Pets as cultural producers

Survival in the post-fordist society requires increasingly more creativity. Inventing and re-inventing is the spirit of life long learning. Workers performing immaterial labour are exemplary here, moving from project to project, residency to the next, animated by creative energy, training and re-training themselves as they go. Pets share more than what we might expect with the other new types of so called “affective labour”. They, too have to perform, control their instincts and at the same time provide their audience with something that can not be measured in material terms. As regards to the activity that produces the ‘cultural content’ of the commodity, pet labour involves a series of activities that are not normally recognised as ‘work’- in other words, the kinds of activities involved in defining and fixing cultural and artistic standards, fashions, tastes, consumer norms, and more strategically, public opinion. Domestic pets are primarily producers of subjectivity.

Comparing  household pets to workers in cultural industries might be a foolish idea. As the saying goes: „fish can’’t see the water they’’re in“ … research findings confirm “we” might have a deal to learn from these animals.

AUTODOMESTICATION started with my observations working alongside a rented cat in an artist residency in Vienna in 2006. The project has continued to feed my other activities. In short Autodomestication is based on practical and theoretical research between various disciplines and species.

Let me try to explain this. The basic value of a household pet is of course a subjective notion depending on the intentions and preferences of every pets particular situation, their owner, their environment, cultural values etc. Just think of your own pet or the pet of someone you know if you do not have one yourself. Almost everyone knows a pet. However I am making these crude generalisations on the one hand in order to bring awareness and respect towards the “fine” type of immaterial labour every household pet in our society performs and on the other hand I am trying to shatter or undermine the (self-)image of the independent individual and individualistic contemporary artist.

The definition of a pet claims that its value does not lie in what it “does” (as opposed to the production value of live-stock, racing animal and the like) but in what it “is”. Now remember for example how Richard Florida described the processes of  gentrification caused by artists and creative workers migrations – the artists may or may not be aware of the value of their mere presence however on a larger scale they produce “results” by simply existing.

The value of being – is of course not a new thing – not at all – all art works are tracked back to it’s authors, obsessive researches to find where the work comes from… is it a hidden “core”, what is the magic that makes your pet so mysterious to you, is it the “difference” that fascinates you, or the “unknown” in its eyes, does it love you? Or the food you give to it? Many questions, no answers. Theartists themselves can find this either flattering or irritating or it may simply leave them untouched, depending on personality (cat, dog, fish, insect). In any case this is how the artists are believed to and encouraged to “mirror” their being, their personality in the art.

Another topic involves certain new types of pet-training (clicker-training) where the roles of the trainer and trainee have been reversed. The pet eventually becomes the trainer (it would use its “tricks” to make the trainer perform their “clicks”). Positve feedback training has also been the fundamental interest of the utopian project of the Los Horcones commune in Mexico, operating and training itself according to the positive -feedback principles of B.F. Skinner since the early seventies.

But back to Autodomestication, back to the dogs, back to the function of the artist in the society.

I would like to emphasize that my proposal may appear cynical at first sight but is in its core a questioning (or making fun) of my own “artistic research”, the reflections are based on my experiences and expectations in the freelance work that I have been doing for the past decade and the characteristics it has encourged me take on in order to survive, make money and live/work. Through the seemingly derogatory juxtaposition I am in search for a certain power, a power that may previously have been considered a weakness. Searching in silly places because it’s easier or funnier? I also see a utopian charm in the proposal. I remember the way Marx described the future of capitalism and the total dissolution of labour in Grundrisse. Would that maybe be a type of pet paradise that is perhaps already here?

I am not an academic and this research includes the element of my own performance as artist which exemplifies the point I am trying to make, and at the same time undermines it, since one of my “strengths” in performance is my relative unprofessionality, ignorance and maybe the “cuteness” that that results in.

To conclude, Autodomestication: part joke, part irritation, part sticky metaphor…

Krõõt Juurak

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Performance and presentation

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Pets of Today

Just what is it that makes today’s pets so different, so appealing?

Pet today is no longer the denominator for artist but for all contemporary human and non-human animals. The denominator pet no longer refers to a marginal parasite (lap-dog of the bourgeoiusie) or leftist underdog. One can no longer say “this is not work”. The pet today is the productive force that is capable of turning all areas of life and labour into something good, appealing, different. Autodomestication is a research into the latest trends of immaterial and affective labour, creativity, sabotage and the question “is there no escape at all?”

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auto – self – domestication, self-referenciality, auto-reference-reality, automatic (unaware?) domestication becoming of pet, learning unaware self– and other, becoming domesticated, pet, domestic work, auto-reference-reality autodomestication…


“Flexicurity — flexibility, curiosity, security.” (BusinessDaily)

Survival in now  f a s t  c h a n g i n g  world asks for* increasingly more creativity. Inventing and re-inventing in the spirit of life long learning (LLL), flexibility of profession and working hours, blurring of private and professional life, high emaotional identification with the job.
Workers/performers in the creative industries are exemplary here: moving from project to project animated by creative energy, training and re-training themselves as they go.

Based on the lecture “Artists’ Responsibility” — “Autodomestication” focuses specifically on (self)education and pet training:

A new kind of training NOW increasingly popular among many pet owners: clicker training**. This method differs from traditional learning methods in the most fundamental way, namely instead of getting the pet obey certain rules, the owner makes their pet believe they are in fact training their owner, to click.
This new method has proven to forster new creativity and better communication with pets. Now in power they act more responsible and selfassured but also becoming better communicable and selforganized in order to attain theri goals. Punishmnet and fear have been replaced with creativity, proactivenss and freedom…

(more about this upcoming investigation here soon)

*things that ASK to be done is an old Estonian way of talk where desires are external (i.e. roof asks to be repaired, potato asks to be plowed)
** clicker training

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Clicker training – Methodology

the goal:

…to enable every pet to attain all-round development…so that it is capable of life-long, critical and exploratory activity, self-innovating and adapting to change; filled with self-confidence and a team spirit… Our priority should be to enable our pets to enjoy learning, enhance their effectiveness in communication and develop their creativity and sense of commitment. (Education Commission, 1999 pp.4)

The first step in clicker training is to teach the animal that the clicker sound means that they will get a reward (i.e. food, commission, salary, shelter, residency). To do this, the trainer does what is called “charging” or “loading” the clicker. The trainer clicks the clicker and simultaneously or immediately thereafter gives the animal a reward, usually an unaccustomed, tasty treat, one small enough to be consumed almost instantly. (Some trainers substitute play with a favorite toy. However, this practice can interfere with the goal of maintaining a high rate of reinforcement.) The trainer performs up to 20 repetitions per session.

Some animals tend to learn the association much more quickly than others. Dogs, for example, often learn the association in one session, with as few as five to 10 repetitions. Progress may be tested by waiting until the dog’s attention is elsewhere and then clicking. If the dog immediately looks toward the trainer as though expecting a reward, it is likely that the dog has made the association.

After that, the trainer can use the clicker to mark desired behaviors. At the exact instant the animal performs the desired behavior, the trainer clicks and promptly rewards. One key to clicker training is the trainer’s timing; clicking slightly too early or too late rewards and therefore may reinforce whatever behavior is occurring at that instant. Another is to create opportunities for the animal to earn rewards very frequently. A reinforcement rate of one click/treat (C/T) every two to three seconds is common among professional dog trainers. Finally it is often necessary to break down even simple tasks into smaller sub-tasks (see chaining) or to start with easy-to-meet criteria which are gradually tightened.

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Sleeping Performance


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