In the final third of John Russell’s film DOGGO (2017), produced on occasion of his solo exhibition of the same name at Kunsthalle Zürich, a hybrid human-rabbit creature, portrayed by a woman wearing a prosthetic animal mask, watches a heron through a pair of binoculars. The character produces an animated gun and announces, “I was an optimist once… I think it is still possible… to be an optimist.” An illustrated butterfly floats across the screen, in a loop for a moment, like an animated GIF. The character turns the gun on herself, and pulls the trigger.
Taking place in a dystopian future, DOGGO is a kind of absurdist neo-noir that defies cogent explanation. The film ostensibly details the search for the aforementioned ill-fated character, “Prysym Lee,” by a pair of post-human detectives. A man with the head of a bulldog, who sports tentacles for hands, and his side-kick, a woman with the head of a fly, venture through a monotonous sci-fi landscape, a seemingly endless network of highways and banal office interiors, interviewing a cast of bizarre characters on their quest to find Prysym’s location.
A characteristically imaginative and willfully obscure film, DOGGO appears as a self-contained universe. It renders in broad aggressive strokes a tangle of images that seem to originate from some place that is completely alien. Its experience frustrates many of the de facto methods of art-historical interpretation. Its characters appear like avatars for absent human bodies—avatars with appearances, genders, and personalities that are in a constant state of flux. Watching the film, one is overwhelmed with a sense of discomfort, as the film’s characters occupy some uneasy territory, perhaps even a chasm, between virtual and actual.