The name Cave Dogs summons all sorts of possible references—from the ancient Latin cave canem (beware of dog), to Plato’s Allegory of the Cave (especially since the group works extensively with shadow play), to some pack of feral canines holing up in a cave. In reality, this collaborative group of artists, musicians, writers, and performers began in 1991 with a shadow play performance in Rosendale’s Widow Jane Mine (the Cave), directed by the then recent SUNY New Paltz MFA graduate Suzanne Stokes. That first show premiered as Cave Core, but Stokes broke away from that group shortly thereafter to form Cave Dogs, generating six new productions in the years since.
Although the new moniker was chosen largely by chance, the felicitous layering of meanings and images that it carries with it aptly describes the group’s complex collaborative performances, which combine sculpture, painting, shadow puppetry, music, and video projections on a large theatrical scrim. An overload of sight and sound, their most recent piece, “Archeology of a Storm,” creates an elliptical, allusive journey through multiple generations of residents in a New York City apartment building, raising questions about history, legacy, and politics. This work will appear as part of the Kingston Sculpture Biennial 2007 in an open air performance in Hasbrouck Park on Friday, October 5 at 8pm. Bring a blanket or a lawn chair, and decide for yourself what it all means.
Cave Dogs on Their Work
Current personnel in the group include: Suzanne Stokes, James Fossett, Michelle Hughes, Dan Getman, Jeremy Holmes, Tracy Leavitt, and Amy Schoonover. Individual speakers are identified by their initials.
What is it?
SS: “Archeology of a Storm” is about legacy and what we leave behind us—physically, environmentally, conceptually, just everything. So when the war themes came in, it happened as a result of all the rest, just naturally. We didn’t start from a pedantic point about war. I have a problem with that kind of artwork. I didn’t want this artwork to be seen that way. I think there’s a lot more to it than that.
DG: No truly collaborative piece could ever be as simple as that. A collaboration with so many different people, so many things going on, visually, sonically, in shadow and image and acting, projections—it could never be that simple or unitary.
SS: I hesitate to call it performance, because that carries all kinds of connotations with it that the work is absolutely not. But it is performative. I think it’s closer to theater than to anything else, but it doesn’t start that way. It’s started through the visual, and sound. My sound bite, when I’m trying to get a venue, is: “Cave Dogs is a shadow-based theatrical company,” or something like that. Even that doesn’t really cut it. It’s a genre unto itself.
TL: It can’t be just like painting, or sculpture, or a puppet play, or something cut-and-dried like that. It’s all those things, and it’s none of them individually.
DG: And nobody has ever seen anything like it, unless they’ve seen another Cave Dogs piece. Because it doesn’t fit into any of those categories, it’s hard to explain, and hard to understand. It challenges the viewer in a way, as well. How do you look at shadow play like this, when your brain’s never done that before? How do you look at video in relation to that, and what are they saying? There are so many things going on that the viewer has to put together, different from anything they’ve ever experienced before.
SS: People do try to categorize it, but the first 10 minutes of the show they’re just going “What is this?” I don’t have a problem with not having a name for it—only when I’m trying to explain it quickly to somebody.
Genesis of a storm
MH: I live next door to Jim and Suzanne; our kids are close friends. I’ve been writing for a while, mostly for myself, when to my great surprise, Suzanne came to me and asked if I would write this story [“Archeology of a Storm”] for Cave Dogs. It was an amazing process. It took a year and a half to write the play, I think. It was a collaborative venture. The Cave Dogs began to think about some themes—like legacy, what we pass on to the next generation (both positive and negative), and the war had started, 9/11 had happened, it was an emotionally tense time. As we worked on it, it became about community, about family, about this house, and the things left in this house, the legacy of war, and that’s how the story evolved. We read it a number of times as a group, then I’d go back to work on it, and come back—that’s how the character development happened.
It was very funny—I said to Suzanne, “Get with the group, and come up with some themes, and I’ll begin to shape the story from that.” She came back with three pages of visual images! These were all artists, but luckily I have an art background, so that helped me understand what they meant by all that.