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Fecal Matters: First Friday exhibit takes aim at dog poop

Posted: August 1, 2012 - 11:00pm

According to self-described pun enthusiast Ariel Rolfe, while dog poop is often the “butt” of jokes, it’s no laughing matter.

American dogs excrete 10 million tons a year, and rising. At 247 pounds per pooch, Juneau’s canine population (estimated at 9,000) produces a more modest 1,250 tons. But, as Rolfe, 25, points out in her August First Friday exhibit “Fecal Matters: A Mountain of a Problem,” that’s still 18 army tanks worth of dog poop dropped on Juneau every year.

In this one-day temporary exhibit (Aug. 3 from 4:30-6:30 p.m. in Gunakadeit, aka “Pocket” Park on Franklin Street), Rolfe, details the impact of dog poop on the community — specifically its disposal, or lack thereof.

“We all share this beautiful environment,” Rolfe told me the other day as she led me through an advance tour of the exhibit on her laptop. “It’d be nice not to worry about stepping on dog poop all the time.”

Without divulging too much, “Fecal Matters” straddles the line between humorous and informative, shedding light on the problem without seeming overly judgmental. Having recently written on the subject myself (“Slack Tide: Dog Turds of Alaska,” May 13, 2012), I can tell you that’s no easy trick.

“Fecal Matters,” Rolfe’s first exhibit as solo curator, consists of six panels, printed on vinyl decal material and mounted on Plexiglas “so they can last outside for a long time.” After First Friday, exhibit sponsor Gastineau Humane Society will post the individual panels at popular dog-walking trailheads around town.

For, Rolfe, 25, the concept came after reading my column (seriously). She’d already been planning to design an exhibit—about grouse—as her final project for an apprenticeship with freelance museum exhibit planner and designer Sarah Asper-Smith. Originally intending to curate a mock exhibit, Rolfe became taken with the idea of dog poop.

“It seemed like a good opportunity to get people’s attention,” she said. “Plus, I’d already thought of a title and ‘Fecal Matters’ was way too good not to use.”

Born in Fairbanks and raised in Juneau, Rolfe started college at University of Alaska Fairbanks before transferring to University of Alaska Southeast, where she graduated in 2010 with a BA in painting and drawing, and a minor in construction technology.

“I quickly realized I wasn’t going to make money as an artist, but I could as an exhibit curator, while still surrounding myself with art,” said Rolfe, who’d been working as a bookkeeper before quitting to apprentice full-time earlier this summer.

Rolfe’s apprenticeship blossomed from a casual conversation she struck with Asper-Smith one day — Asper-Smith had been speaking about small business ownership to the Capital City Rotaract, of which Rolfe just finished a term as president.

“I didn’t anticipate it would lead to an apprenticeship but Sarah was so enthusiastic, I wound up offering to work for her for free,” said Rolfe.

“I think she knew ahead of time she was going to ask me,” said Asper-Smith via email. “Years ago I approached [Alaska State Museums Chief Curator] Bob Banghart with a similar question, and he gave me a lot of help. I’m happy to do the same for Ariel.”

Rolfe’s apprenticeship has included research, photo editing and cleaning objects, as well as helping Asper-Smith install exhibits (e.g. “When ‘Over There” was Here: World War II in Alaska,” currently at the Alaska State Museum) and refurbish them (e.g. the permanent Native art collection at the Federal Building).

“Sarah’s tried to include me in every step of the process, from walk-throughs and client proposals to soldering brass mounting hardware,” Rolfe said. “I never thought I’d learn so much about how to sand Plexiglas.”

For “Fecal Matters,” Asper-Smith guided Rolfe through a process that involved layers of focusing, eventually resulting in a mission statement, a list of exhibit components—Rolfe will also be distributing a free ‘zine, filled with facts and testimonials and has arranged for local artist/barista Stephanie DeRoo to draw caricatures of people’s dogs. She also devised a list of three main structural points: why is dog poop a problem, how bad is the problem, what can we do to fix it?

“There’s a lot that goes into creating an exhibit—conceptualizing, researching, writing, working with the designer [Christianne Carrillo] to get the right look and feel,” said Asper-Smith. “I provided some guidance, but Ariel was so motivated. Every day she would come with an exciting new fact about scatology.”

While Rolfe’s main goal is engendering responsible dog ownership, she ultimately hopes “Fecal Matters” will raise awareness of possible progressive steps the community can take, such as municipal waste deposit boxes, training dogs to use a “dog toilet” and even composting.

Of course, she also hopes to get a head start on next the phase of her career. Rolfe will be pursuing a Master of Fine Arts in museum studies, exhibit planning and design at the University of Arts in Philadelphia (also Asper-Smith’s alma mater). She starts school “right after the exhibit.”

And for the record: Rolfe, herself, owns a dog—Chena, a yellow lab/retriever mix. Does she always clean up after it?

“Now I do.”

•••

“Fecal Matters,” curated by Ariel Rolfe, First Friday, Aug. 3, 4:30 pm – 6:30 at Gunakadeit Park, aka “Pocket Park,” on Franklin Street.

This is a dog-friendly event.

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