Between dog and wolf2017, video 15 minVocals by Adrien Wagner Liksskinaa
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Text by Marc Yearsley
Between Dog and Wolf is a single-channel film accompanied by a live musical performance, with music and lyrics composed by Julie Grosche. Inspired by ancestral folk music, Grosche presents a story from the perspective of a mythic European horse, whose existence is sustained by the people that believe in him. Translated from the French expression “entre chien et loup”, between dog and wolf refers to the twilight, a charged and saturated visible spectrum at the climax of the day. Blurring fact and fantasy, Between Dog and Wolf is a methodology for shaping reality by collective belief. Natural and artificial wind power – a secondary, more elusive protagonist – interchange drones, and ground this mysterious hymnal of an aspirational, energetic future.
“Between dog and wolf;” a phrase anchored by multiple pasts, hinting at strange futures. Normally reliable perception is suddenly labored and foreign in an unfamiliar hour. Sunshine radiantly and with speed fades into moonlight before the other day begins, and twilight luxuriates as the essential, prehistoric “between”, a cosmic liminality.
And what, literally, is between dog and wolf? Atomic and metaphorical forces - of genetics, evolution, time, blood, of potentialities, economics, partnership, nomadism. It is an expression of domestication and displacement, somewhere between companion and stranger, friend and enemy. From the past towards a time to come, we are always struggling to distinguish between the dog and the wolf. But at dusk, as the sun explodes before it disappears, a timeless scene comes into focus.
Grosche’s research for this new film investigates the Medieval myth of the supernatural horse, Bayard. A horse of extraordinary talents, Bayard is depicted in texts from the 12th–19th centuries in France, Belgium, and the Netherlands. Believed to be the progeny of a serpent and dragon who was freed from a volcanic island, Bayard earned the ire of King Charlemagne by elongating his back and ferrying four knights who were escaping the king. Given to Charlemagne as a peace-offering by the enemy, Bayard was thrown in the bottom of the Rhine with heavy stones around his neck as punishment. Escaping certain death, Bayard fled into the Ardennes Forest and, according to legend, can be heard neighing in the forest during the summer solstice.
Manifest Destiny was an uncritical refrain that guided a nation both spiritually and materially, supporting a faith of blind expansion and conquest. Much like Bayard, Manifest Destiny is belief shaping action shaping reality, but its severe outcome left a nationalistic legacy on the bloodied terrain. Grosche transposed this myth from the European Forests to the landscape of the American frontier – itself a mythic site in the Western Imagination. She removes the story from its militarized, textual history to place it anew, in an imagined expanse that may have somehow achieved partial restoration from its own extermination. The vibrant Montana autumn is the crucible for the fusion of the wild mustang – a species that reclaimed itself from the double wound of extinction and domestication - with the legend of Bayard.
Both a key to the technological evolution of humans and a sensual, indigenous figurehead, the horse is an endless referent. Culturally, we fill it with meaning; a vehicle, a machine, a weapon, an image, a metric of force, a young child’s dream, a sport, a native, an impossibility. Feral and indigenous, the North American horse was primarily a food source before becoming extinct. It was returned with the Spanish, changed, as an import, a good, a means of transportation, exploration, and conquest. This organic engine of heat and muscle, critical to the development of civilization, borne with weird power and economics that continue to grow from this primitive biotechnology. Today, the horse is specialized, relegated to a hobby/sport/business amalgam, a shadow economy of gambling and breeding, a tool in a game for the global aristocracy.
The reality of today’s horse is a striking departure from the anthropomorphized and sentimental idea of the Horse. Scientifically bred, enhanced by designer drugs, run for their lifetimes until their hyperfunctional and singularly optimized synthetic bodies collapse under their own unnatural weight. Here, Grosche helps us to see these creatures in a slower pace, absent the usual movements or tempo. Placed in familiar scenery - the wild - their bodies are at rest, and Grosche maintains a distance, activating all these itinerant connections to redefine its key contours. Struck by the image of a poky horse with no rider, we are left feeling somewhere between haunted and inspired.
Even our wild horses are not so wild, they are on borrowed time in a way, and have re-tuned themselves to an ersatz pre-domestication state. Their classifications are boundless, as every facet of their demeanor and biology is catalogued over their improbable run on this continent. They are no longer a resource or a generator, only a linguistic skeuomorph. Taken as a complex historical symbol whose utility has faded, Grosche presents a group in search of an object of devotion. Caught in between demanding present and a bleak future, this group turns its attention to survival and worship, betting their salvation on something even more ephemeral than a fantastical horse - the wind.
For the film's opening, the song will be staged live by three people who will perform in alternating combinations of solo and duet. Part interpolative gesture, Blackfoot Nation member Adrien Wagner Liksskinaa sings the lyrics in another completed version of the film. The flux of the songs performance is deliberate, in a move to decentralize and disseminate the “work” of art along and between its disparate registers – time and space, real and synthetic, documentation and animation, translation and quotation, music and noise, song and sound, past and future, alone and together.
Being between is always a most heightened form of presence. It demands extreme attention of the precipice, of danger and safety; it is an awareness of precisely where you are not. Between myth and a cult, wild and domestic, artificial and organic, Grosche interrogates a system of beliefs: a magical horse, reality television, human empathy, alternative, boundless energy. In this video, a new crowd gathers around a new faith, a new trend, a new diet, a new power, and they codify their practice with an exultant mantra, a belief that the breeze will hear, and act on, their prayer.
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