People visit Derry to stroll along it’s Walls or to take a tour of the Bogside murals, I had gone with a different reason: to join a pack of Dogs in what they termed an occasion.
I had received emails in the past, telling me about Ivan’s Dogs: I heard tell of complex simultaneous activities that offered high-energy physical encounters. Having signed up online, accepting a lengthy set of ‘terms and conditions’ and providing various contacts I felt I had already bought in, but my reasons for doing so were less lucid. I had a time / date and was awaiting instruction; this came via a text stating the pick-up and,
“LEAVE YOUR BAGGAGE BEHIND! CONFIDENTIAL INFORMATION!”
My friends phone beeped across the room, I smiled at her, and moved closer to a clandestine relationship with the Dogs.
The pick-up was on a street corner, I had time to spare. Some time later still stood outside in mid-February Derry, my earlier commitment was already beginning to wane, and my feet began to shuffle.
“Get in the back!”
Leaning out of the window of a transit, was a person wearing a pixelated mask. I step into the road thinking ‘in any other situation?’ I felt isolated and vulnerable. I opened the doors to meet five people, my crew.
Sat opposite someone wrapped entirely in foil, three others wore the pixel masks. A man in a luminous orange safety jacket pulled a folded piece of paper out and began to read from the script, ‘explaining’ about our mission. If the rhizomatic level of detail was intended to clarify: herds, smokescreens, and plateaus – the symbolism was losing me in a situation that increasingly resembled a secret society.
Someone needed to volunteer to be the Instigator: me (it seemed everyone else has been in this van for as long as I was on the corner, and they already had their roles). I was handed another piece of paper to read and a jacket to wear.
As we drove the intense barrage of information continued until the van pulled up and the doors opened to reveal the shore of a river. A man picked up the person wrapped in foil from the back of the van and carried him to a boat in the river.
Another man approached pushing a wheelbarrow and gave us each a spade in order to dig a trench, which as a crew we set about doing. Looking down the shore other people were involved in similar physical labour. As we earnestly engaged with the work in hand, workmen at the side of the trench played animal sounds through a portable stereo to urge us on. I was immersed in a full body experience that offered engagement but without being spoon-fed.
In the cracks of this entertainment, uncertainty set in, the symbols and references didn’t quite match up and were purposefully undermined in their combination (Allan Kaprow and Alastair MacLennan, the boat sailing down the Foyle and the person wrapped in foil). The Dogs were laughing, which lightened the atmosphere that might otherwise have been weighed down with symbolism.
I decided it was the time to enact my own personal mission: I clambered out of the trench and stated for those in hearing distance, “this isn’t art, it’s an arse!” and waited for the response.
Quickly escorted away out of sight of my crew and searched, including having a torch shone in my mouth and my paper instructions removed, before being led into a portakabin. As the door shut the lights went out and the darkness become oppressive, threatened by the blackout, the unknown, the presence of strangers I couldn’t see but was soon to hear,
“Goering once said ‘When I hear the word art, I reach for my gun’, wait here for a long time”
What I assumed at first to be impishness turned out to have a crueller and perhaps more philistine edge. Having waited some (if not a long) time I searched for the door and walked back to the shore to find my trench empty and no sign of my crew.
Dogs it seemed often cover their tracks and reserve the right to change gears on you, whereby chapters of the narrative vanish, leaving only some very perplexing signs.
I was handed back my spade.