The Amazing Bow Wow1976
The Amazing Bow Wow tells the tragic tale of a hermaphroditic dog, reduced to performing as a tent-show freak. Problems begin when Bow Wow's owners, small-time carnival impresarios Babu (Stanton Kaye) and Rexina (Lynda Benglis), discover that their dog can not only talk, but is also highly intelligent. Its extraordinary abilities provoke fear and jealousy in Babu, and, conversely, affection and protectiveness in Rexina. As Bow Wow's relationship with Rexina becomes sexually charged, Babu attempts to castrate the animal, but in a terrible twist of fate mistakenly cuts off its tongue.
The Amazing Bow Wow is a witty, troubling farce. Recalling the traditions of Commedia dell'arte, the tape's over-sized characters, with their primal motivations, are caught up in a dramatic narrative of perverse confusions and misapprehensions. Benglis satirizes and undermines the conventionally understood Oedipal complex: In this trajectory, the father attempts to castrate his "son" in order to determine the latter's gender as female, and thus to terminate the nascent incestuous relationship that he has observed. The resultant mistaken silencing of Bow Wow may also refer to and satirize Lacan's theories of subjecthood: The father inadvertently returns his "son" to the pre-Symbolic.
The Amazing Bow Wow is a confrontational study of gender and sexuality. It is remarkably prescient in its open-ended approach to sexual identity and its canny troubling of gender definitions. The work is also a critique of the artist's position in society: The exceptionally talented subject is perceived as a threat to the order of things and must be normalized and contained.
Benglis acted as a feminist agent provocateur in the art world of the 1970s, with her sexually explicit critiques of female representation and the role of women artists (see her infamous Artforum Ad, November 1974). The Amazing Bow Wow can be seen as integral to and unique within this body of politically engaged and often outrageous art works.
[Source: Electronic Arts Intermix catalog]