Deep Canine Topography Part 1:
The Beagle is the smallest of the pack-hunting hounds. It is one of the oldest of all the pure hound breeds and is certainly as essentially British as any existing canine variety.*
Urban walking with Dexter can be a frantic affair. His senses seem to become overloaded; Sights, smells and sounds, must be unbearable for an animal so highly attuned to his environment. Often with his head in the air, sniffing and looking, he darts, anxiously back and forth, as he meets passers-by with the bright eyes of the canine gaze and a deep sniff.
Shops, cafes and bars become beacons of smell, butchers’ shops become beacons of bacon, and what seems like a lure to the taste buds also presents as loud and brash, a chaotic cacophony of distraction. Borders and barriers are there to be traversed, as the pull on the lead attempts to cut the most direct path to the nearest source of potential sustenance, with little regard to the dangers of the strange fast moving metal boxes that seem to dominate this space and the hard edges of the city, erected by soft tissue and grey matter.
Survival is the key amongst the really wild.
Deep Canine Topography Part 2:
Regular exercise is essential to the Beagle’s wellbeing as is proper housing. There is a world of difference between freedom and exercise. A Beagle needs both. […] as a general guide it may be said that an adult should have a minimum of one hour’s hard exercise daily with up to two hours when circumstances permit. The type of exercise given should consist of road walks on a lead and free galloping in the park or open country.*
For Dexter, the suburban walk seems to operate on a lower, sensory topographical level. Nose to the ground, zigzagging from tree to lamp-post, seeking out the smells of fellow travellers. This walk is much more about territory, the familiarity of the well-trodden path. The stubborn refusal to take a turn, still transfixed by the search for food, but this time for scraps of a discarded school pack lunch or lollypop. The lure of the bread roll behind the bin and the takeaway carton. Hoovering up the mistakes and spillages of other animals. His palate less than discerning as anything will do, regardless of its state of pre digestion or decay.
Chicken bones can kill a dog you know.
Deep Canine Topography Part 3:
Feeding a healthy adult Beagle is normally easy and straight-forward. Most Beagles’ are good trenchermen, eagerly clear out their dishes and thrive on one meal a day.*
The park is a space of playful intent. An open space. An ‘off the lead’ space, checking first for any alfresco diners at risk of being raided. Should I risk letting him off, a test of trust and loyalty, often betrayed. Here the smells are more focused into linear tracks of animals or the zigzag of fellow canine explorers. Nose to the ground, he makes his escape, looking back to check my progress and ignoring all calls to heel. This is the risk one takes, and the game is on, as he makes a path for either the ice cream van, and its unsuspecting customers, or the compost heap, a place to bathe in sensory overload. It is at this point that the Beagle instinct takes over and the wild becomes ever present in his attempts to evade capture. Sometimes food is the trap, but often it’s a waiting game. Wait until he gets bored, feigning indifference.
This is an anxious game.
Deep Canine Topography Part 4:
Once middle age spread is established there is little one can do about it.*
There are no wild spaces, not really, but those, which aspire to be wild, hold a different kind of lure for Dexter. This time the tracks are straight, a rabbit, a hare or a deer perhaps? The journey becomes more direct, more focused. The land ahead is traversed with a different kind of urgency. Tethered by a twenty foot long lead, slack then tense, slack then tense, he stops and barks at the air with a wild heart, pulling, leading the way across the terrain.
This is a dangerous place.
Deep canine topography part 5:
A destination, of sorts:
My drive is to make, but twitchy fingers turn to itchy feet in the walk as method. Keep moving forward with purpose. Whilst Dexter’s drive is to explore and bathe in a rich sensory soup, not that far from the aim of the artist. To live an aesthetic life, to live in the moment, to respond to the wild, and find your own way to live. The rhizome spirit of entangled being and becoming. In Dogs: History, Myth, Art, Catherine Johns writes, ‘In many belief systems, dogs have been associated not only with death and the journey into the afterlife, but also with healing…’ Dexter is then perhaps the Dog-Star to my Orion, the hunter, hunting for the sublime.
It is at this point that our journey pauses. Dexter is getting tired, which is reflected in his gait, and we both need food and water. Using walking as a method for exploring sensory entanglement with nature, and relating this to concepts and theories of the sublime, I feel I’ve reached a destination, of sorts, albeit a temporary one. Perhaps a bigger question here is how, as artists, can we justify our practice and place in the world, against the backdrop of the anthropocene and global crisis. Perhaps connecting with the sublime is about nothing more than connecting with our humanity.
The walk(ies) becomes a method for thinking. A method for making. An act of making physical contact with the ground, through the feet and through the paw, the mind is allowed to wander and become detached. A body in motion, two bodies in motion, many bodies in motion. The will to live, ever-present in the canine spirit and at the core of understanding the human canine entanglement. Always returning home, to the ground.
In the horizon of the infinite. – We have forsaken the land and gone to sea! We have destroyed the bridge behind us – more so, we have demolished the land behind us! Now, little ship, look out! Beside you is the ocean; it is true, it does not always roar, and at times it lies there like silk and gold and dreams of goodness. But there will be hours when you realize that it is infinite and that there is nothing more awesome than infinity. Oh, the poor bird that has felt free and now strikes against the walls of this cage! Woe, when homesickness for the land overcomes you, as if there had been more freedom there – and there is no more ‘land ‘!
This is a dangerous place.
* E. Fitch Daglish, Beagles: A Foyle’s Handbook: London: Foyle Ltd, 1961.
 Catherine Johns, Dogs: History, Myth, Art, p56
 Friedrich Nietzsche, The Gay Science, section 124.
Experiments in Fictioning, Cut Ups and New Narratives
As part of my first year MA studies, I undertook a project using overheard conversations, on my weekly train journey from Leicester to Birmingham, and placing them within two woodland settings, creating a narrative journey through space. The hope was that, although collected from several journeys over several weeks, that a new narrative is suggested/constructed by whoever encounters the work.
Over a period of about six weeks I revisited the work to document it’s natural decay and public interaction, which ranged from moisture acting on the pigment of the tags, to finding tags ripped up or set fire to. These responses became as interesting as the text itself, adding another layer to the narrative.
In the end, with memories of the beginning, brings us back to the question of radical matter and mattering, entangled not only in the human canine dance but in the sense of a quantum co-dependence…
June 27th 2018: Traveling in on the train, a familiar set of actions, a now familiar journey and something that has produced the work that started this whole affair, the east meets west, the robot and the fly, the foxes tail, the man meets dog, the machine that stops, a sudden scream on a sunny day, the sharp and sudden force of brakes and a scattering, a disintegrated self, a casualty that quickly rose to a fatality. His or her sense of being, in that moment gone, split apart into a million fragments of matter. Radical matter. A shattered soul. An accident or a death with intent? An exit either way, a finality, an infinity, a twisted animal with no ground beneath them, a body without organs.
This action inevitably becomes entangled within the work, a work about walking, human animal kinship, surface encounters, but ultimately about the groundless ground of the cosmic sublime. We have forsaken the land and gone to sea…
All images copyright Darren O'Brien. All rights reserved.