Dog Days of Winter

Left: Laurie Anderson's Heart of a Dog in Times Square. Right: Laurie Anderson. (All photos: Ka-Man Tse for @TSqArts)

“MAN MOLDED THE DOMESTIC DOG in his own worst image...self-righteous as a lynch mob, servile and vicious, replete with the vilest coprophagic perversions...and what other animal tries to fuck your leg? Canine claims to our affection reek of contrived and fraudulent sentimentality.” So writes a characteristically unforgiving William S. Burroughs in The Cat Inside, his late-career paean to the Internet’s favorite critter. I generally consider myself a cat person too (hi Lyle!), but when my first assignment of the new year saw me huddled in Times Square on a bitterly (if, at last, seasonably) cold Monday night for a Midnight Moment by Laurie Anderson featuring a musical performance for dogs, I was grateful indeed for the warm fuzzies provided by a neighboring border collie.

Sophie—who, per her owner, works as a therapy dog at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center—belonged to a small and well-disciplined four-legged crowd, the numbers of which were swelled considerably by a troop of canine handlers from the NYPD—as well as several dozen eager journalists. (When, as happens every so often, an art-world event doubles as an irresistible “and finally” spot, the dogged [sorry] style of broadcast “news” reportage is thrown into stark relief.) A quivering French bulldog peeking out from a gym bag and a Jack Russell clad in a Pearly King waistcoat were predictable shutter bait; other attendees were left unmolested to await the start of the event, scheduled for 11:30, and an 11:57 screening of a clip from Anderson’s feature film Heart of a Dog.

Left and right: The audience at Laurie Anderson's Heart of a Dog.

“How excited are you for the show tonight?” a Guardian reporter demanded of a nonplussed cocker spaniel as a Times Square Arts employee circulated with a sack of bone-shaped dog treats (humans were left to fend for themselves from an adjacent McDonald’s; I’ll make no further comparisons). Donning sets of wireless “silent disco” headphones—the animals listened instead to “low-decibel speakers”—we heard Anderson issue an amused and genuinely appreciative greeting, clearly surprised at the more-than-respectable turnout. Clad in orange fleece hat and platform sneakers, the puckish artist-musician poked at a laptop, plucked at a violin, and produced a pleasant if rather unfocused and extremely brief set of dreamy mood music. “OK,” she interjected, “now for the film. If you have a little dog, get him barking!” The owners—if only in an effort to keep warm—pitched in with yaps of their own.

As the sound escalated to a full-blown full-moon howl, advertisements faded from half a dozen or so of the square’s electronic billboards. They were replaced by an eerie three minutes of surveillance and wildlife footage collaged with other, less explicable imagery (plus the inevitable dog shot). Cut to a sequence from the Tibetan Book of the Dead describing the flow of consciousness as life leaves the body; the artist’s three-minute vision had a suitably ethereal vibe. One can only speculate as to whether the attendant hounds appreciated the effort that had been expended on their behalf, but they seemed at least...respectful. “That’s it!” Anderson concluded briskly as the ads swam back into view. “Thanks for coming—you all really are sports!”