Jo Longhurst, Julia Schlosser, Lisa Strömbeck
01 January 2016 . By João Bento
Every now and then I come across an artist or a piece of art that I immediately resonate with. This happened to me with projects made by Jo Longhurst, Julia Schlosser and Lisa Strömbeck. Jo, Julia and Lisa lived with dogs that changed their lives, inspiring them to create artwork that questions what it means to be a dog as well as the dynamics of the human-canine relationship.
My first encounter with Jo’s work was at an artist talk that she gave in Newport (Wales, UK) in 2009. ‘The Refusal’ is an ongoing project made up from various bodies of work that examine different aspects of the British show Whippet. My favourite pieces are ‘Portrait of a dog’, with Vincent, and an image from ‘It’s all in my mind’, with Terence. Vincent and Terence are Jo’s dogs.
In ‘Portrait of a dog’, a naked man and a dog lay together on a couch. Neither of them appears more powerful than the other, the dog has equal status with the man. Moreover, the man has his back to the camera, remaining anonymous while the dog challenges the viewer looking directly at the lens. Here we see the dog as an independent subject, while the sleeping man shows his animal body.
The cosy ‘It’s all in my mind’ focuses on the dog’s heads. In one of the images a dog sleeps with his mouth open as he is dreaming and possibly barking. This gives a glimpse into the rich and complex mind of dogs which, just as in the human mind, also operates with unconscious processes.
Steve Baker’s book ‘Artist | Animal’, published in 2013, is highly recommended for those interested in the ethical considerations of contemporary artists when working with animals or representing them. It was here that I serendipitously found Julia Schlosser.
Julia’s most recent projects are about living with her own pets. ‘Roam’ is a collection of Polaroids made at Sepulveda Basin Off-Leash Dog Park in LA, where Julia used to take her rescued dog, Tess. The images follow Tess and other dogs having plenty of exercise and socializing with each other, temporarily free from the constraints of the domestic space and their owners. The soft material quality of the images juxtaposed with a low tilted camera viewpoint, alters the usual perspective of the viewer to that of dogs wandering through the park.
As Tess grew older and her health started to deteriorate, running in the park came to a gradual end. According to Julia, “now instead of leading me, I lead her on slow, meandering walks, a fraction of the length that she was previously accustomed to taking.” These walks in the neighbourhood can be seen in ‘Tether’.
While going through some hardships of my own, I came across Lisa’s series ‘Vacation in Goa’. Lisa befriended a pack of free-ranging dogs at the beach in Goa, which, she tells me, happens everywhere she goes. The gentle play, strokes and relaxing company are demonstrative of the instant bond between humans and dogs. I find these images quite warm and moving.
Lisa looks at many forms of relationships in her work. At home in Sweden, she has her own dog. ‘In Bed’ explores dog-human co-sleeping, something that Lisa identifies as “crucial” for many people nowadays. Single-person households, loneliness, sleeping disorders, depression and anxiety are among the reasons why more and more people allow their dogs to get in bed. The photographs portray feelings of relaxation and calmness which close physicality with dogs can bring. Ivan, muse and participant of so many of Lisa’s projects, appears quite comfortable with four legs up, in between human legs: quite comical.
I highly admire the work of Jo, Julia and Lisa. It’s a source of wonder that has helped me to think about the world and influenced my own work with dogs.
This text was also published on Animalia Vegetalia Mineralia, a journal written in Portuguese and English dedicated to ecomedia and ecocritical studies: animaliavegetaliamineralia.org