SYMBOLIC OBJECT: FERAL CAT FEEDING STATIONS
Contributions: written proposal, site visits/interviews, design (clipped ear), video documentary production and editing.
This project and the course in general affected me in ways that were unanticipated from the outset. It hadn't occurred to me before how to approach a project in the social realm without being plagued by ideologies and dogmatism. The challenge posed by this particular project was also one that I hadn't any prior familiarity with in my own art. Quantity production of an object has never been an interest of mine; nor has the symbolic nature of objects been something that I consciously reflect on at great length. It is therefore with satisfaction that I note the following about this project:
It has helped me to understand better how we as people invest meaning into things around us
The collaborative process has taught me a lot. Ironically, I have been collaborating with people for the last ten years in the contexts of film, design, and consultingbut never in the context of art. The best part of the collaboration was that it required me to "let go" of finding the perfect subject or starting-point, and as a result I became more focused on the process and form the project would take. Because of my disinterest in the topic of cats or charities (expect for independent media), I took a very sincere interest in scrutinizing our approach and the form the project would take. Simultaneous readings of Harrell Fletcher allowed me to accommodate the majority's preference for cats and took this as an opportunity for me to concentrate on the direction the piece would take.
The project was going to be about full-immersion and exploration. While we spent a lot of time debating about what the object might be, the object problem would soon be completely subordinate to our efforts to meet these people and get to know them. It became clear very early in the project that the symbolic meaning of the object would be created through personal bonds established between our team and the community of feral feeders. In this way, it was critical that we spend as much time as possible getting to know them and taking a sincere interest in their persons and activities. Being genuine was a constant concern as the last thing we wanted to do was to be insensitive or disrespectful towards people that were opening up to us. Incorporating these interpersonal dynamics into the art process was liberating for me... socializing art.
Interestingly, I have noticed that this "genuine interest" we took in the feral feeders was discomforting to certain critics of the finished piece who would prefer that the piece was more critical or edgy. The thought of creating bonds out of a genuine interest only to amount to evidence of the same is pointless I suppose for people who have more specific agendas to force. So, compromising on a topic for further investigation proved to be the first hidden gift.
Dan and I spent a lot of time together on this project chasing cat feeders. His enthusiasm and personable approach with people was a great experience to be a part of. At some point I'd like to learn more about his ongoing project at Harvard GSD which involves a salt-pile in Chelsea. On one trip, he and I had secured a six-inch stack of office papers from the Merrimack Feline Rescue Society. These would later be used by Naveem to produce the maps of fifteen different townships and the cat colonies within their borders. In any case, the process of photocopying these documents at a New Hampshire Kinkos involved destapling all of these papers, running them through a photocopier and re-stapling them all again. We had one hour. At one point, we became confused as to which sheet had last been photocopied and whether they were still in order... in the end we sorted it out. But the occurrence prompted a realization which stayed with mea community had placed its trust in us with its original documents for the purposes of our own art project. This kind of exchange is new to me in the context of art.
The group worked well together. Some people were more involved in the site visits while others invested more time in the production proccesses. As a result, some of us were more involved in creating the relationships while others were more involved in production of the actual objects.
When we first visited the shelter I spent some time photographing products for sale in their gift shop. As we spent more time with Patte, it became increasingly clear that there was a gap between the kitsch world of cat paraphernalia and the humor exhibited by the cat feeders and trappers themselves. When we were tasked with finalizing a design for the object, this gap became part of the challenge. By incorporating the "clipped-ear" into the design, I thought we could acknowledge the personality of the feeders and trappers as well as their own notions of the "ruggedness" of the cats they admire. In the end, this hunch turned out a great success as exhibited by Patte's excitement: "This is the first time we've ever had anything of the feral... anything with the clipped/dodged ear."
Because our approach to the project was largely focused on creating relationships with a community, I felt it was crucial that we produce adequate documentation of our interactions with them. The final video is worth a viewing; while it is slow-paced at times, it conveys the depth in conversation we shared with the community and Patte in particular. It includes a trip to the MRFS, trips to numerous feeding stations, a team meeting, and giving of the objects.
The project continues...
Tonight, the feral cat feeders are having their holiday party. Receiving an invitation to the event was in some ways the height of the project for me. Perhaps the best thing about the experience has been to create a work of art that continues to expand; what began with a few students has had a ripple-effect within the community. In many ways this project continues to grow, even though the initial show has been taken down. It is therefore fitting that among the many volunteers of MRFS, a professional photographer will be documenting the final distribution of the gifts at the Holiday party. These photos will be later sent to those of us working on the project, and with the volunteer's consent these photos will be posted on the project website along with other documentation from the show. Additionally, it's been indicated that the digital files used to create the original objects will now be used by the society to create objects which will be sold to raise funds for the shelter... the project continues to expand.
When saying farewell to Patte while she wore the yellow feral pin, after the hugs, our last words exchanged wrapped it all up:
Patte: I think you gave more than you got.