Lorna Mills

“Zen Dog”

April 3 – May 9, 2010

Press Release | Images | Essay | Resume

PRESS RELEASE

Some Walls is pleased to present Toronto-based artist Lorna Mill’s exhibition Zen Dog from April 3 – May 9, 2010.

Zen Dog began as a small ceramic object found in the home of the artist’s mother. Scanned, laser printed, cut, and hand-glazed, the installed piece consists of twenty seven tiled sheets of 8.5 x 11 inches paper pinned to the wall. A superb specimen of a noble creature, is Zen Dog a servant, a companion, a guru, or just a doG(sic)? Read an essay about the work and see images at somewalls.com.

Lorna Mills has actively exhibited her work in both solo and group exhibitions since the early 1990’s. A founding member of the Red Head Gallery and Persona Volare, her practice has included obsessive photography, obsessive painting, obsessive animated GIFs, and recently, obsessive digital video animations incorporated into restrained installation work. She co-produces the artist blog Sally McKay and L.M.. More of her art can be seen at her web site.

Some Walls is a curatorial and writing art project in a private home in Oakland, California. Some Walls is open by appointment only. To view the exhibition online please visit somewalls.com. To schedule a visit, or for more information, please contact Chris Ashley at info@somewalls.com.

Previous exhibitions:
 

IMAGES

 

ESSAY

Zen Dog
 
A majestic dog nobly stands looking right in perfect profile. His– it sure looks likes like a "he," anatomically speaking- his paws are firmly planted, his ears are at attention, and although his tail seems relaxed he is on guard, poised to run or pounce in an instant. His straight back and locked hips and shoulders excude confidence and might. His chest is full and proud as he apears to breathe calmly and with focus, his concentrated and unerring gaze peering off in the distance, ready to act. His shiny lustrous coat indicates the picture of health, an exceptional, prime specimen, a heroic being, a goD(sic). What a wondrous animal!
 
Except this isn’t really a dog, or rather, it isn’t a picture of a real dog. The sheen on the his coat is too shiny, with swirling rainbow highlights that don’t strictly follow a real dog’s contour. And he hangs on a wall, perhaps twice the size of an actual dog, but flat and in pieces. There’s something just a little to ideal and unreal here.
 
Zen Dog began as a small ceramic object from the home of the artist Lorna Mills’ mother. Mills says, "I can’t remember when it appeared or when I noticed it. It’s one of those things that happened to be there amongst a lot of anomalous decorative objects… There wasn’t a major emotional tie or sentimental value attached to it but it has a strong aesthetic pull on me. Of course as an artist, I am thrilled when something particular and peculiar can be expanded to something bigger and unexpected."
 
The ceramic dog began its transition to Zen Dog laid on a scanner bed. Captured, sliced, printed, cut, hand-glazed with acrylic, and attached to plain white paper, the final piece consists of twenty seven tiled sheets of 8.5 x 11 inches paper. When pinned to the wall in the correct order these accumulated sheets present a glorious glossy canine almost four feet high and nearly five feet across. The bottom of each sheet hangs unpinned and free, curling slightly or fluttering in the room’s circulating air so that the overal image doesn’t quite settle onto the wall.
 
This is not the kind of image production commonly possible with large scale printers, easily accessible to Mills, a very tech-savvy artist. Rather than uploading an image to a commerical printing house’s server and getting back a nice big clean print in a cardboard tube a few days later, Zen Dog is printed in what might now be thought of as an old-fashioned way: in sections, hand-cut, glued, glazed, and assembled. In that Mill’s production process doesn’t keep with latest developments, the approach is almost anti-technology: why, in this day and age, should anyone go to so much trouble? Why produce a larger whole from so many pieces? Does all of this effort indicate or demonstrate that the dog, our best friend, was handled with great love and care?
 
In the case of Zen Dog the handmade does matter because it means a unique set of decisions. For example, the constituent pieces of Zen Dog, like building blocks, tell us that the resulting image is scaled up from the handheld original to something new and wall-spanning, as well as something that is portable and easy to store. The contrast between each printed and glazed section and its support is an important effect: we know that each section was trimmed and carefully placed, and the glazed areas constrast with and stand in very low relief against the surrounding plain white matte paper. The buckling of the paper would not be acceptable from a factory-produced piece, yet here this effect addes additional body to what is otherwise thought of as a flat image. And "handmade" can also mean using tools in ways for which they aren’t really intended: the ceramic is an object placed on the flatbed of a scanner, a technology instead suited for capturing flat images but here instead employed as a kind of camera, and not with the usual expectation of a good scan’s fidelity.

What might Zen Dog stand for? Is he ready to help, or is he simply well-trained, and expecting a treat? Is he on duty? What or who is he looking at or waiting for? How did he come to such patience?

Zen Dog as an image is an ideal: his perfect posture, his shiny coat, his presence and eternal gaze make him familiar and desirable, the perfect companion, a family member, a sign of domestic bliss. He has no appetite, no fleas, and leaves no muddy prints across the kitchen floor. He is an iconic beauty with great presence: enigmatic and unknowable, yet the one you want to bring home, the one you want sleeping at your feet, who barks when someone knocks at your door, the one who rescues innocent children from burning buildings and impulsive men who deserve a second chance from overturned cars.

Zen Dog’s pose may make us think of Chinese guardian lions, which have magical protective powers, though those are always in pairs, a male and female; dogs aren’t magical, in the sense given to guardian lions, but they can be supremely loyal, intuitive, and generous. We might also think of a kouros, a sculpture of a Greek standing male, as well as a sphinx; our dog is as handsome as any of those, and seems ready to fulfill any task those beings could.

Zen is a school of Mahayana Buddhism, a Japanese word translated from the Chinese word Chán, which in in turn derives from the Sanskrit dhyana, which means “meditation.” What does our hero ponder? How far off is he looking? Or, as anyone involved in sitting meditation is instructed to do, are his eyes focused a foot or two on the ground in front of him? He has such perfect posture. He is attentive; perhaps his thoughts are self-contained and in the moment. These questions might appear as attempts to attribute ridiculous intentions and abilities to a dog, but remember that Dōgen Zenji (1200-1253) was a Japanese Zen Buddhist teacher born in Kyoto, and the founder of the Soto school of Zen.

Zen Dog may be flat and still, but he sees and knows.

Chris Ashley
Oakland, CA
April 2010

 

RESUME

Lorna Mills (website | blog)
Lorna Mills has actively exhibited her work in both solo and group exhibitions since the early 1990’s. A founding member of the Red Head Gallery and Persona Volare (link: http://www.personavolare.com/) her practice has included obsessive photography, obsessive painting, obsessive animated GIFs, and recently, obsessive digital video animations incorporated into restrained installation work.
 
She has also been a Director and Flash game programmer since 1994. Mills recently taught a studio course in Web-based Art Practices, at the University of Guelph, in Guelph, Ontario, Canada.
 
Lorna Mills co-produces the artist blog Sally McKay and L.M.

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