Masks of white standard poodles float in front of black walls. Hissing sounds are followed by squeaking and bird sounds, then a soft female voice can be heard. “Eat. Shit. Love.” The babble of voices repeats. “Eat. Shit. Love.” At the same time, a ballet of color contrasts flickers across four flat-screens and a projection screen. Poodles, shepherd dogs, maggots, sunshine, palm trees and doughnuts – our catastrophic world is the world of living creatures, of the things and objects that surround and control us. Heather Phillipson’s video animation is a high definition collage with a narrative pieced together from wild chains of association that can only partially be deciphered. Even though the montages appear simple, the effects are magnificent: They conjure up complete overload, followed by an empty feeling of disillusionment.
Heather Phillipson is an artist and an author. She writes poems, but when she reaches the limits of description, she opts to stage immersive video installations in which language and image combine to form a completely imaginary new world. The video work “100% Other Fibres” recreates the real story of police dog Gavin, who suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, freezing whenever he heard loud sounds. “This idea of an animal/being“, the artist said recently in an interview, “put to use by the state, and embodying the repercussions, is a more or less explicit theme. But the work, through conglomerations of multiple, recurring bodies — canine and human, engaged as automatons, carcasses, detritus, objects of desire — also throws up what escapes all that — straight-up bodily obligations — sex, reproduction, rotting.“1 The dog and his story represent the deep dark side of our world. The video turns into a cauldron of problems, bubbling away with the absurd entanglements of criticism and commerce, love and hate, protection and menace, life and death.
The video turns into a cauldron of problems, bubbling away with the absurd entanglements of criticism and commerce, love and hate, protection and menace, life and death.
“100% Other Fibres” was created as a commissioned piece for Frieze Art Fair in New York. As seductively colorful as the work may appear – riddled as it is with cute pictures of dogs, tasty sweets and loud pop songs – the artist is well aware of the obscenely commercial context in which contemporary art is presented at sales fairs. The garish colors, the bright light, the experience that sucks you in and drains you dry: All of these are deceptive techniques with which Phillipson grabs our attention in order to finally tell a story of deeply narcissistic exploitation, which is ultimately a story of real life as it is. In doing so, “100% Other Fibres” relentlessly employs all of the seductive effects devised by the capitalist world of advertising in order in the final analysis to expose all this world professes to be – to be a facade. animals
While working on the 5-part video animation, Phillipson followed the reporting on the first female suicide attacker in France. It was in November 2015 that Hasna Aït Boulahcen, aged 26 years, took her own and the lives of others during a large-scale police raid. Together with several members of the Islamic State, including Abdelhamid Abaaoud, wanted internationally and who is assumed to have masterminded the Bataclan attack, she hid in Saint-Denis and detonated the bomb as police were entering the apartment. Phillipson was gripped by the odd reporting, the flippant descriptions, and the shattered images surrounding the event, and these became fragments that were part of her work process when making the videos. The story of the police sniffer dog Diesel, a Belgian shepherd dog, who was sent into the apartment first and who was killed in the cross-fire, also crops up in the video. Through the hashtag #JeSuisChien Diesel’s story spread across the social networks and he was posthumously awarded the French Medal of Honor in recognition of his service. Phillipson addresses her discomfort when faced by all this news and does not shy away from revealing her own speechlessness and state of shock.
Lifeless poodle masks appear time and again in “100% Other Fibres”, toy dogs run through the picture from left to right, they spin around, go up in smoke, and present Phillipson’s frenzied memories of the attack. Here, Philllipson takes advantage of the fact that the narrative structure of an infinite filmed loop has formal similarities with memory: Images repeat unsolicited, they flare up only to disappear again, scare us like ghosts, and are always simultaneously real and unreal. “The specter, as its name indicates, is the frequency of a certain visibility. But the visibility of the invisible”, wrote Jacques Derrida, and continued. “The specter is also, among other things, what one imagines, what one thinks one sees and which one projects – on an imaginary screen where there is nothing to see.”2 Animation as a technology provides Phillipson with a format for expressing her feeling of being haunted by the images in the news media as though these were indeed ghosts.
In her video installation the artist addresses the topics of terrorism, capitalism and their presentation through the media. She interweaves these three narrative strands, and it feels almost as though we – the viewers – were right in the middle of her visual memories and thoughts. „Of course, all this stuff is, as always, and as much as anything else, a foil to speak of other things: our wants, our consumptions, what we take, the fall-outs. Bodies as limit-points — sites of penetration, ingestion, overflow“,3 says Phillipson. We are left feeling empty and disillusioned. Is what is keeping the world together really nothing more than the shiny surface, the happy semblance of capitalism.
Vivien Trommer (b. 1986) lives in Frankfurt/Main and works as a freelance writer and curator.