Daniel Handal writes:
“With ‘Cats in Costume’ I wanted to work on a project that was colorful and pertinent, but also absurd. Inspired by the popularity of cats wearing costumes online, it occurred to me that there was something to be said about why these images are so popular. Cats have become symbols of the internet itself—wild, playful, chaotic—and also a major source of cultural obsession, a phenomenon that was explored at length by the Museum of the Moving Image in New York in its 2015 exhibition titled ‘How Cats Took Over the Internet.’ Around that time I started to notice a shift in our collective feline fascination, during this new era of cultural change and political uncertainty. Even though we have always enjoyed sharing memes and viral videos of cats doing wacky things, today we may no longer find them as comforting. As part of an ongoing shift in consciousness, I have seen an increase in the popularity of internet cats acting like dogs (cats are not, for example, so easily dressed up in costumes). Perhaps by sharing images of cats whose behavior reminds us of trained puppies, we can be reassured that we are capable of restoring order to our lives, which at times can feel swept away by fast-changing technologies and by the sense that we are all interconnected in a world that might appear beyond our control.
“I was also thinking about the lifespan of online content, particularly of these nonsensical images. When someone takes a silly picture, posts it online or shares it with friends, these images are subsequently (re)shared and (re)posted; some becoming viral, others totally forgotten. What if I took such images and hired a painter to turn them into oil paintings, one of art’s most traditional mediums? Would these physical objects outlive their digital counterparts?
“Sol Lewitt famously wrote that ‘in conceptual art the idea or concept is the most important part of the work.’ This has been true from the moment Marcel Duchamp exhibited ‘Fountain’ in New York in 1917, the iconic urinal that ‘severed forever the traditional link between the artist’s labour and the merit of the work,’ as defined by Rob Sharp in The Independent. Nobody knows what happened to the original sculpture, but a photo of the work taken by Alfred Stieglitz was used to reproduce 16 replicas of it in the 1950s and 1960s, with the approval of Duchamp. These ‘Cats in Costume’ paintings use a similar approach: they are fabricated to specification from preexisting images.”