The city has no pens, cages or shelters in which it gathers stray or abandoned animals. Instead it pursues a policy of catching, vaccinating, neutering and tagging the many such creatures to be found there before then returning them to a life on the street. Poster campaigns from time to time remind the city’s inhabitants to feed or give water to these animals, specially as the summer temperatures rise. This now-established shadow population constantly performs a set of subtle but extraordinary demands and gestures in relation to the urban space. The streets are full of them – dogs with their own corners, shop doorways, park benches and traffic intersections, cats in the bushes, running along walls, sleeping on the boxes of books outside a second hand bookshop, or under the tables in a restaurant, or peering from rooftops here and there. In many cases these animals have particular sets of people providing sustenance for them in specific locations – impromptu homes with dishes for water and food, a scrap of clothing for a blanket even, to sleep on. And all this has a strange effect on the public space of the city, populating it with animals that lack either the status or the indignity of ‘ownership’, existing as they do in a physical and social space that’s at the same time highly public and yet which becomes, by sheer dint of their custom, domestic. The ubiquitous presence of these animals also thrusts a strange collective responsibility on the city’s inhabitants, tying them in a collaborative project of nurturing whose rules and roles are uncertain. At the very least, the population are required to negotiate (with care, indifference or cruelty) the spatial needs of these animals as they lie on streetcorners, sit beneath restaurant tables or hang out beside playgrounds, scavenging what they can. All cities have wildlife of course.. a layer of the natural in the urban, but these animals are sanctioned semi-citizens – loping their way through the crowds, or laying with apparent indifference at the busiest of markets or shopping streets.
Small news. I’m going to be writing a fortnightly column/diary for Guardian on-line imaginatively titled ‘Tim Etchells on performance’. I hope that writing on or around performance there will leave me free to meander here. See above.