Perth artist Bennett Miller has been in the global spotlight recently for an artwork that involves 141 live sausage dogs masquerading as United Nations delegates, ‘Daschund UN‘ ( as part of the Next Wave festival). No stranger to complex logistics, previous artworks of his have included topiary mazes and retelling the story of a war in Iraq across nine mini-golf courses. He was kind enough to take time out from juggling canines to answer some questions:
Golf. Is it a gentle sport for the elderly, a grotesque misuse of land and resources for elites, or a chance for a good pun? In other words, what inspired your ‘Golf War’ series?
I regret the pun a bit- but the ‘grotesque misuse of land and resources for ( a game for ) elites’ is very close to the mark. The golf war was an ever expanding mini golf course that imitated the events and structure of an actual war in Iraq. It started as a landscape, then it was gradually turned into a game, then it was turned into an unplayable game. The architecture of the course is from the perspective of those waging the war I guess.
In the majority of instances it was shaped like a cross – like a contemporary ‘crusade’, but by the end of it this cruciform had been consumed by an islamic pattern. I liked the work at the very end, which was kind of a simple homage to the failure of the whole exercise, but before that the work was chaotic and peppered with obstacles and characters from the conflict. I made it ‘fun’ and interactive/playable to implicate the audience in the spectacle. The Dachshund UN has a lot more optimism in it than the golf war series ever did.
Was there a specific UN incident that triggered your thoughts for developing this project?
My interest in the reputation of the UN was triggered when the ‘coalition of the willing’ bypassed the UN during the Iraq War. Since then I’ve been interested in the public perception of the value of the UN- and what forces are at play in shaping this perception. I’m also very interested in the conflicts between the UN and Israel, which had a few flashpoints last year after the Goldstone Report. I developed this work in response to the festival theme ‘No Risk too Great’. The UN is a very good fit for that idea, and while my work seems like a piss-take, I’m actually a huge fan of the UN (whilst it has some massive failings- the idea of it alone is quite important).
What qualities makes the dachshund a good choice to pose as a United Nations delegate?
They are physically restricted via a breeding history that has literally ‘shaped’ them. Yet they always persevere- blissfully unaware of their stature and limitations. They often look very proud, like a statesmen or diplomat, but in faintly ridiculous dog form.
They also have a racial diversity comparable to humanity- eg ‘different but the same’, there are short, long and wire haired dachshunds, red, black, tan, dapple, chocolate and even ‘piebald’ whites. I don’t know of another dog breed with that racial breakdown, outside of all those poodle subgroups with silly names.
I love dachshunds, I don’t know whether other people see the same thing in them as I do or not, but they really make me happy and seem to represent the beauty of endeavor and personal struggle, alongside the absolute folly of it.
I wanted the audience to expect the work to be critical of the UN -but wind up affected by it in a different way. Like how ‘dog’ or ‘bitch’ is an insult but really everybody loves them. The dachshund seemed to be the right dog to mimic how the UN is both flawed and fantastic.
How did you possibly manage to get 47 dachshunds?
The Kickstart program by the awesome folk at NEXT WAVE helped get the project off the ground, and get callouts placed in the Age newspaper. I also had a lot of help from Corrienne at the Dachshund Club of Victoria. I actually needed 3 separate groups of 47 dogs- for a total of 141 – which took a full year of recruiting and meeting (pleading) with the owners. It got much easier as the momentum grew and interest in the project snowballed.
How did they seem to feel about seeing each other?
Many dachshunds only like other dachshunds, it’s not always true- but it often is. The truth is I don’t really know what they feel about it, so whilst I like to think the dachshund UN is an exciting event on the dachshund social calendar, it may not always be the case. Certainly there have been some barking incidents, but on the whole the dogs have been remarkably well behaved and fall asleep more often than they get upset.
Did the large number in a small place seem to affect them?
It can be hard to tell what they think about the experience – I wonder what the dogs make of suddenly being placed in a large sculpture full of other dachshunds, in front of a large human audience. Based on the only evidence I really have, some get a little angry and some fall asleep, the bulk of them react somewhere in between… interested in the surroundings- but only to a point.
How have the dachshund dog owners responded to the work?
I am eternally grateful to the owners for making the project possible. Some owners have responded to- and really supported- the theme of the work and some have just wanted to involve their dog for the sake of the novelty. With so many people involved I have found it hard to keep up with everyone properly- but I was pretty astounded at how generous they have all been with their time.
What kinds of unexpected scenarios / strange logistics have you encountered with the work?
The whole project has been a bizarre undertaking. Logistically it was massive and difficult, and generated all kinds of weird databases and spreadsheets. The structure itself had some strange requirements too. As the deadlines approached it became super serious- with risk assessment forms and engineer approvals. I became completely humorless about it, which was a bit strange for what is essentially a gathering of sausage dogs.
What breed of dog do you think best represents Kevin Rudd and Tony Abbott?
I keep getting asked if I think ‘politicians’ could learn from the dachshunds but it’s hard to answer because I actually love dachshunds and the UN, and intended the work as a (balanced) celebration. If I was making a work about australian politics it would be two chihauhas in a room full of mirrors.
Above: Bennett being interviewed by Marcus Westbury.
[ Related: Videohuahua, an interview with Fernando Llanos about his VIDEO-PROJECTING-CHIHUAHUA! ]