Ears erect, tail curled under its body, the tiny tortoiseshell cat has its back to the viewer. Feline thoughts are heavy on its angled shoulders as it perches upon thin air, high above jagged peaks and an alpine lake. At the lake’s edge, in stencil, run confounded Second World War policemen wearing circular metal hats.
Morphism III - Dumbfounded, by Martin Parris, is the third in his series of three works at Lolcat - Teh Exhibishun, a new art show in London attracting all too predictable attention.
“Can we take the LOLCAT phenomenon and elevate it to the level of art?” Is the question asked on its promotional literature at the Framers Gallery, near Soho. Evidently, you can try.
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If you don’t know what a lolcat is, congratulations, but to humanity’s eternal shame it can rightly be described as a phenomenon. Just type the word - a conjoining of lol, online speak for ‘laugh out loud’, and cat - into Google Images, and brace yourself for a tsunami of powerfully weird and dangerously unfunny nonsense.
There are millions of them. The premise is simple. Take a picture of a cat, add what you think the cat is thinking, but spell it like a toddler (cats are thick, after all), then tweet it, post it on Facebook and send it to everyone with whom you’ve ever exchanged an email. “I Can Has Cheezburger” is probably the most famous, the caption written beneath a fat Persian blue grinning apologetically for having seemingly just shat on the rug. Its name was given to a wildly popular blog that would eventually secure its founder a £20m investment.
But is it art? Well no, though Lolcat - Teh Exhibishun, with its 49 works on a theme of Lolcat is giving it a decent go.
A series of cartoons by Anthony Smith succeed where all the unknown billions of actual lolcats fail, in that they are genuinely funny. One, entitled Dameow Hirst, depicts a bespectacled cat, proudly displaying his latest work - a dog, bisected and suspended in formaldehyde.
But alas next to it hangs I Has Found Wormhole! by Alix Lind. Two black outlines sit in adjacent frames. One is a cat from the front, the other a cat from behind. For the artist, and precisely no one else, “This piece pays homage to the extra-terrestrial pursuits of the feline species; specifically their interplanetary mischief and flagrant disregard for the space time continuum.”
Elsewhere in the two room gallery, three large photographs of cute tabbies lovingly anthropomorphised in apricot knitwear are on sale for £210 each, or, unframed for £15, which may shed a little light on their artistic merit.
“It started with my daily twitter interactions with my friends, everyone always sending lolcats to each other” admits Jenny Theolin, the Swedish curator for whom Lolcats - Teh Exhibishun is the culmination of nine months work. “Once, I challenged my friend Francis to send me one lolcat an hour for a whole working day. He did it! Eventually I started a blog called lolcatalogue, and then via twitter I asked if anyone would want to do a physical exhibition of lolcats, and it went from there.”
Cats have long beguiled intellectuals. T.S. Eliot rather tragically expended a sizeable proportion of his most productive years writing poems about them, which in an Oppenheimer-esque fable came to be misappropriated by Andrew Lloyd Webber and debased to form the musical Cats. Ms Theolin suffers the same inexplicably common enchantment, which she thinks explains the overwhelming march of the lolcat.
“It's their intellect. They have so many hidden layers," she claims. "Just today i was sent a video of a dog barking at a cat, and when the dog turns round, the cat starts miaowing. How can you imagine what the cat is thinking there?" She is not finished. "What lolcats do, is they get people to communicate in a completely different space online. There is just so much to cats, their personality, and things you can play on. It evokes more creativity than loldogs or lolgoats could ever do.”
Within a day of the exhibit opening earlier this week, 12 of the 49 had already been sold. Manuel Archain’s,The Smallest Cat In The World - a photograph of an adorable little kitten sat in the shadow of giant mugs, pencils and other paraphernalia, and made to look the size of a bit of belly button fluff is available at £2,100. It’s partner, The Biggest Cat In The World, is slightly cheaper, and shows a smoky grey feline deity nestled in green mountains towering over an Eastern Temple.
For those with weightier matters on their minds, Lizzie Mary Cullen’s £450 watercolour, Murdoch Cat, recasts Rupert Brooks and Rupert Murdoch as frightened little kitties. “I found sumfinc secret. I eated dem,” explains a radiantly ginger moggie to her besptacled overlord, as she sits infront of a box marked ‘Super Duper Secret Docs’. You could call it ‘catire’, but then, it’s hard to believe the whole ridiculous thing isn’t.
Tom Peck's verdict:
Cat Rupert and Cat Rebekahm up to no good. This is the sort of satire that brings down corporations.
Morphism III - Dumbfounded
‘Eventually never comes’ is the conclusion one is meant to draw from this tortoiseshell doing The Snowman over some mountains. Except it does, usually in the form of a vet holding a syringe.
Tranz Cat Flickz Rubber Bandz
Paying homage to Eddie Izzard, a transvestite ginger tabby flicks a rubber band. Our lives are complete.
The Smallest Cat in the World
Look at that little kitty. He could fit in a thimble. Adorable. I want him. Ah, he’s two grand.
The tube map, with lolcats for stops. No Catford? No White Kitty? C+.
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