Wars, German Shepherd Dog and the Treacherous Nationalism: Wu Chuan-Lun’s Domestication and No Country for Canine

Text by CHENG Wenchi

 

I. Domestication

Upon entering the main space of Wu Chuan-Lun’s solo exhibition, No Country for Canine, on view in the third-floor gallery of the Taipei Fine Arts Museum (TFAM), audience first saw the work, entitled When Collecting Becomes Breeding – Europe (2018-2019), on an immaculately white platform plinth, which comprised a large group of orderly arranged European porcelain sheepdogs. Mounted on the museum’s white wall on the left were three rows of framed documents [1], which elaborately listed canine breeds related to animal agriculture from across the world. [2] On another white wall and another platform plinth in the diagonal corner across the room was Formation Deformation Dogformation, constituted of framed photographs, drawings and porcelain statutes from the East-Germany porcelain brand, Katzhütte, along with four sculptures of German Shepherd Dogs embodying the characteristics of four agility training activities (Hoop, A-frame, Wall Climbing and Weave Poles). The exhibition, which differed from that of exhibiting existing documents, then extended from this elongated room to its left, right and further back, introducing the topics featured in the other three rooms: the white German Shepherd Dog porcelain statue produced by the Nazi-appointed brand Allach; two video works that traced the breeding origin of the German Shepherd Dog; and the artist’s continual collection of German Shepherd Dog porcelain coin banks produced in Yingge. Respectively, they occupied this white-box space that unfolded like a cross.

 

In the audience’s eyes, these German Shepherd Dogs, sitting or lying down nonchalantly, formed a canine country of their own. If each of the porcelain dog statue was viewed as a constituent of a work, it would mean that they were no different from the porcelain coin banks frequently seen in ring toss games; that is, they become objects, onto which human beings project their desire, rather than mediums that bear their individual histories. A pencil drawing seemed to be unintentionally placed below the platform plinth facing the gallery entrance. Domestication 001, the title of the drawing, was completed in 2009, which depicted a wolf intimately licking a person. The drawing, with the image of the wolf taking over half of its entirety, was mounted in a frame with blankness largely exceeding the drawing itself. As the latent origin of No Country for Canine [3], Domestication 001 was a drawing based on Wu’s Google search results, using specific keywords (“human and animal,” “kiss,” etc.) In “From Transformation to Sketches– How an Artist Participates in a Model of the World,” I have pointed out that “the implication of ‘domestication’ is twofold: on the one hand, it points to that the artist tames pixels from the Internet through manual labor as well as his gathering and turning them into ‘raw materials,’ during which these raw materials become preys in the hand-drawing process. On the other hand, there is a sense of uneasiness caused by people kissing animals, as these animals are normally living in a state of human domestication.”

 

With the extensively blank gallery space and the well-organized catalogue system, the space-artwork relation in this exhibition was equally asymmetric like that of the drawing of Domestication 001 and its framed blankness. Apart from forming a backdrop to the intimacy between humans and canines, the archive images dotted the white walls in the exhibition revealed an abundance of ambiguous historical legacy, which not only formed a route that the artist has been tracing since 2010, but also contained a considerable amount of clues for criticism. Moving from the human-canine drawings created many years ago to his collection and research into the breed of German Shepherd Dog, the artist created the exhibition title “No Country for Canine” by appropriating American novelist Cormac McCarthy’s novel, No Country for Old Men [4], from which the artist developed this seemingly conflicting approach comprising “canine” and “country.” Here, the word “country” referred to “nation” as well as “land.” The original novel title meant “(elder) people could not find a dwelling place.” In the exhibition, “old men” was replaced by “canine”; and this substation of subject has consequently evoked the collective memory about the canine species.

 

Comparing to the overwhelming desolation of “finding no dwelling place,” No Country for Canine seemed to have suggested the opposite and brought to mind something about discipline and order. How should we then interpret the relationship between humans and the non-human species through the contrast from substituting “old men” with “canine”? From species (of canine) to breed (of German Shepherd Dog), what kind of man-made construction of memory is reflected in No Country for Canine?

