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Art Wed Sep 30 2009

The Cat IS the Hat

cathat.jpgIf you were at the West Loop gallery openings on Sept. 11, you may have noticed a girl walking around with a dead cat on her head. As it turns out, the girl is an artist, an MFA student at UIC, and her name is Rebecca Beachy. The cat hat is one of her new pieces. I paid her a studio visit last week, and we talked about her work.

Kelly Reaves: Did you know that if you google "West Loop gallery openings," one of the first things that comes up is Alicia Eler's post on Chicago Now about you and your taxidermied cat hat?

Rebecca Beachy: Yeah, I saw that but I didn't know that it comes up when you google the art openings.

KR: Yep. You were at number three the first time I checked it but today you've moved up to the top. And your hat was also mentioned in an article on Art Talk Chicago about the openings. So I think it was a hit. How did you come up with the idea to make the hat?

RB: Most of my art was already concerned with material and I started thinking about the mythology of cats. I have been thinking about puns. You know, the cat in the hat. The cheshire cat. And then the LOLcat website which is such an obsession of people in our generation. So I thought it would be interesting to re-purpose the cat body to make connections between the body and the image and the mythology of the cat. The cat hat was my first project along those lines.

KR: How do you go about making a hat out of a cat?

RB: It was a gift from a UIC professor, Dan Peterman, who is an artist and ecological activist. He found it in his back alley over the winter. It was a frozen kitten. He says he knows the lineage of the feral cats that it comes from. So I took it and I did research on the internet and figured out how to skin it and tan it and form the hat. I had to change the form a little so that it would fit on the head. Part of what I like about the design is that it looks like the cat is sitting on the head. The back is what's unnerving about it because you see the tail and the legs. And that was going on right around the time that I got another cat from Carolina Biological Supply, which I've put human baby teeth on and turned into a puppet. That was a completely different way of the working with the body because it was preserved. So there's that dichotomy going on. The found cat that dies in the winter in the alley and the cat that you're not exactly sure where it came from. But they use them in science classes all over the US.

KR: Is it expensive to buy a cat?

RB: It was $40.

KR: How did you become interested in taxidermy?

RB: I have been doing work with nests and insects for a long time- natural, found materials. I was a little intimidated to work with a corpse, something larger. Although I don't think there's a very big difference. It's just that, psychologically we have a different response to a dead mammal vs. a dead wasp. I don't eat animals. I'm a vegetarian. I'm interested in the disconnect between the meat that we eat, the leather that we wear... all these ways that animal bodies are used. We're not connected to the process at all. My impetus for doing this project was to try to master that, the connection with the animal before it's shrink wrapped in the grocery store, before you buy your leather belt or your leather shoes at the mall.

KR: Are you going to make more wearable art, in addition to the kitten hat, moving into the fashion realm?

RB: I was thinking of pushing it a little further. I like the idea of absurdist fashion. Not commercialized, just deliberately over-the-top, funny fashion. I was thinking of making some squirrel slippers. There are so many ways that you can dress yourself up like an animal. What if you use the animal skin instead of the fur? I am thinking about the big, puffy Hello Kitty hats. What is it that you are identifying with about the animal? What if it was a real one, instead of a replica? It would be viewed differently, wouldn't it?

puppet.jpg
A cat marionette puppet by Rebecca Beachy
 
 
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Savvas S / September 30, 2009 3:09 PM

Disgusting

jennifer / September 30, 2009 3:35 PM

Boy, am I ever sorry I clicked on this link. I'm going to hug my cats a little tighter when I get home.

Claire / September 30, 2009 6:09 PM

great interview! wondering if the previous comment authors even read it?

LaShawn Williams / September 30, 2009 6:21 PM

Different--different, INDEED...

Stephanie / September 30, 2009 6:45 PM

This seems like a natural evolution of Ms. Beachy's work. Very well articulated, those who think it is disgusting had better re-read the interview!

J / September 30, 2009 7:47 PM

I agree with the disconnect between products and their source. How many people who eat meat would be disgusted by seeing a butchered cow or people who wear diamonds be disgusted by the slave labor that has produced them? Unfortunately it often takes something disturbing to capture people's attention.

Ali / September 30, 2009 10:15 PM

Becky and her cat hat rule the cool school.

rarelyapropos / October 1, 2009 3:27 PM

Not only am I sorry I clicked on this, I now have to hope I never run into this psycho anywhere in Chicago so I don't slap her for being disgusting.

Or maybe I hope I do run into her. Someone has to slap her.

