Jenine Durland

DoggyCorps is a collective storytelling project that uses the animal to transcend geographic borders and political persuasions, mapping community through the voices of city dogs.

If city dogs could speak, what would they say? Rogan, who lives in Brooklyn, recently shared the barriers to becoming a male model in the Big Apple, while Max, fresh off the boat from Staten Island, explained current treatments for his urinary tract infection.

DoggyCorps is a collective storytelling project that uses the animal to transcend geographic borders and political persuasions, mapping community through the voices of city dogs.

The project consists of 50+ edited oral interviews averaging 45 seconds in length and each with an accompanying hand-drawn portrait of the featured dog. I have animated 10 of the most popular stories over the course of the year, all of which can be found on the website I’ve constructed,

Launched in New York City, DoggyCorps will soon be on national tour, hopefully in a neighborhood near you.

No rethinking of human or animal identity is likely to emerge, it is clear, if art and philosophy choose to present the animal primarily as matter for human ’solace and pleasure.‘ -Steve Baker, “What is the Postmodern Animal?

I was fortunate enough to take Marina Zurkow’s course “Animals, People & Those in Between” my second semester at ITP. Through in-depth readings in theory, philosophy, and historical research regarding animals, I returned to thinking critically about our relationships with our pets, but this time with a greater focus on the narratives we create for and around them.

When it came to focusing on one animal, you’d think that choosing the dog would be an easy choice for me, but it actually wasn’t. I spent most of the semester attached to the idea of studying cockroaches, mostly because I was tired of the cliched use of dogs in media, or as “matters of ‘solace & pleasure’” as art historian Steve Baker would say. It seemed more interesting and “artsy” to jar people’s perspective by using an animal that we despise than by going into the territory of domesticated pet.
But as I dug deeper into representations of dogs over time, I grew more interested in the possibilities. The photo spread you see above was from a calendar I made in response to common representations of dogs in media, and particularly the cute dog calendar you see everywhere. These are all actual photos of working dogs at war, and let’s be honest, they’re a little disturbing. Seeing dogs wearing gas masks is not something you usually pair together.

At this same time, I was in Marianne Petit’s animation course, learning Flash and AfterEffects (and still teaching myself Photoshop) for the first time. Both classes combined when I came back to Bitch Blotter territory and decided to experiment with a new storytelling tactic: Instead of writing stories from my own little world, why not go out into the big city and see what other people had to say? In that way, DoggyCorps was born from a mix of interest and curiosity--I had no idea what I was going to get.
These stories, while focused on the dogs, are as much a portrait of New York City as anything else, and as portraits, they offer glimpses into the lives of both people and dogs in a city where anything and everything is possible. Often, our animals can open up conversation, offering a wealth of new interaction points and information about our neighborhoods, if we’re only willing to listen. My relationship with my dog, no matter how special it is, is a common one. We love our pets and dogs are humans’ oldest companion species. They are truly our best friends, and we spend most of our time with them learning how to communicate. In this regard, no matter what walk of life you come from, if you have a dog, you have a lot in common with your other dog-owning neighbors. If you take another step back, as I hoped to achieve through the animations, I’d argue that the things we say for or as our dogs actually have more to say about us humans than about the dogs themselves.

That said, each interview is an exercise in giving up control. In the course of my fieldwork I’ve found that the more I let go, the more people are willing to open up to me. On countless occasions, the best stories have come only moments after I’ve turned off the recorder. It’s a constant process, learning to ask the right questions and listening for threads that might lead to a story’s center, and always, at every instant it seems, adapting to the unexpected. In short, building a relationship with a stranger in less than twenty minutes. But this process is one that suits me. When I sit down to work, alone in front of my devices, it’s these dogs and their humans with their different perspectives that keep me company in the long hours of editing and frame by frame analysis and animation.

In my editing and presentation I've worked to share stories that blur human and dog identity most interestingly, whether the end result be a comic one-off or a deeper meditation on existential issues. I usually start with somewhere between 10 and 20 minutes of audio, wherein I sift to find the most compelling story. It’s a process I find most satisfying.

Broad audience; all ages.

User Scenario
Web-based animations and audio pieces.

The project, while drawing from experimentation with paper and electronics, is currently based on the website,

In the end, there’s no denying that DoggyCorps has been at the center of my exploration of interaction and technology-mediated storytelling here at ITP.
With each arc of this project, I’ve confronted challenges in both my physical and my mediated environments, constantly questioning my methods and goals. In the course of my interviews, I've met a real cross-section of New Yorkers and, if not come to truly understand the city, I’ve come to appreciate the diversity of the people who live here side by side.

Through the website & physical interactions, I am beginning to form relationships with strangers around the world. The connections and feedback I’ve already made have prompted the next phase of this project as I take to cities across the country. Following in the footsteps of John Steinbeck a half-century after he wrote “Travels With Charlie,” chronicling his cross-country journey with his companion poodle, I’m excited to take DoggyCorps in search of America. As I begin including more people in the creation of content, my hope is that this project will continue to grow as an engaging platform for community.