 

II. Animal Memorial Service

If Domestication marked the turning point of Wu’s shift from the domestication of German Shepherd Dogs to the subject of breeding, his When Collecting Becomes Breeding started in 2012 showed his real attempt to use the breed as a creative text to further explore how humanity shaped the evolution and memory of a specific species. Most of the porcelain German Shepherd Dogs coin banks from Yingge had a coin slot for depositing coins and were common decorations in ordinary Taiwanese households; they would have to be broken when they became full or when people needed to withdraw their money. We could not be sure whether this type of porcelain statues was mostly in vertical form because it maximized the use of kiln space; however, the vertical form did make these statutes suitable targets in ring toss games. Meanwhile, the production of these artifacts was connected with a period of rapid economic growth, and therefore, has a vivid presence in the childhood memory of several generations.

 

Regarding the historical memory of German Shepherd Dog in Taiwan, it is related to Japan’s implementation of military dogs in modern military system learned from Germany. After the surrender of the German Empire in WWI, many German Shepherd Dogs were left in ceded Qingdao, China; and when the Japanese families retreated from Taiwan after WWII, German Shepherd Dogs were gifted to local gentries. As a matter of fact, the relationship of local (Japanese) families and their German Shepherd Dogs seemed to show a more tragic tint. In “The War without War: Stories of Japanese in Taiwan” anthologized in The Day When the War Ended: Stories of the War Generation in Taiwan, a book about Japan’s surrender, it is stated that “Dego the German Shepherd Dog, the pet of Reiko Suzuki’s family, who was Noriko Moriyama’s neighbor, was in the animal memorial service [5] … When the situation of the war became strained, all the “Degos,” as German Shepherd Dog was considered the best breed for military dogs, were eventually drafted, leaving countless “Reikos” heartbroken.” (Xiao Zhi-Fan)

 

“Animal memorial service” used to be an annual ceremony held by the Japanese colonizers to pacify the souls of animals sacrificed for the country. In truth, the large number of German Shepherd Dogs drafted to serve in the front line during the war would “neither become war prisoners, nor return home to reunite with their families” after the war. Due to resource scarcity in the battlefield, even if the dogs did not die in the war, they were very likely killed to make fur products after serving their purpose as military dogs. Such gloomy fate was omitted from the journalism celebrating the military dogs serving in the war regardless of how loyal, brave or friendly they were to humans. The story of Dego the German Shepherd Dog obviously could not be contained by patriotism; it foregrounded the fact the mythical stories of these military dogs would need to be contextualized in the concept of “nation” (referring to “a nation-state” as “an imagined community” and the idea of “lineage/eugenics”) for a better understanding. Like scholar Edward Tenner writes in his paper, entitled “Constructing the German Shepherd Dog,” “one of the most striking results of these interactions is the German Shepherd Dog, whose early career as a breed was entangled with German nationalism and biological racism but who has since become, both as a working and a household dog, one of the world’s most popular and ironically cosmopolitan companion animals.” [6]

 

III. White German Shepherd Dog (Allach Nr.76)

Comparing to the computer graphic series that Wu created in the past, No Country for Canine showed a relatively low level of technical intervention. In contrast to the artist’s self-control, however, human beings have consistently exercised a high level of intervention in terms of the classification and breeding of German Shepherd Dog or other canine breeds. From the walls of the main gallery room to that of the other three rooms, many archive images of German Shepherd Dog were displayed, including a large number of dogs with soldiers, dogs in training or on duty, postcards and posters featuring military dogs, signaling the collective memory of the breed. Different from how archives have been used in exhibitions in recent years, the photographic images in this exhibition were only mounted on the walls without additional descriptions; furthermore, the figures in these images included not only German Nazis but also police officers and soldiers from Taiwan and other countries. However, under any circumstances, German Shepherd Dogs have always been “the bearers of cultural meaning” [7] that have no will of their own. After the topics of domestication and war, our attention was therefore directed to another aspect of No Country for Canine—namely, the issue of nation/race embodied by works like Allach Nr. 76 (2019), Purebreds - GSD, (DDR)GSD, VEO, WSSD (2017) and the photographs produced by Japan to celebrate the Axis Powers.

