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Art for cats? Yes purr-lease!

10 March 2023

Introducing Rakewell, Apollo’s wandering eye on the art world. Look out for regular posts taking a rakish perspective on art and museum stories.

Cats are avid consumers of culture, as Rakewell can attest only too well. Your correspondent has often arrived home to find books chewed half to pieces. Moggies are well-known to enjoy a bit of telly; according to one vet, Jillian Orlando, they are ‘attracted to the quick movements of objects across the screen’, which help to satisfy their ‘prey drive’. (The same urge might describe why humans watch Tarantino films, or Love Island.) But for reasons unfathomable, this has seldom translated into art made specifically for cats – until now, that is.

A new project by Abi Palmer, Abi Presents the Weather, has set Rakewell positively purring. This series of four films documents the artist’s attempts during lockdown in 2020 to recreate the outdoors for her indoor cats. The first, Rain, is available now and sees Palmer fermenting autumn leaves to produce the scent of petrichor in her south London apartment; the others, which are being released on Artangel’s website on consecutive Tuesdays this month, take on the challenges of winter fog, spring sunlight and summer heat.

The films form part of the ‘World Weather Network’, an alliance that sees artists and writers in 28 countries reporting on their local weather. They are also a meditation on ‘life that can’t talk back’ – and it is true that by far the most compelling thing about Rain is the presence of Lola-Lola and Cha-U-Kao, watching Palmer’s experiments with amazement, bemusement, or something else entirely. Rakewell is reminded of the stellar effort during lockdown of Jessica Atkins, a vet at the Royal Veterinary College in London, in creating a six-foot museum, complete with miniature works by Michelangelo, Monet and Picasso, for her tabby Richard Parker to enjoy while convalescing from an injured foot.

But how much of a salve can a feline Napoleon Bonaparte crossing the Alps – or indeed, the sensation of the seasons – really be for a pent-up pussycat? Sadly, both Palmer and Atkins neglected to keep a guestbook for their installations – and without any inky pawprints to decipher, Rakewell is forced to concede that this remains one of the great art-historical meowsteries.

Got a story for Rakewell? Get in touch at rakewell@apollomag.com or via @Rakewelltweets.