Me and the Black Dog is an animation installation I have collaborated on with artist Neeta Madahar. It premiered at the Foundation for Art and Creative Technology (FACT), Liverpool, in the show, Group Therapy, between March-May 2015. It also showed in libraries across West Berkshire. In October 2015, it was screened at the film festival IndieCork, in Cork, Ireland, in their World Shorts section.
The animation centres on cultural references within British folklore to ‘the black dog’ as a metaphor for dark, malevolent forces. For example, a Viking legend describes Black Shuck, a ghostly dog roaming the East Anglian countryside, as a portent of death. More recently, ‘the black dog’ has come to symbolise the human psyche’s darker aspects. Winston Churchill referred to his depression as ‘the black dog’ and singer/songwriter Nick Drake interweaved associations between ‘the black dog’ and black moods in his songs.
Me and the Black Dog explores these issues by depicting the interactions of a female protagonist and a giant black dog. It conveys how the unruly, dark element of one’s personality isn’t necessarily something to eradicate, but can be valued as an intrinsic part of oneself. As curator Greg Hilty eloquently writes, ‘...animation (is) a pervasive echo of lived experience. The freedom and directness of the medium – (allows) it to explore submerged narratives of childhood and animal nature, violence and humour, sentiment and pathos.’ Through animation then, Me and the Black Dog challenges how mental illness is perceived, thereby lessening the shame that surrounds it.
In the work, the spoken text avoids a narrative structure; sentences collapse into repetition, rhyme and plays on words. The visuals are aesthetically similar to the 1970’s Roobarb and Custard cartoons, with crudely drawn, nebulous outlines emphasising uncertainty. Drawing inspiration from the old English saying, ‘A whistling woman and a crowing hen, bring the devil out of his den’, a tune whistled by a woman completes the soundtrack.
Me and the Black Dog will be shown at public exhibition spaces as a complex installation with sections playing on several screens simultaneously. A 14 minute single screen version has also be made for the internet, for film and animtion festivals and for spaces where an installation is impractical.
Me and the Black Dog was commissioned by Jacqui Davies and FACT, and funded by FACT and Arts Council, England.
Director of animation - Christoph Steger
Producer - Jacqui Davies
'It comes at me like an explosion. Just when everything is blue and green and shiny, like a shimmering full stop it comes and blots out the sun, but I’m not scared.
My dog used to bite me as a child. Hair soft and matted, always full of spiky burrs and bits of this and that. I loved her because she was naughty and because she was my real walking woofing doll. But when the grown-‐ups left the room and the door clicked shut, her eyes narrowed, her silence became a snarl and her smile a snap – SNAP – snap, snap – little bites and nips. She got a smack and was thrown out, but it never stopped her. Somewhere inside she hated us children. Maybe she was jealous or maybe she hated her dependence on us? Our smoothing and stroking, cooching and cooing. Treating her like a soft toy – a fool. She was no fool. She was a bitch. She was wild, forced to be tame.
Black dog, groggy black dog, down and down, shaggy black dog, where will you take me?'
Extract from voiceover script for 'Me and the Black Dog'
©kate owens and neeta madahar, 2013