 

In his text to Allach Nr. 76, Wu mentioned that Allach porcelain was appointed by the Nazi leader Heinrich Himmler to produce long-legged, elegantly poised porcelain statutes of German Shepherd Dog (including white and colored edition) that could “exemplify the Aryan aesthetics.” Apart from the Aryan aesthetics embodied by the white German Shepherd Dog statute, the history of the Verein für Deutsche Schäferhunde (German Shepherd Association) has already reflected such an ideological hierarchy and order. In 1899, the Verein für Deutsche Schäferhunde, also known as SV, was founded in Augsburg, and later become the largest breed club of one single breed in the world. At the founding convention, the founding president, Max von Stephanitz, established the breeding standard of the German Shepherd Dog to be “to control, monitor and facilitate the breeding and training of the breed to ensure the preservation of its excellent hereditary characteristics.” Nevertheless, the breeding history of German Shepherd Dog could trace back to several centuries ago to the continental sheepdogs in northwestern Europe [8] that protected livestock from being attacked by animal predators. Due to urban industrialization that gradually rendered sheepdogs purposeless, Stephanitz established the standardization of the breed, using breeding certificates as proper documents for breeding with studs and bitches. The three primary pedigrees originated from Stephanitz’s first German Shepherd Dog named Horand von Grafrath in 1899, and his German Shepherd Dogs with pedigree certificates were offspring of inbreeding like that of the European royals.

 

The large white German Shepherd Dog statue on view in the exhibition, entitled Allach Nr. 76, was one of the 143 statues produced according to the record. After the Nazis were defeated, the unsold products and the original mold were destroyed for the purpose of eliminating the evidence. Intriguingly, white German Shepherd Dogs were once excluded from the breed due to their high visibility in the battlefield, and it was until recent years that its re-standardization was carried out. Equally contradictory was the production of the white German Shepherd Dog porcelain statues. The making of Allach porcelain had been one of the labor tasks in Dachau Concentration Camp, the first of many concentration camps established by the Nazis. Consequently, these artisanal statues with physical elegance that symbolized the first-rate Aryan aesthetics were very likely produced by the concentration camp prisoners, who were viewed by the Nazis as an inferior race or war prisoners. Although the massive genocide of the Jewish people did not take place at Dachau Concentration Camp, the camp’s slogan, “Arbeit macht frei,” ironically validated the “unfreedom” embodied by the white German Shepherd Dog porcelain.

 

IV. National Dog

From the collection of German Shepherd Dog porcelain statutes from both Taiwan and Europe, to Grafrath: A Schäferhund Story (2018) inspired by the breeding place of the first German Shepherd Dog, to Germany’s competition fields, concentration camps and Taiwan’s flea markets that led to the creation of A Craftwork Canine (2019), Wu’s journey informed by the history of German Shepherd Dog enabled him to look into the entwined history of the breed and national consciousness. Be it the appearance, function, physical form and breeding history (or Nazi’s appointment of Allach porcelain), the history of German Shepherd Dog being shaped as the symbol of loyalty, bravery and obedience – first in Germany, and then Japan and Taiwan – has corresponded to the expansion of imperialism or the xenophobia in nationalism. I am consequently reminded of Hitler’s dog, “Prinz.” It is said that this German Shepherd Dog once ran from its foster home and returned to Hitler, who therefore greatly praised the characteristics of German Shepherd Dog. [9] The background of this rumor, however, was the transition from a period characterized by social Darwinism in the late 19th century to the idea of “a wealthy country and a strong race” pursued by the emerging nation-states at the beginning of the 20th century. Under such a circumstance, the Nazis that largely advocated polices of eugenics used economy as a pretense to eliminate the unproductive communities in the population and prevent them from propagating while encouraging the rest of the country to conduct physical training for a strong physique, hoping to realize the dream of evolving into a “Herrenrasse,” or master race—a dream that eventually turned into a genocide nightmare for the disabled and homosexuals during WWII.

