By Hanne Hagenaars

‘Good. So I was an animal, but I do not remember much about it. It is all very vague. Many things happened later that made it clear to me what type of animal I was, but I do not remember much from then. In any case, I was very elegant and soft, especially below my stomach and on the inside of my forepaws. The strongest hair doesn’t grow there, but it is the sweetest. And the cleanest. My skin meant everything to me, it was the only thing in the world that I cared for.’ (F. Harmsen van Beek)

People’s longing to be one with an animal can develop into wonderful sentences on paper, as with the text Strange excuses by Harmsen van Beek. It was with the same intention that Valentina Gal created a digital creature that lives on the screen, a fluffy figure with long, flowing hair, purple and white. As onlookers, we slowly disappear in the perspective of the animal. Together with him, using his tongue, we lick the dish clean. Momentarily, we are a dog. Love of animals can become a far-reaching empathy in which you want to become one with the animal. We see transparent chains, digital drool dripping into an iPhone and in the meantime we listen to the jury report summing up why Valentina and her dog deserve the first prize.

Valentina Gal loves dogs; she visited dog shows and photographed people who care meticulously for their animal and spend hours grooming them. But she didn’t want to be a mere onlooker, she wanted to belong, become one of them. With her parent’s dog, an Irish soft-coated Wheaten terrier, she entered the secret society of dog shows. The dogs have to look perfect, walk rounds and be in harmony with their owner. Valentina won the first prize: best of breed.

During this entire process she noticed that a specific balance of power developed between man and dog, and that such dogs are almost never regarded as a dog, but as an object. Due to the excessive form of grooming and styling, the dog-owners are actually creating a living sculpture.

“I look upon man as a sort of dog, a subordinate who is manipulated by hypermedia. We are kept on a leash by everything that subjugates us,” she said during a conversation with Dirk Limburg.

Valentina Gal wants to show the balance between man and dog. Man manipulates the dog, at least, this is what he thinks. But in turn, man is also being manipulated by hyperrealistic influences, such as social media. As a result, they are losing sight of the border between real and unreal. In Gal’s hyper-realistic world, man and dog are one.