By Harry Dodge
The title, found in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, refers to the fable of the ass and the lap dog as told by French fabulist Jean de la Fontaine (1668). In the fable, the lap dog receives caresses when he rubs against his master, but when the ass tries the same action, he is abused and beaten. The Ass and the Lap Dog focuses on similar problems of transposition, or of flawed translation—of being ill-equipped, untrained, displaced, not “passing”—which could also be thought of as a type of homesickness (“maladie du pays”).
The video explores such states via a series of heavily-edited monologues by performers, most of whom speak English as a second language. Each of the “interviewees” is taken to a site, and asked how it reminds them of home. Each responds with a confused examination of the site, ultimately confessing that it in no way makes them think of “home.” Perversely, each is then overcome by “a really clear concept of a video” they’d like to make, and suggests that they describe, on camera, the imagined video “instead.” What follows is a set of absurd, mercurial, and linguistically complex monologues, all of them heavy with Dodge’s authorial idiom. These monologues eventually accrue into a sort of poem that proposes, however obliquely, a fresh look at cultural mores, gender norms, and by extension, gender fluidity.