 

As for Purebreds - GSD, (DDR)GSD, VEO, WSSD (2017) that discussed breed and nation, the artist created pencil drawings of four breeds – German Shepherd Dog, DDR Shepherd Dog, East-European Shepherd and White Swiss Shepherd Dog. Although all originated from German Shepherd Dog, these breeds were intentionally divided due to global politics or wars. For instance, DDR Shepherd Dog was bred due to the split and segregation of the Cold War. East-European Shepherd was created by mixing local canine breeds and wolves. White Swiss Shepherd was once mistaken for carrying albino genes and eliminated from the breeding, but was later re-standardized in the US and Switzerland. The popularity of German Shepherd Dog even contributed to the standardization of “national dog” in other countries. For example, in Israel, a relatively new country founded Jewish people, the Israel Kennel Club certified the Canaan dog as the Israel’s national dog in 1953, a breed that was said to be traced back to the biblical times; and the breed was accepted by the Fédération Cynologique Internationale in 1966.

 

Perhaps, it is such close-knit codependence that has made people overlook the fact that, in relation to the war prisoners that they monitored, the German Shepherd Dogs were still a subject-less instrument of “the right to life”—that is, it is the guardian of the national will, embodying “a set of instruments that takes charge, controls and manages the life of ‘populations’ (silent lives when they are reduced to…even animals)” and “observe the effects of the absolute ‘right to life’ (l’absolu droit a la vie, Foucult 1997; Brossat 2010).” Therefore, from being used as sculptural forms for coin banks, to serving as working dogs in the battlefield, to becoming national dogs and even terror-inducing presence in concentration camps – like that in the descriptions of holocaust survivor Benjamin Jacobs, who survived Auschwitz – the German Shepherd Dog, with its specific form and lineage, has witnessed the vicissitude of nations. Nevertheless, the German Shepherd Dog in our memory is still human’s best pal regardless of a person’s gender, race or class. As for its fiendish side, one might be reminded of the underworld guardian in Greek mythology, Cerberus, or the giant hound that watches the gate of the underworld in Norse mythology, Garm. The canine presence has lived through wars, civilizations and nations, merging into history that outlasts life itself; and this is perhaps why humanity would bring along its image into tombs. [12]

 

When German Shepherd Dog became the national dog, the breed has become part of the treacherous nationalism and a species that no longer in control of its own fate.

 

 

Footnote:

[1] The artwork title, Those Officially Called As, Commonly Known As (Or Not Being Called As), Used For (Or Not Used For) Guarding, Herding Or Driving Livestock—Sheep, Goat, Cattle, Reindeer, Alpaca; Registered (Or Not Registered) With The FCI, Only Recognized (Or Not Recognized) By Local Kennel Clubs; Ever-Exist, Rare, Extinct Or Modern-Mixed Pasture Dog Breeds, Their Nationality And Appellation Written In The Language Of The Country, And Their Geographic Origin, Possible Consanguinity And Naming History, is derived from the items on 27 pieces of A3-size categorization forms.

 

[2] The name “German Shepherd Dog” became official in 1977. The breed originated in the 19th-century Germany and was used as sheepdogs. Because of its agility, it was often used as police dog, rescue dog, military dog and even guide dog as well. During WWI, it began serving in the battlefield, and was later introduced into Taiwan by the Japanese regime. Its Mandarin name, “狼犬/狗,” literally means a wolf-dog hybrid or wolf-like dog. In this article, “shepherd dog” or “sheepdog” refers to the breed of German Shepherd Dog discussed in the exhibition.

