Canine Art Social Seeks to Create Collective Joy

By Thomas, Mary | Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA), October 10, 2012 | Go to article overview

Canine Art Social Seeks to Create Collective Joy


Thomas, Mary, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)


Fess up. You've been wanting to dress your dog in costume but the time never seemed right. You'll get your chance from 2 to 5 p.m. Sunday at what's being billed as the "canine art social event of the year."

The "fancy dress picnic for dogs" will be held on the grounds of Pittsburgh Center for the Arts, 6300 Fifth Ave. (corner of Shady Avenue), Shadyside. Activities and admission are free.

Pittsburgh Pet-Tastic, the eighth such event organized by British artist Rachael House and the first in the U.S., is a bit dog show, a bit Halloween, a bit festival with live music and art activities. But mostly it's a way "to bring people together in a public space and get them talking to one another," Ms. House said.

You don't even have to own a dog to participate. You can "become a dog-faced person" by making a mask at the event to wear in the 4 p.m. parade. Certificates and souvenirs will be handed out at the end. To everyone. "It's not a competition," Ms. House said.

People may also decorate dog-shaped cookies or get their faces painted to resemble a favorite breed. The dogs get a picnic lunch and three hours to bask in admiration.

Asked if the dogs always dress for her events, she answered, "There are some nudist dogs." But not to worry. She brings extra clothing, like boas, for such exigencies. "I'm also keen that people dress up, and they do."

Dog-themed entertainment will be provided by Johnny and the Wags, led by vocalist John Carson, head of the School of Art, Carnegie Mellon University. Other band members are Jeff Baron, guitar; Michael Nee, drums; Kathryn Heidemann, bass, guitar and vocals; Sue Power, banjo and vocals; and Jan Hamilton-Sota, fiddle. Events will be held in the PCA Pavilion if it rains.

This is the fourth Pet-Tastic Mr. Carson has participated in. The previous three were in the United Kingdom, Ms. House said.

Ms. House always makes one costume "for the dog who is the face of the event," she said. Pittsburgh poster dog Max was already a local celebrity, owned by Pittsburgh photographer and educator Charlee Brodsky and the subject of her 2012 Artist of the Year exhibition at the Center for the Arts (through Oct. 28). In the exhibition, Ms. Brodsky juxtaposes, in handmade books, photographic prints of the West Highland white terrier and quotes from literary figures such as Shakespeare, Dostoyevsky and Samuel Beckett. In one book, Max is juxtaposed with words from Mary Shelley's "Frankenstein."

So monsters were old hat to Max when Ms. House, who always researches the locations of the Pet-Tastics, dressed him in costume inspired by George A. Romero's zombies and experiments by the Safar Center for Resuscitation Research at the University of Pittsburgh that aimed to reanimate deceased dogs in 2005.

Ms. House holds bachelor's degrees in philosophy and in fine arts. She said her work is often event-based, although she also exhibits in galleries and is co-director of the Space Station 65 Gallery, London.

The first Pet-Tastic, in 2004 in Peckham Square, was also about bringing people together. "It's a run-down, poor area of London where a young boy had been murdered a few years before. I wanted to do something positive in the space, to challenge the mistrust people had."

After that, "the event took off." One of the eight was held in rural Norway. "It was very different. Usually there are passers-by who stop as well as people there specifically for the event. There were only farms in this location. …

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