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Who Let The Dogs Out - Hazelhurst Regional Gallery and Lake Macquarie City Art Gallery - Angela Macdougall

17 May 2008
Curated by Merryn Gates

Left: Angela Macdougall 'Hi' 2007 painted sheet iron/timber base 145 x 70 x 30 cm

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A long story in short bites

Who let the dogs out features a collection of entrancing works by over 60 artists from around Australia. Paintings, sculptures, ceramics, glass, video and works on paper, represent the dog in a diverse number of manifestations: at rest, at play, or at work. The exhibition's themes reflect the many different roles the dog takes on in the world of humans, and how important they are in our lives. Through the eyes of the artist we can ponder the origins of the dog, and its spiritual presence for Indigenous Australians.

Some artists celebrate their faithful and constant companion as a dog-muse, or co-opt the dog as a metaphor for human ambitions and weaknesses. Yet others attempt to enter the inner world of the dog and convey pure doggy pleasures. The dog?s willingness to please and to be trained inspires the portraits, trophies and performances that have delighted humans over the years.

Recently the inter-species relationship - some may say love affair - between man and dog has been scrutinised with academic rigour. The emerging disciplines of evolutionary biology, animal-human interaction, animal psychology, and animal-assisted therapy (1) are supported by a growing body of scientific literature. (2) DNA evidence has established that proto-dogs (descendents of the wolf) began living in close proximity to humans at least 40,000 years ago. Archaeological finds date a domestic (or pet) relationship to 12,000 BP. (3) The big question remaining is how that bond evolved? The idea of "survival of the friendliest" suggests that it was the dogs most able to make friends (to be patted, wag their tails in welcome and adopt the human group as their pack) that survived to become what we know today as the domestic dog. The Australian dingo is one of the closest remaining descendants of this original village dog. (4)

Great artists and writers have, over the centuries, found inspiration in the dog. Who let the dogs out illustrates the long tradition of dogs in art that continues unabated. (5) The dog ? as companion during the long solitary hours in the studio, as muse or metaphor, or simply as itself ? remains a vital and prevalent figure in contemporary Australian art.

Australia has one of the highest rates of dog ownership in the world: for example 42% compared to 23% in the United Kingdom. (6) Whether working dogs or domestic pets, they entrust us with their care. In return they give us a companionship that many say is good for our spirits, our health, and can help us to empathise with all living creatures. In other words, increase our humanity...