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"Terriers Take Wolves!" Holly Hughes on the Tough and Tiny

Holly Hughes is a true terrier. The seminal performance artist's career launched in the 1980s and gained notoriety through the 1990 NEA 4 culture wars. Hughes's fighting spirit earned her multiple Obie Awards, a Lambda Book Award, and most recently, a Guggenheim Fellowship. Her bold exploration of sexual politics in the face of taboo has created a legacy of performance pedagogy that spans 30 years. A professor of fine arts at the University of Michigan, Hughes's latest projects include the completion of a book, Animal Acts: Performing Species, co-edited with Una Chadhouri and the production of Animal Acts: Beasts of the Northern Wild Performance Art Festival last March.

Holly Hughes with Ducks

Her current touring performance, The Dog And Pony Show (bring your own pony), will be presented by CHF at The Lookingglass Theatre on November 4 as part of the program, On The Edge of Your Seat, a shared evening with Deke Weaver. Hughes shared her thoughts with me on participating in the Festival, terrier philosophy, and Gertrude Stein’s infamous poodle name.

It is really exciting to be in this context of artists doing work about animals, and especially to be showing alongside Deke Weaver, who is a longtime friend. He's doing wolves and I’m doing dogs! I'm going to get a fight cheer going: 'Terriers take wolves, terriers take wolves!' That reminds me of a trip we took to the forest recently where we drove by some baby bears. Our standard poodles sat back, as if they were viewing the scene from a pair of Eddie Bauer binoculars, but our terriers were flinging themselves at the windshield and barking, 'Do you want a piece of this?!'They were so fierce, they wanted a piece of the action.
I'd love to be a standard poodle: elegant, refined, intelligent. But I'm more like the thing that goes into the dark, forbidden places, without thinking, to track down a smell.


I'm attracted to the way terriers are both highly sociable and dangerous. They have a bite. They are small and I am too. I just had my hair done to match my Norfolk terrier for a dog look-alike contest. My partner and I have 6 dogs between us. You might call it a pre-gay-marriage lesbian household arrangement: 6 dogs, one elderly cat, and a lot of emotional baggage! Some of them are unplanned dog-children. I think that there’s something that gay people recognize in animals about being in between—being acceptable or groomed, or being wild and on the edge of unacceptable. There's an unconditional acceptance that only animals can afford. Back in the days of being gay, there were't all of these different categories of T, Q, I. There were the gays with dogs and the gays with cats and the asthmatics! We're getting more domesticated, now. In The Dog and Pony Show... there's a video by Kate Bornstein in which an image of Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas and their dogs morph into an image of my partner and I and our dogs. Do you know that Stein named all of her poodles Basket? Can you imagine how confusing that must have been? 'Come here, Basket, Basket... No, not you!'

Marissa Perel is an artist, poet, critic, and independent curator. Her writing on performance can be found on the Art21 blog, Critical Correspondence, and P-Club. She is currently the Curatorial Fellow of the Aux Performance Space at Vox Populi Gallery in Philadelphia, PA.

Tags: dogs, animal, performance art

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