The film program George and Mike Kuchar’s Furry Family, presented by the Gene Siskel Film Center and the Video Data Bank, began with Mike Kuchar silently sitting next to a large model dinosaur in his San Francisco home. Before the screening, Curator Jordan Stein admitted to the assembled audience that Mike’s opening remarks were unknown, as the video had been created only days ago and airmailed to them express. In response to this momentary intertwine of intimacy and mystery the audience subtly swelled with a giddy, shared anticipation. Such giddiness was befitting the Kuchars’ artistic legacy; a legacy shaped by a participatory and active community. Mike and his late brother George created hundreds of short films, their oeuvre bookended by time in the New York underground and George’s tenure as an instructor at the San Francisco Art Institute. Kuchar films share a large heart; an offbeat desire to connect with others.
This exploration of human connection affectionately shines through Furry Family’s interspecies lens as Mike begins his opening statement with the sentiment that “people are complicated . . . our relationship with animals isn’t . . .with animals it’s pure.” So then begins a love story, one between the Kuchars and their pets. Though several of George’s later films, Cat House (2007) and Lumps of Joy (2004), focus on his life with cats Lilly, Tippy and Blackie, the most effectual of the series is The Mongreloid (1978) an ode to George’s dog Bocko.
The screening accompanied the exhibition George Kuchar: Bocko (2016) at Iceberg Projects. George’s love for Bocko is the thematic focal point of Stein’s exhibition at Iceberg. The 16mm The Mongreloid, shown at the Gene Siskel Film Center and again at Iceberg Projects later that night, explores George’s relationship with Bocko. George tells of dog and man’s misadventures set to jarring tonal and musical shifts connecting Bocko’s first introduction to a horse, his indifference towards George reading him “the National Enquirer” and George’s musings on Bocko’s anal surgery. Each interaction imbues a sense of absurdity. However, it is an absurdity firmly grounded within an aching human reality; that an emotional attachment to an animal ameliorates loneliness and isolation. Such tender desire for connection only reinforces the potency of the Kuchar’s communal legacy.
The film accompanies several delicate portraits and photographs of both man and dog, two of the works being George’s oil paintings. George’s Bocko (1970) is the only painting in the space featuring the famous dog alone and is by extension, Kuchar’s most emotionally naked work. Bocko stretches over waves of aged floor tiles tinged with a bruised hue, ear held at attention but eyes closed to the presence of a gleaming orange ball. Kuchar’s hand is tight but gestural. Bocko’s coat shines through a gentle light diffused against cracked wallpaper. It is a work of unabashed adoration by a man who embraced the goofy and profound sweetness born of a furry family.
George Kuchar: Bocko is at Iceberg Projects (7714 N Sheridan Rd) until October 30th, 2016.