Your cat memes have more to say about you than you'd think

Curious about why cats rule the internet? Find your answers through art at IAP's 'Scratch' event, coming up this Wednesday

Everybody knows that cats rule the internet.

Our little furry feline friends are everywhere: our homes, our hearts and especially our cyberspace. The Pew Research Center reports that 45 percent of videos uploaded online feature animal stars, and the first video to ever go viral on YouTube was a simple recording of a cat reacting to inquisitive puppies.

We even have cat celebrities, such as Grumpy Cat, who attend conventions and have merchandise based on their internet popularity. 

It's pretty clear that the ubiquitous nature of cats online has something to say about the widespread appeal of felines. But what does the constant barrage of funny cat videos and pictures have to say about us as humans?

In an upcoming art exhibition, ASU assisstant professor Marianne Kim and traveling Chicago-based artist Joseph Ravens hope to tackle that very question, as well as examine the way the nature and function of the internet has shifted over time.

The event, called "Scratch," is a week-long exhibition from Nov. 9 to Nov. 16, with a performance on the opening night from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m at ArtSpace West on ASU's West campus. 

On the opening night, the students will be putting together the pieces that will remain in the gallery for the week-long exhibition. What is left behind after they finish putting together their pieces, the remnants and residues, will be the backbone of the gallery.

The event is free, open to all, and is a combination of the work of 28 Interdisciplinary Art and Performance majors taking Kim's Contemporary Performance class. These students will be performing short task-oriented performances during the gallery that are meant to remind the viewer of the behavior and nature of cats, such as unwinding balls of yarn, or LED TV screens simulating fish tanks. There will also be video elements, singing and sculptures. 

There are four roles a student can play: chanters (someone who walks around singing), scratchers (who scratch at a chalkboard), students wound in yarn or students doing the unwinding and finally, a few students will be in the center acting as sculptures.

The inspiration for “Scratch” originated from the cat memes, but evolved over time to broadly question the internet’s relationship to our most human, basic desires.

“I think the cat memes have something to say about our desire to connect — our longing to connect,” Ravens said.

The exhibition is what Ravens called a “cyborg idea” — the contrast yet combination of technology (in the form of LED screens) and simple, everyday materials like yarn. Ravens said one of the biggest challenges of this piece was taking cliche home-made materials often used in performance art, such as yarn, and putting them to a new and insightful use.

While it's meant to evoke a reflection on our societal connection to the internet, the art piece is also meant to inspire a personal understanding of our individual relationship to cyberspace.

“Despite being an educator, I don't hope the artwork to be didactic," Kim said. "I simply hope it shows how ideas can manifest through object and artfulness."

Tatiana Crespo, an IAP senior, will be performing in the production as a singer and one of the students wrapped in yarn that will be unwound. Crespo is a student in Kim’s Contemporary Performance class and has worked on her part for a month in the form of weekly rehearsals.

Crespo said she’s excited to perform in “Scratch” because it's not the kind of art you usually encounter in a gallery setting, and it has the potential to broaden perspectives about what art can encompass. She said she's also excited to be a part of something exploring our relationship to the omnipresent Web.

"We're kind of in an infantile stage in our relationship with the internet, where we use it for mostly pleasure in the form of funny videos and social media," Crespo said. "I'm interested in seeing people's reactions to the gallery. But beyond that — It's just a fun process ... that I hope people can relate to."

Visit "Scratch's" event page for further information about the week-long exhibition.


Reach the reporter at cagoldin@asu.edu or follow @auruming on Twitter.

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