Dog attacks (2020)

 

Dog Attacks is a series of powerprints on watercolor paper (formats varying from A1 to A6), showing images of dogs attacking or barking at the viewer. Rather than focusing on their physical appearance, Niels chose to depict the animals in action. Dog Attacks marks a rare series in Niels’s oeuvre. The way the artist represents the dogs in the present prints; teeth bared, their bodies sometimes intertwined, intuitively connects with the audience and communicates the canines’ instinct for survival. There is a certain rough poetry in Niels’s portrayal of animals as seen by the deliberate choreography of interaction. This style is reinforced by the spontaneous medium chosen by the artist. Powerprint transfers images (Niels randomly picked photographs of fighting dogs from internet) on paper from the printer to another surface (here watercolor paper) with glue. Thanks to his young art students,[1] Niels familiarized with this craft. He enjoys working in a fast, natural flow. This playful creation process allows him to start from materials, gradually coming to an autonomous image that demonstrates harmony between concept and form. Because the powerprint transfers sometimes didn’t totally dry before Niels finished, it seems as if the dogs are destroying the artwork themselves.

 

The prints show the duality of the hero - violence theme and the concept of violence versus beauty. Vaes questions the viewer's position as a spectator of violence. He regularly examines paradoxical themes, such as; creation & violence, brutality & beauty, but also growth & destruction. The artist draws inspiration from both natural forms and visual elements found in contemporary and ancient (sub)cultures, sometimes translated into ethical issues. His visual research results in experimental paintings, geoglyphs[2], sculptures and graphic work. Centred around the theme of vanitas and transience, Niels’s works analyze vanity and iconography in popular culture. By raising questions, he encourages the spectator to be critical and reflect. Vaes aims to stimulate the viewer to think about conditioning and fundamental human strategies in society. This series explores the fleeting quality of life in a contemporary style while leaving a critical hint at old master paintings with a similar theme. Traditionally, the survival instinct of dogs was represented as a symbol of humanity’s courage and hope in the face of its adversary. In contrast, this series is deliberately not executed in a high end art technique and the viewpoint changed. 

 

The artist flips the theme around, mirroring the human audience whilst leaving them out of the prints. The artist’s decision to concentrate on dogs in the present series reflects his want to expand on the theme of violence and endurance within a brand new context. The scenes are absent of people, allowing for the animals to dominate the composition. Directly attacking the viewer, they enrich the audience’s imagination of the drama unfolding and make them  question the (moral of) their role within the narrative. Deliberately staging the dogs as the main character, Niels empowers them to fight back to their maltreators. Dog fighting has been banned for nearly 200 years, yet shockingly, it remains a significant animal welfare issue worldwide. It inflicts untold violence and trauma on the dogs involved and it’s not just a matter of animal welfare. Evidence points to dog fighting being a ‘gateway’ crime to more serious and organised crimes including drug dealing and violence. At the same time, these animals are loved and admired worldwide. 

 

Throughout cultural history the dog remains an important animal. Dogs are representative of their wolf ancestors. Both animals are connected to the warrior ideology. In old Iranian and Celtic cultures dogs had a high status both mythically and in reality. The mythological dog represents a medium on the border between life and death.[3] Wolf-like features carved on ancient runestones (like the Tullstorp Runestone[4]) form a symbolic reference to warfare and the late Viking Age heroic warrior ideal. Today Vaes turns them into contemporary warfare heroes, striking in their dynamics, boasting their natural power and supremacy as an emblem for the revolt against human ignorance and supremacy. The theme of natural resilience is further explored in the series Man is a Wolf to Man. 

 

© text Lara van Oudenaarde

 

 

[1] Niels teaches 5th and 6th secondary students at De Wijnpers in Leuven.

[2] In a series of geoglyphs that including "Louis Vuitton" (2017), "The history, the horse and the land" (2016) and "Heraldic Lily" (2012) Contradictions are played out. Is this environmentally friendly "land art" or are they intrusive marketing campaigns?

 

[3] In Greek mythology, Cerberus (/ˈsɜːrbərəs/; Greek: Κέρβερος Kérberos [ˈkerberos]), often referred to as the hound of Hades, is a multi-headed dog that guards the gates of the Underworld to prevent the dead from leaving.

[4] The Tullstorp Runestone is a Viking Age memorial runestone (East Trelleborg, Sweden), created c. 1000 AD. The ship and the wolf in the central image probably reflects the Ragnarök myth, which would make the wolf Fenrir and the ship Naglfar.The runic text indicates that the stone was raised as a memorial to a man named Ulfr. Besides the Ragnorok myth discussed above, it may be that the image of the wolf was inspired by this man's name, which in Old Norse means "Wolf."[4] It has been pointed out that the Old Norse phrase in the runic text, reistu kuml ("raised this monument"), is somewhat rare, but does appear on seven other runestones