 

[3] According to Wu Chuan-Lun’s artist statement, “this work originates from the 2010 drawing series Domestication, which originally aims to discuss the codependence between the Internet and the real world through a series of online images of human-animal kiss. The first work of this series was Wolf. Like an embedded surprise created long before I was aware of it, it has foreshadowed the development of this solo exhibition in terms of topic, symbolism, species and techniques.” See the exhibition leaflet of No Country for Canine.

 

[4] Both published by Rye Field Publishing, No Country for Old Men (2005[LJH1] ) echoes the author’s another novel The Road (2006). The former was adapted into a homonymous movie (2007; directed by the Coen brothers). The novel depicts the desolate fate of people in their last days when there is no one and nothing to rely on. The artist appropriates the title and links the pedigree and fate of German Shepherd Dog that has been shaped by human’s desire.

 

[5] Animal memorial service was a religious ceremony held annually at Yuanshan Zoo (now Taipei Zoo) on November 23rd during the period of Japanese rule, and has become a customary practice since 1925. The climax of the ceremony was the appearance of an animal representative to officiate the memorial before finally reading out the elegiac address and ending the service. However, the animal memorial service was not only an entertaining activity but a rite to appease the animal souls, namely those sacrificed for the nation, including “those that died for scientific experiments in laboratories at places like Taihoku Imperial University, Taipei Medical Professional School, Taiwan Provincial Veterinary Serum Institute, the military, and the increasing number of animals in those years that were drafted to serve in the war.” Xiao Zhi-Fan, “The War without War: Stories of Japanese in Taiwan.” The Day When the War Ended: Stories of the War Generation in Taiwan. Project directed by Su Shuo-Bin. Taipei: Acropolis, 2017, p. 275-277.

 

[6] Edwin Tenner. “Constructing the German Shepherd Dog.” Raritan, vol. 36, iss. 3, December 2017.

 

[7] Ibid.

 

[8] In 1890, the breed was further divided into Belgian Shepherd, German Shepherd Dog and Dutch Shepherd.

 

[9] See the Wikipedia page of “German Shepherd Dog” at en.wikipedia.org/wiki/German_Shepherd

 

[10] Canaan dog is an endemic canine breed in the Middle East, and was said to have disappeared for thousands of years. There are currently 2000 to 3000 Canaan dogs, and most of the kept ones are in the regions of North America and Europe. In its place of origin, Canaan dogs can be found from Sinai Peninsula to Syria’s Southern Levant. See zh.wikipedia.org/wiki/%E8%BF%A6%E5%8D%97%E7%8A%AC

 

[11] As Michel Agier states, “where Foucault linked biopower and knowledge (or even knowledge and technology), Giorgio Agamben (1995, 1997) merged biopower and politics. By going to a level of abstraction and broadening the political implication of the concept inspired by Foucault's analysis…. Agamben made biopower the principle in the last instance of all politics. It does so in particular by giving an exemplary place to the form of the ‘camp.’” (Original French text: Mais là où Foucault reliait biopouvoir et savoir (ou encore savoir et technologie), Giorgio Agamben (1995, 1997) a fusionné biopouvoir et politique. En allant à un niveau d’abstraction et d’élargissement politique du concept inspiré par les analyses de Foucault mais à un point où ces dernières n’étaient pas allées, Agamben fait du biopouvoir le principe en dernière instance de toute politique. Il le fait notamment en donnant une place exemplaire à la forme du « camp ».) For more information, see “Le biopouvoir à l’épreuve de ses formes sensibles. Brève introduction à un projet d’ethnographies des hétérotopies contemporaines.” Chimères, no. 74, March 2010, p. 259 to 270. (https://www.cairn.info/revue-chimeres-2010-3-page-259.htm)

 

[12] Anubis (ancient Greek: Ἄνουβις) is the ancient Egyptian god of mummification and afterlife that has a jackal head and the figure of a man, not entirely in the form of a dog.

 

 [LJH1]此註釋中的年代依英文原著出版年代

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