The first time I met Puppies Puppies (Jade Kuriki Olivo), they are wearing a mask, dressed as a minty green Statue of Liberty for their 2017 contribution to the Whitney Biennial, Liberty (Liberté). We do not speak. Their performance recalls the drag of Times Square street performers and, more simply, the act of hiding in public—a gesture that feels proportionally out of tune with the exhibition’s premise of discovery and name recognition. Anonymity and its tensions within a world structured by the hierarchies and languages of governments, institutions and corporations remerge over and over in Puppies’ work. “Body Fluid (Blood),” the Los Angeles-based artist’s fall exhibition at the Remai Modern in Saskatoon, Canada, resurrected the elusive Lutz Bacher with Puppies’ own interpretation of the late conceptualist’s Stress Balls (2012). In this version, the squeezable balls scattered across the floor resemble droplets of blood, the kind one might receive as a blood drive souvenir. You could pick one up and compress it, watching your ownveins bulge. However, “Body Fluid (Blood)” offers an opportunity for a more intimate participation with HIV stigmatization than that of the work of Bacher or Félix González-Torres. There was a room for intravenous contributions thanks to Saskatoon Sexual Health and Canadian Blood Services, who helped enable on an on-site clinic. The purpose was to demonstrate that through presence, one can erode stigmas and create access to care. Puppies embodied personal responsibility through their own participation in the work and what they asked of others.
Their most recent performance took inspiration directly from life. It involved Puppies lying in a coffin with death mask makeup for their collaboration show with Eliza Douglas at Galerie Francesca Pia in Zürich. “My dad passed away recently,” Puppies says. “I dedicated shelves stocked with survival supplies to him. I remember during Y2K and other moments he would stock up for future disasters. He wrote poetry towards the end of his life. I want his poetry to exist infinitely.” Then they share a poem, a piece of which is here: An Eden I so wished to see / No shape or form did I possess / Man or beast? I could not guess, / But strange it seemed I felt no fear.