Twenty years ago, performance artist Holly Hughes never would have seen herself doing dog shows. Now they're the subject of her one-woman show called The Dog and Pony Show which she’ll perform at her alma mater, Kalamazoo College Saturday night at 8 p.m.
Hughes is best known for her somewhat provocative performances about her experience as a lesbian, growing up in Saginaw, and her misadventures in the lower east side of New York City.
“Some of these performances are stories that provoked controversy and the religious right. Kind of central in the culture wars about 20 years ago," says Hughes. "So my work is generally associated with gay material and autobiographical storytelling.”
When Hughes moved back to Michigan to be with her partner, her life changed dramatically. She became a professor of Art and Design, Theatre and Drama at the University of Michigan and mother to six dogs.
“What are the things that I can do in Michigan that I can’t do in New York? And having a dog and getting it to shows," Hughes says. "Because I’m one of those people who doesn’t just do a thing like get a dog like a normal, rational person does. They have a pet. No, I have to have like ‘adventures’ with the dog. And the adventure in my case were going to the dog shows. And in part they started out as a desire to make friends with people and have a life outside of academia.”
Hughes says over time she started to see similarities between the dog show world and the gay community she was a part of in New York.
“I would say that the dog show world felt, and feels, very very queer. It’s a subculture world and its organized around a set of bad object choices. It’s mostly middle aged women who love the wrong thing too much—i.e. dogs—and spend an enormous amount of time with their dogs, organize their lives around dogs. It feels slightly shameful, as if you’ve stepped over some boundary of having a pet. Too much of your life is about the dogs. And people would relate to me the way they might have related to me 20 years ago in New York about gay stuff. It was something that was barely tolerated.”