Tulani Hlalo: Extreme Competitive 

Extreme Competitive 

Opening: 2nd March 

3-14 March 2022

Almanac Projects in association with 198 Contemporary Arts and Learning presents Extreme Competitive, an exhibition by Tulani Hlalo (b.1994, Newcastle upon Tyne, currently living and working in Glasgow) featuring a video installation with a newly produced video and a new series of fabric works. 

Hlalo’s practice explores through moving image, performance and sculpture, how identity is defined and changes within our multicultural societies. Often employing humor and grotesque elements, her research investigates the sense of belonging and of “being in between” cultures.

This new body of work takes inspiration from her interest in the practice of competitive creative dog grooming where dogs are used as living sculptural material to be shaped into other creatures, other animals, cartoon characters, objects, or other extravagant imagery. The white fluffy fur of a poodle is turned into a tiger and a gazelle, stylized into the Seven Dwarfs, or the dog is transformed into a panda or a mermaid. These hilarious stylings raise questions about consent, expectation, categorization and representation of an identity. Reflecting on how identities are staged, constructed and performed within social, cultural and racial categories that frame our subjectivities. 

These incongruous clashes and assimilations of different characters and images into the dog’s fur bring up the concept of self-recognition. Can the dog recognize themselves after being turned into something so far from their own look and nature? Self-awareness is the ability to think about yourself as an individual and to realize that you are separate from others around you – to have a sense of self. It’s considered a prerequisite to understanding that others might have different feelings or thoughts than you do. Luckily dogs recognize themselves through the sense of smell, not visually like humans do. So self-awareness is wrongly considered a distinctive trait that distinguishes people from animals. Still, these dogs – staged, tamed, bewildered, sometimes proudly over the top – are objects of our gaze, looking like a cursed meme: a disturbing and weird image which makes us question the reason for the image’s existence in the first place. The sense and perception of “us” and “them” is altered. Amazed, disoriented, these images make us question: what are you? Maybe these canine friends are also asking themselves: what am I? 

Competitive dog grooming references are used by Hlalo to create an absurd scenery: in the video the artist has canine features, white makeup and a muzzle. She is showing us her groomed stuffed dogs. The video is presented in the exhibition space, which is covered with blue curtains, simulating the contest stage, alongside 4 rugs which are the colored and groomed furs of the animals presented in the video. They are hung like hunting trophies of exotic prey.  

This new body of work reflects on and plays with competitive creative dog grooming to introduce us into an absurd scenario to think about the ethics and politics of gender, racial and cultural identity. 


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