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Egerton-Warburton, George - 2016.39

George Egerton-Warburton

Dingo 2014
non-toxic paint colour-matched to Tony Abbott’s sweaty face, walked through the gallery by a Dingo
Purchased 2016

When a viewer comes upon Dingo, by George Egerton-Warburton, they will notice a scattering of pink paw prints across the gallery floor. These represent the remains of a canine performer who has stepped through paint before strolling across the room: no ordinary actor but a dingo, no less. The elusive dingo has a complex and contradictory position in the Australian imaginary. A native animal whose untamed nature connects it more strongly with the wolf than the domestic dog, the dingo’s presence is felt deeply in the romanticism of the wild, unpredictable Australian landscape.

Merryl Parker explores the negative representation of the dingo in early colonial texts and writes that, because dingoes killed sheep, there was a strong impetus for settlers to cast them as cunning and treacherous.[1] Unlike the dog, which laboured for the farmer and protected his economic interests, the dingo was seen as an unauthorised sheepherder that treacherously usurped the sheepdog’s position and destroyed livestock.[2] So great was this association in popular consciousness that the word ‘dingo’ became a slur used by Australian politicians against one another in parliamentary debates. Additionally, the highly publicised 1980 murder trial of wrongly convicted Lindy Chamberlain, in which she maintained that a dingo took take her baby during a camping trip at Uluru, has further built the dingo’s notoriety.

When a dingo is brought into the gallery on a lead, this imaginary is carried with it. Unlike the farmer, Egerton-Warburton carries out a transaction with the dingo, so that it is walked like a tame dog. While the work takes on the elusive quality of the dingo itself, its momentary domestication adds a tinge of melancholy to the transaction. Dingo represents a different side to Egerton-Warburton’s body of work that uses the Australian farm to pose questions around the transactional nature of domesticating farm animals, highlighting the way capitalism mutates our relationship with the natural world.

Not a generic pink, the paint that sticks to the dingo’s paws is colour-matched to a photograph of former Australian prime minister Tony Abbott’s sweaty, flushed face after racing his bike. We are presented with a pair of dingoes; the living dingo evokes the political ‘dingo’, creating a vibration between the complex associations that are embedded in the cultural construction of the dingo. While I would hesitate to draw out greater political commentary, the physical exhaustion on Abbott’s face reminds me that he referred to himself as a dog when he first entered parliament, announcing he was keen to be a ‘junkyard dog savaging the other side’.[3] This comment came to haunt him, as he was unable to transform himself from savage dog to statesman during his time as prime minister.

Dingo is emblematic of Egerton-Warburton’s practice, which is not restricted to a single medium but often takes the form of text, sculpture, video and performance. An instructional work with only an ephemeral trace in the gallery, Dingo uses the cultural construction as a conceptual principle to unpack the animal’s rich and contrary symbolism.

Liang Luscombe is an Australian artist based in Chicago, USA.


[1] Merryl Parker, ‘The cunning dingo’, Society and Animals, vol. 15, 2007, p.70.

[2] ibid., p.72.

[3]David Marr, ‘Tony Abbott is in trouble because he never let the junkyard dog go’, The Guardian, 6 Feb. 2015, accessed 5 Oct. 2018, www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2015/feb/06/tony-abbott-is-in-trouble-because-he-never-let-the-junkyard-dog-go.