| || ||Gal Weinstein's Man/Dog Teams / Elizabeth Finch |
Art in General, New York
artist residence, 2003
In his first exhibition in New York, Israeli artist Gal Weinstein created man/dog teams, a mural based on images taken from the book The German Shepherd Dog. While the images he has created appear to be paintings or drawings, closer inspection reveals that they are actually formed by delicately layered steel wool in varying densities applied to an adhesive surface. Both the humans and the animals depicted take on a soft, almost downy appearance, which is offset by the actual roughness of the metal shavings used to create them. Weinstein's installation explores the relationship between culture and nature. The artist selected German shepherd dogs as his subject matter to serve as an example of how nature has been cultivated and "civilized." German shepherds have long been used as police dogs, trained in surveillance to, in turn, monitor humans. The tension between untamed and controlled nature appears in much of Weinstein's work.
Working with an awareness of amorphous, language-bound unease, the artist Gal Weinstein fashions representations that frustrate our desire for verifiable definitions. For his installation at Art in General, Weinstein created the wall installation man/dog teams, a work that is literally, figuratively, and purposefully fuzzy. It blurs the boundaries of the nature and culture macrocosm through microcosmic mixes—of photography and drawing, of beast and man.
Weinstein made man/dog teams by projecting and tracing a photographic illustration found in a manual on German shepherds on the wall of the gallery. The image consists of a line of standing men paired with equally attentive, leashed dogs. At their feet (and paws) are trophies—Weinstein has appropriated a moment of encapsulated achievement enacted for the benefit of photography. What has been achieved is left to the viewer’s imagination: are we looking at police dogs graduating from bomb-sniffing school (their air of vigilance and even aggression would suggest something of this ilk), or are they simply being rewarded for the degree to which their measurements correspond to a “pure-bred” ideal? Complicating this image transference is the material in which it is enacted. Weinstein often works with patently artificial products that are conveniently capable of mimicking things in nature. For man/dog teams, he used patches of carefully applied steel wool to flesh out his sketch, creating a gray fur-like image surface that references nature without actually embodying it. This steel-wool fur indiscriminately describes both man and animal, creating another disconcerting disconnect between the real and unreal. The overall treatment forms a picture that floats in and out of coherence depending on where the viewer stands (not unlike some modernist paintings, suggesting the artist has enacted a sly wink at artistic tradition). And his found image is further compounded by the process of doubling: Weinstein repeats on the same wall a duplicate of the linked pairs of dogs and men. In so doing, he implies endless, self-replicating teams.
By choosing to work with the German shepherd rather than, say, the Welsh terrier, Weinstein, a second generation Israeli who lives in Tel Aviv, implies a reference to Germany, the Holocaust, and Nazi eugenics. Although the dog Weinstein chose to work with has specific historical connotations, my hunch is that the artist would be circumspect of any nomenclature tied to a national identity. Nonetheless, he has selected a dog that is the epitome of man’s best friend—without question, the dogs in his teams are far from the lap-sitting variety. And by muddling the difference between animal and and master Weinstein destabilizes their combined power without diminishing it, effectively adding to the ominous cast of the work.
If we were to enact the taxonomy of books alluded to at the beginning of this text, in what slot would we place the dog-training manual? My guess is that it would be in close proximity to the textbook, the pater familia of the non-fiction genre that wears its weighty utilitarianism so authoritatively. Like the textbook, the dog-training manual has a dependable look: usually a durable, weather-resistant cover decorated with a glossy photo of the unambiguous goal—the well-trained dog. This image envelops the guide itself, inevitably printed on paper of a quality just shy of newsprint. Some such books are general, indiscriminately tackling wayward canine behavior, whether its agent is a French poodle or—horror of horrors—a mixed breed. But some manuals, such as the aforementioned one on German shepherds, tailor themselves to the distinctive characteristics of their subjects. Regardless of their degree of breed specificity, such books inevitably cater to looking over reading (or reading guided first by looking). Manual-makers recognize intuitively that the photographic message takes precedence. In the dog manual’s bland photos and even blander captions is held something quite extraordinary: the complex and deeply desired rapport of a person with an animal. We can not know what (or if) a dog is thinking or feeling, but we can teach it to act in ways that make manifest an empirical exchange. We believe it loves us, and we can watch it obey. This potentially becomes our most intimate interaction with nature, however tamed (and photographed).
Weinstein made man/dog teams during Art in General’s open hours, as part of an ongoing, innovative program that provides artists from around the world with a temporary studio in New York, albeit one that is open for public viewing. To some degree, the myth of the artist laboring alone in the studio was disbanded in the 1960s and 70s, when artists took their practice out into the world at large. As the inheritor of this tradition, Weinstein seems to question its inherent romanticism and his own command performance in the New York art world. His man/dog teams are persistently indeterminate and inconclusive and, as such, are their own brave public gestures.