Dogs and their Spirits: Mark Roberts Reviews Louise Kerr’s ‘Faithful and Wild’

Faithful and Wild, an exhibition by Louise Kerr at the Blue Mountains Cultural Centre, 30 Parke Street Katoomba until 13 January 2019.

Blue Girl with Yellow Dog, Louise Kerr, 2016. Soft Sculpture

I have been surrounded by dogs for most of my adult life, most of them strays or rescue dogs and all unquestionably faithful with just a touch of wildness occasionally showing through. But the dogs in Louise Kerr’s exhibition, Faithful and Wild, at first seem completely unrelated to the old small, blind dog resting silently on the coolness of the wooden floor as I write this. Kerr’s dogs appear almost as extra’s from a Mad Max movie – post-apocalyptic canines if you like.

In her essay in the exhibition catalogue, Kerr hints at a possible source of this almost shamanistic view of dogs. She writes of being fascinated as a child by “small exotic sculptures”. Interestingly her father, a trader, brought home small carved wood sculptures and woven baskets from Papua New Guinea, Fiji and the Solomon Islands.  These images obviously had a great influence on the form Kerr’s work would take. But while this may explain my initial reaction to the exhibition there is something deeper running through Kerr’s work as it is firmly rooted in the landscape of the Blue Mountains west of Sydney.

The Warrigal or Dingo have lived and co-existed with humans in the plateaus and valleys of the Blue Mountains for thousands of years and the presence of the dingo runs through this exhibition. In many of the individual pieces, the ‘heads’ and ‘figures’, the dog takes on human characteristics. They become almost “spirit dogs” with names like “Dog Gods”, “Bone Keeper” and “Dog Ghost. In other pieces, such as ‘Blue Girl with Yellow Dog, and ‘Dog Owner’ the relationship between humans and dogs are explored.

The exhibition can be divided into three main groupings: The individual pieces which include the ‘Heads’, “Figures and ‘Packs’, The Drawings, which are almost mechanical at times, hinting at the possibility of a robot dog future and the Landscapes (or dogscapes) in which local Blue Mountain landmarks are redefined in terms of the dogs, and their spirits, which have inhabited them over time.

For me these ‘dogscapes’ were the most impressive part of the exhibition. ‘Howling Dog Ridge’, for example suggests an alternative coat of arms, ‘Mount Warrigal Landscape’ with its hidden and, possibly, spirit dogs and, my favourite of the exhibition, ‘Wild Dog Mountains Map’, a large three dimensional piece which evokes a sense of place and implies a complexity not apparent in conventional maps.

Faithful and Wild is an evocative exhibition which takes what seems a simple relationship between humans and dogs imagines an alternative reality of spirit and ghost dogs, landscapes defined by gathering of dreaming dogs.

Dingo with Heart, Louise Kerr 2018, Pencil on Stonehenge Paper

 – Mark Roberts

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Mark Roberts is a founding editor of Rochford Street Review and lives in the Blue Mountains west of Sydney. His latest collection of poetry, Concrete Flamingos, was published by Island Press in 2016

Faithful and Wild, an exhibition by Louise Kerr, can be seen at the Blue Mountains Cultural Centre, 30 Parke Street Katoomba, until 13 January 2019. http://bluemountainsculturalcentre.com.au/

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