This was a temporary sculptural addition to the public park of Søndermarken by Frederiksberg Castle, performed in relation to LAYER 4, a summer outdoor sculpture exhibition curated by Tina Maria Nielsen and Rikke Ravn in 2003.
I added a wooden bench, and a double display case for photos and information. I hoped it was to be understood and used as a tool for dogwalkers in the park, and as such also be understood as a parallell to areas for children or disabled in a public park.
Photo Iben Kaufmann.
The park of Søndermarken in Copenhagen, is one of the few parks allowing dogs to run free, in certain designated areas. The dog walkers are not only regular visitors. They actually come and go at the same hours, every day. Despite this strong presence as a group, no facilities or even simply proper benches in the “dog-zones” were offered them. There were however playgrounds for children, parts of the park arranged for public concerts and lanes prepared for strolling and running. But no facilities for sitting down when watching your dog run free. The dogwalkers were, and still in fact are not perceived as a contribution to this park, by the castle administration.
From sheer lack of alternatives, the dogwalkers therfore had established an informal meeting point along a part of the path closest to the big lawn. Here they stood in clusters, with their dogs running around them. But this very path was the most direct path across the park for parents walking their small children to the playground further up the hill. The children often felt scared of the fast running dogs. I actually knew this from walking there with my own daughter. She had been so scared of those dogs her whole life. Frequent and open tensions between the two groups was therefore part of the every day in this part of the park.
I understood the missing benches as an indirect effort from the park administrators to restrict these conflicts, by making it less attractive to walk your dog in the park. I proposed another gaze at their presence in the park – to regard the social network of the dogowners as an addition to the park, on a par with ‘the mates down at the marina’ or ‘the lads on the football field’ who in an indirect way monitors the life of the park, and are ready to assist any one who woud need it. For this reason, I added a proper home territory for them within the designted “dog zone”.
It was a temporary bench , shaped as a classic figure of parc architecture – the spiral, and foormed as a practical place for dogwalkers to sit and enjoy the sun while watching their dogs. The shape in itself also accommodates dialogues between strangers. The spiral shape also offers a semi-protected centre for children and adults who actually would like to look at the free play of the dogs, without risking a collision.
Two notice boards were added to the bench. In these boards, I placed a series of portraits of dogs and their owners taken during three weeks of May in 2003. But the boards also were open for the dogwalkers themselves to add their material. Apart from a pure practical function of sending messages from one dogowner to another, the notice boards also served as a marker of the authorised space for the airing of dogs.
The bench was promptly inhabited by the dog walkers. They initiated new social activities such as public morning coffee, joint dog training and walking each others dogs. The notice boards were crucial to this new interaction.
By the end of the exhibition, the dog walkers unexpectedly wrote to the park authorities, enquering to keep the bench permanently. It was allowed to remain until it disintegrated, which occured in December 2003.
Above, a photo included in that letter, sent to me with a copy of their letter .