Investigating the life of things across space and time


The dogs in south London are running.

Text and audio work, 3.43 minutes
by Sarah Gillett

Screenshot from White God (2014), directed by Kornél Mundruczó and starring Zsófia Psotta.

Approximately 250 dogs were used in the film. With the exception of two dogs, all the animals extras were dogs recruited from shelters or from the streets of the location shooting. Approximately 98% of the dogs were adopted after filming

White God won the Prize Un Certain Regard at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival and the Octopus d’Or at the Strasbourg European Fantastic Film Festival for the Best International Feature Film. The dogs in the film were also awarded with the Palm Dog Award.

The dogs in south London are running. One of the big ones slows down as it passes me and I step back as its nose swerves into my crotch, waving my arms as though that would make any difference. If it were really hungry it would just eat me but I get a face full of hot meaty air and it’s a lucky day.

The dogs continue down the street, a dark low crowd bunched tight, shoulder rubbing shoulder, tails taut. A scruffy mongrel with a tagged collar grins at me, baring teeth so widely that the shape of its pink gums reminds me of Dad’s dentures in a glass by the bed. The collar is a sign that this one is new to the pack, only recently graduated from indoors to living outside. I wonder what happened to the family, and if there were any kids. Give it a few months and the collar will be gone.

When I get to the junction with the South Circular, I wait nervously for a gap in the cars. To keep vehicles moving they took the lights away, so it’s particularly bad for pedestrians here, because the traffic comes from three different directions. I make a dash for it in front of a Sainsbury’s lorry, a white face high up in the cab, an open mouth shouting obscenities over the horn blast. I count the days and work out that it is the third Tuesday of the month, which is why the curb is spilling over with plastic milk bottles, fried chicken bones and dusty pizza crusts. Bin day tomorrow. The men that come wear special protective clothing and are supposed to bag everything, but as soon as they see the dogs running they scramble up the sides of the van and they’re off.

The behavioural psychologists say that the dogs are returning to a more primal existence because they no longer see us as the dominant species. Once we stopped feeding them even the pugs and the cavapoos got nippy, sinking their teeth into anything fleshy, their flat black eyes red-rimmed and wild. It didn’t take long for people to stop thinking about them as beloved pets. Those with cars started dumping their dogs in woods miles away, and those who couldn’t be bothered to drive just abandoned their dogs in a local park or playground, like the one up the hill. No one goes there now.

About two months ago I saw a mastiff playfully toss a white chihuahua in the air. The others in the pack started doing it too and the chihuahua was screaming like a baby. It survived initially and crawled away into a blanket, shivering, but later I found the blanket trampled into the ground by the river. Since then I’ve noticed fewer and fewer small dogs around here.

I skitter past the fast food places but the pack is focused on the side doors where the staff come and go. There is a man inside wearing a red and blue uniform. The smell of rotting vegetables, rancid fat and sweat is nauseating. The dogs stand, ears forward, jaws drooling, waiting.

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As if peering through a gap in the trees this art work focuses on the relationship between light and dark, quarry and hunter. The colour and form of the red figure references Uccello’s practice within the late Gothic tradition and reminds us that red is the colour of fairytales, representing blood (virginity, violence, death).

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Mantle: neon green background with a figure standing, a black cloth thrown over their head and body, with sky blue hose and black shoes. A strong black shadow extends from the feet out to the bottom edge of the image

Mantle (2016)

As if standing in front of a green screen this mysterious figure invites us to imagine a space in which anything is possible.

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Quarry art work: a dark subterranean space is populated by absurd and strange creatures that flit in and behind the pillars that hold up the vaulted ceiling

Quarry (2016)

Like Paolo Uccello’s Hunt in the Forest (1470), Quarry came into existence from dark to light. Uccello’s technique created a theatrical depth and drama that I wanted to capture.

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Query: Raised pale embroidery like old scars on a pale linen, with fragments of tapestry and collage strewn across the whole canvas

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Salt: Lines and patches of embroidery against a pale brown linen background, reminiscent of a set of ruins in a destroyed landscape. A figure with a beak as big as its body and that covers its face entirely, tentatively steps across the ground.

Salt (2016)

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Silk: an embroidered image of bright autumn trees in yellow and orange sits against a black linen background, with tree silhouettes behind

Silk (2016)

This work started as an old needlepoint completed by an unknown sewer, that I unpicked, leaving only these trees intact. It was a way for me to look at the stage without the players.

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Slip: Against a fluorescent orange backdrop, a painted figure with blue hose and a dark green tunic falls headlong into a black hole

Slip (2016)

Falling is an uncontrollable action. When we fall (over, apart, in love, asleep) we become vulnerable; quarry. Caught between spaces this figure falls headfirst and downwards.

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Trace: two sets of arches, one in a pale sandy stone with overgrown ivy and the other, identical in outline but a flat black silhouette, sitting on a mid-grey linen canvas. The outlines of three greyhounds are stitched in white thread, leaping through the arches

Trace (2016)

I wanted to create a work that used just a few very strong elements to show the power of a repeated shape. I drew this grid over Uccello’s painting to reveal his mastery of perspective and as the starting point for Trace.

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When much had been forgotten: fragments of tapestry, collage and embroidery in the shape of statues and organic forms are scattered across a pale grey-brown linen

When much had been forgotten (2016)

The relics and ghosts of long ago are brought together here as if in a wild dream of nature. Starting from the verticals of Uccello’s trees and dotted lines he cut into the wood I wanted to present a landscape of fragments that offers a framework for a narrative.

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A walk in the woods: a blue-legged figure with a dark cloth over their head and body stands against a brick wall with plants growing round it

A walk in the woods (2016)

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