offers them an opportunity for a little bit more freedom to move without dragging their slow two-legged masters behind.

The fifth station is a U-shaped bridge over a small creek that runs through the park. The bridge crosses the creek from the walking path to a hill, loops around a tree, and returns. This allows the owners to stand comfortably with dry feet on the bridge, while letting their dogs play in the water, splashing as they please, and then climbing back up the bank to return.

Although the artwork is directed at the dog audience, addressing their capability to comprehend the environment through movement, play and all five senses, the work also hopefully helps the dog owners to bond with their pets and to experience the art together with them.


Tea Mäkipää: Every Dog Has its Day

Marilu Knode
Executive Director / Chief Curator, Laumeier Sculpture Park

In her global concerns about the earth, Tea Mäkipää zeroes in on the actors that most effectively illuminate our current crisis of conscience, crisis of faith: animals. As the Western hegemonic primacy of humans over nature stumbles—in the face of scientific proof of human-induced global disaster, species die-off and genetic distortion—Mäkipää enlists animal actors as the voice of reason. Artists have long depicted and revered the animals of our world—from ancient petroglyphs scratched in stone and carved talismanic animal effigies to embalmed pets—and that reverence tells the narrative of humans racing towards the brink of environmental collapse. But every dog has its day, and that day may be now; as more enlightened governments take steps to reduce their carbon footprint or ease extreme economic disparities, Tea Mäkipää helps envision a new species world order through her slyly charming, yet pointed, works.

Mäkipää’s five-part piece Not Without My Dog, 2011, was commissioned as part of Laumeier Sculpture Park’s exhibition Dog Days of Summer, the second in a series of five shows organized under the rubric “archaeology of place”. Since 21% of Laumeier’s 300,000 annual visitors come with their dogs, incorporating the “natural” interests of our visitors—in a dog-crazy town like St. Louis, home to Purina and many spin-off pet-related industries—allows us to integrate both humans and their pets into Laumeier’s cultural mandate. Dog Days of Summer traced the migration of humans indoors during the industrial revolution, and the ancillary scientific and cultural grafts that soon scarred over our ancient relationship to the land and the other species that inhabit it. We swept dogs indoors with us, away from predatory creatures and inclement forces. But this divorce from the flux of nature’s rhythms and creatures pockmarked society; without that dynamic relationship, since the late 19th century we humans have felt free to ravage the earth using the science that has changed all the species that live on this earth. Through the diversity of her projects, Mäkipää looks for different ways to address the urgent questions around sustainability and bio-diversity by exploring the negligent ways in which we break ancient social bonds.

And why dogs? What dog brilliance enticed we humans to invite them into our space for a mutually beneficial relationship? They have teeth, and barks, and a sense of humor and irony; we have fires, and can openers, and open car windows. A BBC documentary screened during the exhibition showed how dog memory of words and commands, along with their ability to track the whites of our eyes and, therefore, our emotions and directions, are basic navigation skills that help dogs live as partners among us. Dogs embody the social, cultural and political forces that shape our world. Dogs translate what we have lost by moving inside; dogs, unlike pets who are cloistered in cages and under snug couches, navigate between two worlds, and when we pay attention, we learn much from them than they learn from us.

Tea Mäkipää evidences a unique approach to seeing this nature / culture split. From chickens bred in industrial sheds, calmed by images of free-range chickens, to public animal morality plays, she reverses the hierarchies which we apply to animals. For Not Without My Dog, arrayed along Laumeier’s Nature Trail, Mäkipää looked at the landscape from the various ways in which dogs “read” our place. The artist highlights sight, sound, smell and some dog’s love of water as a way to honor the evolutionary “working” skills these pets have. Rather than taking Fluffy to a dog whisperer because she is bored, let her, for a moment, re-animate her instincts outside.

Howl-Along is the most explicitly joyful piece along Mäkipää‘s trail. An audible sound track draws our human attention, while the inaudible (to us) score elicits a wide range of reactions from our four-legged friends. Some dogs react with playful barks in response to the high frequency sounds, others try to wiggle out of their collars to run from the sirens on the audible track. Howl-Along makes apparent the finely tuned physiology that makes each breed unique.

Free Run is a double strand of red leads hung in the trees to allow dogs to scamper along the trial at their own pace. Together Through Thick and Thin allows water dogs to dip into a cool stream while their two-legged companions stay dry above. These stations expose our split personalities—that of our pet, willing to take the reigns, and that of humans, ever-protecting their shoes.

Treasury of Smells is a comical “wink” that Mäkipää directs at us. The open-slat cabin, a throw back to the early homes built by white settlers to the Americas, protects a wooden shrine inside: a compost bin full of things Laumeier staff gleans from the Park (grass cuttings, dead birds, rotting leaves). Of course simply segregating these smelly morsels from the surrounding woods does not isolate any smell—nose-driven dogs have a much clearer sense of our woods than we ever could.

While each of Mäkipää‘s “stations” slyly reverses the hierarchy of human to canine, the first piece that visitors come upon carries with it an overt, political tone. The Dogs of USA was inspired by the artist’s flights across the United States and her air-borne views of the different housing stock into which we bring our pets. Mäkipää‘s houses—most too small for most American dogs (we do like them big)—include a mobile home, prone to weathered collapse; a McMansion, whose architecture could only be called late plantation style with all the intended social overtones; an urban high rise, which separates man and beast from the earth; a burned-out, graffiti’d house (virtually every city in American has a section that looks like Detroit); and a low-slung mid-century modern house, made for sophisticates in the 1950s and, today, rehabbed by hip aesthetes.

Scottish ornithologist Alexander Wilson wrote that “humans and nature create each other”, and The Dogs of USA suggests that, just as we have manipulated dog DNA to achieve certain breeding goals, we have done the same to ourselves, whether through legal segregation or social disapprobation. The implied class distinctions of Mäkipää‘s homes are carried through with our dogs; only pit bulls live in trailer parks, only silky Afghan hounds live in mid-century modern homes. In this charming village, Mäkipää exposes the class-driven undertone to the American urban and suburban landscape, using dogs as the key indicator.

In her essay for the Dog Days of Summer catalogue, legal scholar Adrienne D. Davis exposed the extremes of American attitudes towards dogs, from former football star Michael Vick’s disgraceful dog fighting / dog breeding schemes to billionaire hotelier Leona Helmsley’s last testament, leaving a fortune to her dog while cutting her family out of her will.1 Davis explores the disjunct between the more humane recognition of animal sensibilities in the Swiss—who have mandated that goldfish be anesthetized before being flushed down the toilet—to the more coarse treatment of animals, say, in contemporary industrial farming. Despite the explosion of the pet care industry in the United States, the extremes show how coarse our attitude towards the natural world remains, with the consequences piling up like chewed bones in a corner.

While contemporary society tries to compartmentalize the impact nature has on us, Tea Mäkipää finds ways to highlight the inseparability of nature from culture. In Not Without My Dog, she lets the dogs out, returning nature back to our cultural landscape. This installation continues Mäkipää’s artist / activist approach to collective social conversation by using cultural landscapes, such as Laumeier Sculpture Park, where she unleashes the power of art to affect change.

1. Adrienne D. Davis, “Leash Life: Leona Helmsley, Michael Vick and Pet Inheritance” in Dog Days of Summer (St. Louis: Laumeier Sculpture Park, 2011), p.8.

Tea Mäkipää
Not Without My Dog, 2011
The Dogs of USA
Treasury of Smells
Free Run
Together Through Thick and Thin
mixed media
dimensions variable
Laumeier Sculpture Park Commission with funds from the
Mark Twain Laumeier Endowment Fund and Purina