A CATS CRADLE
2011, A Cats Cradle (a mountain cat becomes a house cat),doors, tables, ping pong table, ping pong balls, recycled wood, rice paper, string, 200cm x 200cm x 300cm
Alongside the market sellers and artists that live and work in Daein market are the numerous street cats carving out lives amongst the shops, studios, streets, alleys and produce. Encountering and interacting with these cats is often a daily occurrence for many people in the market, whether it is seeing cats foraging food bins at night, taking refuge beneath the shop tables or in artists studios, stealing fresh fish from store tanks, scurrying across the avenues and labyrinthine structures of the market at twilight. These feral cats are a stark contrast to the recent arrival of studio cats, felines with a more comfortable residence with their human artist companions. In recognition and contemplation of the sociality between human and feline dwellers in this urban context, as well encompassing part of a more personal tale, this cat house was built and designed to provide shelter for the street cats living in Daein market.
Previously we had encountered and rescued a one-month feral kitten one night from two old, drunk and disorderly people in a market restaurant, and who had him tied up with an unnecessarily heavy rope. Consequently, he has now become our feline companion and though we unexpectedly encountered him at an inconvenient time we ecstatically welcomed him into our lives. Thus we decided to build the cat house as both a gift to the street cats and homage to our cat's former home. Upon thinking about my own and people's desire for animal companionship, the compatibility of cats and people, and our cat's removal from his street life to one of domesticity, it presented considerations of pet subjugation on one hand and self domestication of animals on the other. Could the house serve then as a further transitional structure for the self-domestication of the street cats and recontextualise a set of relations between people and cats in this urban setting?
Building on this question, the design of the cat house is based on the string figure game 'cats cradle' where specifically the pattern a mountain cat becomes a domestic cat serves as the conceptual mechanism. Apart from existing as a universal children's game, string figures are a common practice of storytelling in many cultures around the world and figures performed being largely conditioned by local flora and fauna. Interestingly it is the cat that features more universally in patterns, notable formations include 'cats whisker', 'cats eye' and of course 'cats cradle'. Though it is believed that the term cat in these games derived from 'catch', the name still performs a meditation of domestication and the infantisation humans commonly enact with their pet cats.
Simultaneously, the design was also influenced by cat condo or cat tree houses that people often construct for their feline friends. Though this typical domestic item is somewhat of an indulgence to pet cats, such structures, with a few modifications, would also be beneficial to street cats without compromising and respecing their position as essentially undomesticated wild animals.
Questions of submission often associated with pets are also a concern of design; materials submitting to form and form rarely surrendering to concept. Nevertheless these concerns are always dominated by desire.
People will always desire to interact with animals, but where co-presence or coexistence is about a peaceful state of being, cohabitation concerns a practice of interaction. Here, the cat house presents cohabitation as an instigation of an attentiveness and respect for neighbouring social agents within socially charged spaces.
Like the parallel lines drawn in the string figures, the cat cradle design further parallel's Donna Haraway's 'cats cradle' theory. Haraway perceives string figures as a making and practicing of relations, where relaying of patterns and the flow of receiving and adding something new by proposing 'another knot into the web' creates places of speculative fabulations, new considerations and subjectivities and experiences of affinity rather than identity. In regards to human's relations to non-humans, the explicit presence of the cat house presents a different politics, a becoming animal or rather becoming minor, as Deluze put it. Instead, rather than as a politics that seeks representation, it performs as a new phase of a longer process - deterritorialisation - that is catalysed by existence in cramped social spaces, perhaps in which cat's own territorial significance, which is believed to have been intensified by urbanity, is brought into sympathetic relation with our own especially within the confines of urban habitats.
Utilising discarded and recycled materials from around the market, including doors from traditional Korean Hanok, the cat house aimed to emulate and expand on existing market structures and spaces inhabited by cats. While not intending to emulate traditional styles, the doors inevitably transformed the structure to take on imaginary forms and functions. As its construction became final, it revealed itself as more of a poorly restored historical artefact. From the house's consequential pseudo muselogical presentation came a fictional mythical narrative describing the cat's social role within the market and the use, function and history about the house itself. Ultimately it takes on the appearance of a figurative monument espousing a tale (see below) of the street cat's existence, relations, survival and labours.
Text and myth by Daisy Bisenieks