Timothy / October 1, 2009 7:44 PM

What a load of garbage. Clearly she came up with the meaning after enjoying dismembering the poor animals. I do not eat wear, or desecrate the remains of animals. This chick is no artist. Just a pathetic attention starved moron.

Gemma / October 2, 2009 1:41 PM

Becky is awesome.

Jen / October 2, 2009 1:49 PM

I have it on good authority that Becky is an amazing human being.
It's reassuring to see so many people getting her point. I'm sorry that not everyone does. They would be better for it, I think.

Cameron / October 3, 2009 12:51 AM

Wow, some pretty big haters. Timothy you really think it's fair to say she enjoyed dismembering the poor animals? Becky puts a _lot_ more thought into her work than you do your commenting, that's clear.

Christopher / October 5, 2009 1:47 PM

For those of you who are haters (Timothy, rarelyapropos, jennifer, Savvas S) I'd be curious to know if you are vegetarian. If you are not please explain how Becky's work is different from leather goods that you wear on your bodies or products made by the fur industry or the meat that you consume. Being offended by this work is a position that assumes you think certain species of animals can be used like commodities and not others. Please contribute something thoughtful to the discussion instead of just trolling.

Bill / November 24, 2009 2:09 PM

Rebecca uses meaningless postmodernist art speak to describe the “dichotomy” her art illustrates. This myopic contrivance of a work adds up to nothing more than a ringing endorsement of animal torture. There’s no dichotomy, juxtaposition or any other pseudo intellectual mumbo-jumbo going on here. It’s a thoughtlessly composed self indulgent spit in the wind that’s no more artistic than a tannery back lot. The only dichotomy this shows is that people with 2 grams of a brain can call themselves an artist and rent a studio space. To those outside of the isolated urbanist hipster anti-intelligence sect, this crap has zero value. It’s not insightful and it’s not stirringly offensive, it’s just... nothing.

Lauren / March 5, 2010 6:51 PM

Becky, u da bomb. I would like to note here that Becky owns an adorable, happy, well-cared for cat. Sorry if that was private information, but now you all know.

Tommo / November 22, 2010 1:00 AM

She didn't kill the cats, she just skinned and treated the hides.
The first cat died of natural causes and the second was a bi-product of animal testing by the sounds of things.
No reason to get angry, taxidermists skin and stuff all sorts of animals, cats are no different. Many people choose to have their pets taxidermied so that they can remember them, rather than chucking them in a hole to rot. Re-using these cat corpses is far less wasteful than just disposing of them in the garbage or incinerating them, which is what would otherwise have happened. I find it hard to understand why people are getting so angry about turning what was essentially stinky rotting garbage, into a form of art. Even if it isn't a form of art that is to your personal tastes. I do not eat, wear or use any product that comes from an animal, but using the corpse of a naturally deceased animal is not wrong, it's just preventing unnecessary waste. Although I find the use of human teeth slightly creepy.

Many of the responses to this post seem rather irrational.
I say good on her for making a statement, and for not harming any animals in the process.

Rob / November 22, 2010 3:00 AM

The earlier poster "Bill" obviously didn't read the article, his statements seemed like he was trying to sound intelligent, but he failed to even make a single valid point. He also said "This myopic contrivance of a work adds up to nothing more than a ringing endorsement of animal torture"
There was no torture involved, she used corpses of animals that had supposedly died natural deaths(although the second cat may not have died naturally)...I do not see any element of torture in this, or any endorsement of torture. Certainly these animals went through significantly less torture than the cattle crammed onto a truck for days without food or water before being corralled into the fishbone kill-floor of an abatoir, just to supply the supermarket shelves with beef. Look at it in perspective.

bob / September 12, 2011 9:19 PM

you really should be ashamed!!! tht poor cat!!! I'm sureu put alot of work into it but honestly if ur doin this keep it to urself nobody wants to see it actually u shouldnt even be doin this at all!!!! think of the innocent animalssss!!!!!!

Cat / January 29, 2014 5:28 PM

this is a sin, disgraceful and this person is NO artist!...I am an artist and I know many artists, this human excuse for an airsucking degenerate is NO artist nor is she a good decent human being and neither would anyone who would think this is cool or ok nor any other king of abuse and disrespect to any animals! PERIOD! yes hope she does run into someone who would put HER in her place!

Elizabeth H / January 31, 2014 8:36 PM

I don't care if the poor kitty was dead already, this is not honoring the kitty or the mythology of cats. The fact she paid someone for a dead cat is horrid enough.

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