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Visitors to Puppies Puppies’ recent exhibition, Green (Ghosts) at Overduin & Co. could not see the artist but they could examine her wrinkled bedsheets and pillows, her clothes, her shampoo and razors, her panties and vibrator, her dog’s bowl and bed, and her estrogen pills. For the course of the exhibition, Puppies and her husband Forrest had transferred the entire contents of their apartment into the gallery and were sleeping there, slipping out each morning before visitors arrived.
The gesture (if such an elaborate operation can be called that) was at once disarmingly candid and fastidiously staged. For one thing, virtually all of the objects in the gallery were either green, blue or yellow, as reportedly is the case in the couple’s apartment. For another, they were arranged in such a way as to transform even the most mundane items (an empty Sprite can, a pair of green stools, or his-and-hers blue and yellow toothbrushes in a mug) into readymade sculptures, most of which were titled as such. A number of the objects in the gallery were what the artist refers to as “bootlegs” of well-known artworks: a green version of a Willem de Rooij “Bouquet” sculpture, a scanned Thomas Struth photograph of jungle foliage blown up into low-res wallpaper, or a remake of Felix Gonzalez-Torres’ twin clock sculpture Untitled (Perfect Lovers) (1991). Fakeness, here, does not detract from the sincerity of these meticulous “fan art” homages, but instead points to their devotional significance: before they were gallery art, they were simply things that the artist and her husband ardently desired to live with.
Most impactful, perhaps, were the wall texts posted around the gallery, written by Forrest in place of a press release. Though he admits to being entirely partial in his view of Puppies’ work, Forrest states that the texts are an artwork authored by Puppies, and that his intention is not to explain or interpret the show (though they do both admirably) but to complicate it, to hint at the depth of meaning sequestered within the work that will inevitably be missed by—or be out of reach to—the viewer.
Given this artistic generosity but also this tantalizing feeling of so much being withheld, out of reach, I put some questions to the artist about the show and her work in general, aware that disclosing anything further about her project might well be the last thing on her mind.
Jonathan Griffin: Hi Puppies. I normally prefer to do these things face to face, or at least over the phone. You tell me you never speak on the phone, and only meet face to face after an initial, orchestrated studio visit, so you prefer to be interviewed over email or instant messaging. Why the reticence?
Puppies Puppies: When I was younger I stole a small plastic Santa Claus ring
when my parents weren’t looking
I hid it in my room
They found it and made me go back and return it to the cashier
Spanked and scared shitless
Older than that but still younger I used to go into chatrooms
I met this kid my age and we hit it off
I wanted friends and really didn’t have any
After a while it was his dad who was always on his account talking about him
We stopped talking
I feel naive whenever I think back to that memory I had no idea who I was talking to
I talked to my friends Logan and Rachel on the phone and by AOL.
Convinced them to date
but before that had a sleepover at Logan’s house and we masturbated together
Because he asked me to?
I had never “finished” before
so I just
peed a little into the toilet
and pretended to be done right away
I told Logan over AOL after going to Mexico that I didn’t want to speak anymore
JG: I guess what I find compelling about your work is its twin engines of revelatory candor and disguise. Your recent show at Overduin & Co seemed—like so much of your work—to bravely engage an idea of the “real,” despite its simultaneous sense of mannerist contrivance. What does realness mean to you?
PP: My chest currently
feels super tender
and it started feeling that way
immediately after starting hormones
especially around the nipples
I’m starting to see breasts developing on my chest
Super super faintly
I don’t get spontaneous erections anymore, for that I’m grateful
My pores seem softer
I feel calmer but also more in touch
with a variety of emotions
which probably leads to me fighting or crying more
I don’t feel as shitty today as I felt yesterday
My therapist describes this as a new puberty
with hormonal relationships to my past
JG: Well that brings me to a question I was going to wait to ask, but which we might as well address straight away. How has your transition shaped the ideas about identity and self-presentation, truth and authenticity in your work? I love Forrest’s observation in the show that transitioning is “a creative act, full of calibration and authorship and aesthetics.”
PP: I tried out to be the lion mascot in school
dancing to the Pokémon theme song
I look back on all stages and think I’m so immature for my age
I danced my heart out in that gym
and the weightlifting team passed by
That school had a rule that you couldn’t have long hair if you were a boy
I said I wanted to donate mine
And was allowed to grow out my hair
I shaved my body
and told myself guys
that are swimmers do this
Surfers and skaters have long hair and earrings
One does what one can to get by
This guy Alex R. was super straight
This girl said she liked me
We were all quite young
and in front of everyone
I think this guy swings the other way
It took me forever to figure it out but I cried all night
once I did
One day my science teacher Mr. F.
was talking about homosexuals and then after class asked me to come up to his desk
He apologized to me if what he said offended me
I didn’t quite get why but when I did
I cried the entirety
of study hall in the bathroom
My second Bio teacher
decided to overlook evolution as a topic
One day Amanda asked about anal stimulation and what that’s about
it’s all in the person’s head
It’s not real
We read Dubliners one year
I thought to myself how do I before ever having had alcohol
feel so connected to utterly depressed alcoholics
One character described suicidal thoughts in the most beautiful way
Imagining themselves on a bridge turning to liquid and being subsumed by the earth
It didn’t sound half bad at the time
JG: So is Puppies Puppies a persona? Does it equate to self-annihilation? Or is it self-realization? Is it just a pseudonym?
PP: I don’t know.
JG: To my knowledge, you’ve never appeared in your work without a disguise. Do you deliberately encourage the possibility that you might not actually be real? And if, let’s say, the person behind the disguise and the pseudonym turned out to be a fabrication by someone else (your husband, or another artist, or your gallerist), would that invalidate your work?
PP: I’ve never liked the time before falling asleep.
I used to wet the bed. I was always worried I would soak it and before I slept I prayed this curse was over.
Sometimes I would vomit in my sleep due to acid reflux.
I remember one night falling asleep wishing I had been born a girl with different parts from my own
At that time I thought it was because I was a man attracted to men
And it would make it normal if I had
Been born a woman
At that time I thought I was speaking to god
I thought to myself that I could be a flight attendant
Almost like an angel in the sky
JG: Puppies Puppies, are we ever not performing?
PP: Played Bill in Cheaper by the Dozen
This was in middle school
I needed extra makeup to look like the other kids in the family
There was some bizarre flashback scene where
I got cut in half by a metal saw
It was some sort of dream
I was supposed to scream on stage
But I couldn’t
I thought it would reveal something
I didn’t know what
They had an actor scream off stage as I
made my mouth into an O shape
As if my scream emitted from
the entirety of the
no clear source
Originally published in Carla Issue 11