This Magazine

Progressive politics, ideas & culture

September-October 2004

Animal magnetism: Stuart Ross interviews Doug Melnyk

Stuart Ross

Doug Melnyk  with Lucy by Larry Glawson

Doug Melnyk is the author of two provocative books of fiction, Naked Croquet and Doctor Meist, and his video art is included in the National Gallery of Canada, the Museum of Modern Art in New York, and other public collections. His recent visual art projects Moving (aceartinc, Winnipeg) and Adam & Steve (Forest City Gallery, London, Ontario, and AKA Gallery, Saskatoon), influenced by Bruce Bagemihl’s book Biological Exuberance: Animal Homosexuality and Natural Diversity, attempt to situate queer sexuality in the context of popular ideas of nature. This Magazine literary editor Stuart Ross flung some questions to Doug at his home in Winnipeg.

You draw, write, make audio and video art, and do performance pieces. What unifies your work in all these disciplines?

What unifies the work is storytelling. The story is the heart of the thing for me, even if the narrative is a non-linear one, like most of my writing in Naked Croquet. In visual art projects, like the installation Adam & Steve, in which the gallery is covered with a procession of tiny animal drawings, the two men meet under palm trees for a kiss. There’s a certain sense of a story—like, what happened before the kiss? And what will happen afterward?

Smiley may be the hero of “My Last Visit to Lester’s,” and animals figure in much of your other work. Plus, you’ve got a dog, a rat, a couple of cats at home—what’s the deal?

I am obsessed with the life stories of the many creatures I live with. In the case of rats, who have a ridiculously short lifespan, the whole story plays itself out within 18 months or two years. Sad—and also humbling.

Has Lester ever shot a man in Reno just to watch him die?

Lester is actually my Siamese cat, who does enjoy Johnny Cash music, but he’s really a pacifist who lives only for love.

Does Winnipeg as a city influence your art?

Winnipeg has always influenced me as an artist because the community is so supportive and diverse. Many artists move from one discipline to another, finding loyal audiences will follow them, and mixed-media collaborations occur all the time. Because we are so isolated, we feel we have to make it all happen by ourselves.

What do you do when you’re not making art?

My boyfriend and I like to stay up all night long watching TV. Sometimes he will bake a pie in the middle of the night, and we will eat the whole thing at 3 a.m.

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