Going to the Dogs: a play by Wim T. Schippers


1 Jun – 15 Jul 2012

SPACE’s Library hosts an exhibition of documentation relating to Going to the Dogs – including a 46-minute video edit of its gala performance made for Dutch television and a selection of archive materials.

On September 19th, 1986, Dutch artist Wim T. Schippers (b. Groningen, 1942) debuted his new play Going to the Dogs. Performed to sell out audiences at Amsterdam’s Stadsschouwburg Theatre, the production – which has not been staged since – was a somewhat experimental venture into dramaturgy for Schippers. Indeed Going to the Dogs featured no humans in its cast. Instead taking to the stage that evening were six well-trained Alsatian dogs. 

Schippers’ strange project of goofy, absurdist provocations, since its emergence in the early 60s, can be read through the dual historical trajectories of both Fluxus (he presented work at a number of Fluxus festivals early in his career) and Dutch Dada. Aged 19 he declared that ‘inspired’ art should be abandoned in favour of what he called the ‘a-dynamic’. Accordingly he began challenging material grandeur in the object art of his time, championing the ‘non-functional’ through a conjured world of amusement and farce. 

And while Schippers’ work at times apes the formal strategies of the object art against which he rallied (e.g his seminal Peanut-Butter Platform(1962) – a self explanatory installation recently re-presented at the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, or his monumental turd sculpture Stationnement Gênant (2008) – it is largely marked by its openness to platforms otherwise neglected, ignored or closed to artists. 

Over the six decades of his career, he has presented regular radio shows, co-produced a comic book and taken multiple roles on television – as producer, host and voice over artist. It is in this latter guise that perhaps Schippers’ greatest claim to fame comes. In a fantastically absurd conjunction with his creative attitude as a whole, fate had it that it would be Schippers who gave voice to many of the key characters in Sesamstraat – the Dutch co-production of Jim Henson’s seminal children’s television programme, Sesame Street (notably Kermit the Frog, Ernie and Count Von Count). 

Arguing that “nothing is as clarifying as confusion” – Schippers stands in relation to the norms and conventions of high-art as both a breaker and a buffoon. And a work like Going to the Dogs perfectly embodies this tension. A monumentally silly offering, the play nonetheless remains critically cogent: a reminder, perhaps, for those too lost in the reified self-image that art so often fashions for itself that the habitual contribution of value to seriousness is not, and should never, be taken as an absolute rule.