Nobuhira Narumi at 30 Underwood Street, London (1999)

R. J. Preece
artdesigncafé - art | 15 September 2009
This review first appeared in Asian Art News, 9(6), pp. 96-7 in 1999.

Nobuhira Narumi at 30 Underwood Street, London

Has art gone to the dogs? You might get this impression after seeing Nobuhira Narumi’s exhibition, Dog-Cam Project (1995-99), which featured video and photography taken by cameras on dogs’ heads. These were a multi-cultural selection of art-producing pooches, too—from Tokyo (1995), London (1996), Hong Kong (1997), New Zealand (1998), and New York (1999). The artist’s intention? According to Narumi, “The Dog-Cam Project…started as a result of my conception of the dog as a means to look into human beings and their society from a different perspective.”

Entering the large, unlit space, one sees six video monitors producing black and white flashes. Acting as focal points— and positioned at dog-eye level— selected clips captured varied scenes, staged around particular contextual issues. For the two side-by-side Hong Kong pieces, we are introduced to the sights of a miniature pinscher named Bibi. According to Nobuhira Narumi, “Bibi’s owner took the dog out on the double-decker buses as a substitute for walks, and this long custom made Bibi too afraid to walk on the street.” So, on one monitor we see the view from the front of the bus stopping at traffic lights, racing along a Hong Kong Island highway, and dashing through a tunnel.

Wickedly, juxtaposed against pampered Bibi’s sights, the other monitor shows clips of caged dogs in a dog pound either waiting to be “rescued”— or more likely slaughtered. According to Nobuhira Narumi, this was caused by a pre-1997 exodus of Hong Kongers leaving their pets behind. Narumi’s clips captured a variety of emotions, and literally questions the treatment of dogs within a Hong Kong context, and animal rights more universally.

Other dog collaborators include Cookie, a London-based mixed-breed owned by a homeless person; Godzilla, a pug who resides in New York; and Dylan Thomas, a Welsh Terrier from Toyko— owned by ZaMoca Foundation’s Johnnie Walker— who visited the bright lights of the sex district in Shinjuku.

Regarding his artistic process, Nobuhira Narumi explains, “Before video shooting, this project required at least two weeks to communicate with the dog, get the dog comfortable with the 20-gram camera and its smell, and research the dog and the owner’s circumstances.”

Nobuhira Narumi continues, “Only after this period, when the dog understands my intention and forgets that it is wearing a camera, the shooting starts. What’s important is that the dog understands my intention, and that I do not coerce the dog into doing the work against its will. In my experience dogs are usually cooperative.”

For some, the “dog makes art one-liner” is a little difficult to swallow. Perhaps this is due to the relative newness of the dog-collaborative endeavor, or recalls other animal “artists” like London-based Cali, who entered the media spotlight in 1997 with her “sculpted”— or rather chewed— colorful objects, which were then selected by her owner. Further, animal shows occasionally show things like elephants dipping their feet into paint cans and pressing them on canvas. But beyond Dog-Cam Project’s known media sensation, the work does effectively take animal-led material, makes valid points, and offers experiential perspectives through the artist’s selection and manipulation of narratives. Woof Woof.