Spatial practices with Mixture
By Masha Lifshin and Cat(s)

Started on: 05/12/09 11:21:38
Medium: Sculptural

My cat Mixture has occasionally shown himself interested in my activity when I am engaged in fabricating/artmaking. When I would cut graffiti stencils in San Francisco, he would jump right up on the table and closely examines what my hands are doing. He also changes the environment around him through acts such as clawing or playing with string. These activities leave behind material traces. I hope to work with Mixture, using my knowledge of the materials he may be interested in, to produce sculptures or installations. Mixture is clever and likes learning and solving puzzles in a playful context. He and I have highly developed protocols for play that I hope to build on to initiate collaboration.

Below are some photos that document Mixture's aesthetic practices to date. Unfortunately, I'm still tracking down the photo of his most spectacular piece, a full-sized roll of yarn draped all over, around, through, and across a whole apartment.

aesthetic traces of sharpening claws over time. sharpening is an activity both functional and pleasurable for mixture.

aesthetic traces of sharpening claws over time. sharpening is an activity both functional and pleasurable for mixture.

aesthetic traces of sharpening claws over time. sharpening is an activity both functional and pleasurable for mixture.

paper and string are materials that interest mixture.

mixture plays enthusiastically with a blue string tied to a fan.

mixture is excited about string.

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Project Updates
05/12/09 11:45:07 - Materials of collaboration

I have collected materials that I think Mixture might be interested in working with, based on past behavior.

These are the materials:

* Moss
Mixture likes clawing and digging the earth and its leafy covering when he is outside. He also liked digging in the garden. This material could evoke such associations for him. In addition, Mixture would probably be fascinated by something moving underneath a loose layer of this moss, it would playfully remind him of hunting a small animal.

* Feathers
Feathers are a standard ingredient of cat toys. Of course, they remind Mixture of the birds he wishes he could cat (someday! ;D). Also they have good dynamics as the move through the air, the way the wind picks them up and spins them as they move creates the impression of an animal's random, erratic flight. This material could work well for Mixture.

* Batting
This is the sort of material that Mixture enjoys kneading with his paws. Other similar materials are blankets, bedding, cushions, etc, as well as people's tummies. Kneading is a purely pleasurable activity for Mixture. It is an activity that makes him comfortable and happy, and is sometimes a preparation for sleep or a way to connect with people. Although he is not intending it, claws are sometimes involved as part of the way his paws move, so kneading on a material such as this batting could be sculptural.

* Yarn
Yarn is a longstanding obsession of Mixture's. On a few spectacular occasions, he has managed to pull an end of a whole roll of yarn out of the cat toy drawer, and stay up all night tearing around the apartment with it in his mouse. This creates spectacular webs and patters of bright colored yarn everywhere he has raced, both a trace and an installation. Mixture hasn't done this since he has stopped being an indoor cat (LOTS of pent up energy) but maybe he could be persuaded to try again.

* Paper [not pictured]
Mixture has displayed an enjoyment of paper to claw, to hide under, and to pounce upon if it is moving or rustling. These activities affect paper in a sculptural way. Collaborating with Mixture around working with paper could also yield aesthetic results.

* Grasses/leaves [not pictured]
Whenever Mixture and I play outside, he loves to chase and jump for and pounce on leaves and long grasses that I wave around for him. When he was an indoor cat, he systematically terrorized all plants, ripping and biting their leaves until they met their demise. He particular covets a spider plant in LA that we had to move out of his reach. Every time we would take it outside to water it, he'd run after us making great sounds of longing. So, plants are also an exciting material that Mixture wants to get his hands on.

materials of collaboration.

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Comment by Ash (05/13/09 12:02:07):
I would have never thought of doing a project like this! Good thinking! Your cat seems to be busy with that chair. I would like to see more pictures, if you can, of him doing more work the chair.

Comment by leonachen (05/12/09 22:19:38):
I really like what you are doing. I have two pet rats, and its been extremely difficult trying to collaborate with them. But it seems like you have everything set up. How were you able to figure out the materials you needed?

06/08/09 02:47:42 - 18 May 2009: Scratching play post construction

I used several of Mixture's materials of interest to create a scratching post and play sculpture for Mixture. The sculpture will change over time as the cats take interest in it and modify it through their actions, as well as through weathering by the elements.

* Batting
The patting forms a soft, thick base for scratching into and stretching upon.

* Yarn
I wrapped yarn repeatedly and tightly around the form to hold the batting in place and to form string layers for intriguing motion possibilities. Some of the string was also wrapped loosely, leaving tendrils and strands dangling for batting and swatting, as well as for moving around the area. Mixture started moving a piece of the yarn hung this way, unintentionally, as it was attached to his tail. I instinctively removed it (see video) before realizing it could have been the beginnings of modifying my sculpture and making art of his own, as he has done before with string.

* Grasses/Leaves
Grasses leaves are interspersed for pouncing, clawing, and chewing. These plants also have interesting smells to investigate, and attract hunting and play behavior when they are moving around, and especially when there is a rustling sound component to the action.

* Bird's Nest
I crowned the sculpture on one side with a bird's nest. Mixture was initially intensely interested in the odor of the bird's nest, and pounced on it.

As I built the sculpture, both Mixture and Little Kitty, the other feline denizen of the household, took an interest in it as a new addition to their familiar environment. Once I built it, they were again uninterested until I started rustling and moving the sculptural elements from a hidden position around the post. Little Kitty, the younger and friskier of the two, was very curious and playfully approached, but Mixture chased her away, seemingly protective of a sculpture he perhaps sensed was intended for him. The images show the construction, and the videos document the morning of play that resulted when it was first completed.

Some criticism I received on the piece were that its aesthetics were very messy and organic and natural, and that wouldn't cats prefer something pristine to claw at and destroy? I think this is valid and plan to apply it in my future object-making for Mixture.

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06/08/09 04:08:24 - 22 May - 4 Jun, 2009: Bed traces

I decided to further explore plant materials in Mixture and my spatial collaborations. I have noticed that Mixture has certain 'beds', places around the house that he frequents and where his body has created recognizable depressions in the dirt, which I identify based on that as well as on seeing him in these locations. I decided to fill these depressions with plant material to see how they deteriorate, possible through Mixture lying there and displacing the elements, and partly through weathering. Was it the wind, or did Mixture lie there?

Mixture sleeps beside, but not inside of one of the plant matter beds.

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06/08/09 04:25:37 - 28 May 2009: 'Kou Ack Ack' Interspecies Collaborat

Cat Scratch Fever

For the interspecies collaboration show, I decided to create an installation that would allow people a feeling for what it is like to have the claws of a cat and the satisfaction of scratching. I created a pair of special gloves out of fleece and sharpened metal dowel that people could insert their fingers into to have paw-like mitts as well as curved metal claws. They were somewhat dangerous! On the gallery wall, I used a large quantity of the same batting material in order to create bulbous, volumetric forms stuffed with leaves and plant materials. Gallery visitors were invited to don the gloves and to scratch the human sized construction. I thought the piece was successful in that during the four hours of the show, the pristine batting was completely destroyed and the were leaves eviscerated all over the floor below!

cat scratch fever




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