Friday, November 16, 2007

The Residency at PIFAS to cat-people in four points

K-Fai's installation at PIFAS

This post could get complicated so I'm going to try and make it as simple as possible:

1. The Philadelphia Institute for Advanced Study (PIFAS), basically a warehouse full of artist studios on 2nd and Cecil B. What sets it apart from most such warehouses is it's concentration on sciences, languages, clubs, and other kinds of think tanks--it even hosts a residency.

2. The Residency is called The Eric James Johnson Memorial Fellowship and it (quoted from the website) "provides a living space, a studio, a bicycle, and a computer for one month to qualifying artists with projects they wish to complete in the city of Philadelphia. The program is completely free and comprises no stipend; however, fellowship recipients are automatically considered for the Benjamin D. Letzler Genius Grant, awarded to scientists and individuals deemed to have made an indelible contribution to the discipline of public education." A conversation with Residency Coordinator Ramsey Arnaoot lead to the discovery that the Benjamin D. Letzler Genius Grant is really $36 and the bike provided is a folder but that is not the point.

Past Eric James Johnson Memorial Fellowship recipients Ursula Böckler and Georg Graw created a Drive-In and screened films of their own making.

C. The point is that this residency has been bringing some far out people into Philadelphia, people as far out as England or Germany and they have been using their month in Philly to create some interesting projects (not only art but music, writing, or whatever.) It is a great program aimed at demystifying residencies and helping free-thinkers get the time to think.

4. Recently I attended a video viewing and installation exhibition by resident K-Fai Steele who draws cat-people.

Othello, cat-people style.

I must admit that I didn't really get the cat-people adaptation of Othello that was on view, I thought perhaps it was supposed to be some absurdist play on the shakesperean tragedy but couldn't really make anything out of it. The installation of life-sized paper mache cat people was more compelling, but I admit, just as mysterious. It all seemed kind of whacky and I almost dismissed the whole thing but something made me visit K-Fai's blog and ask her a few questions. It turns out the cat-people are all actually self portraits and that I actually feel a comraderie with a lot of her drawings:

"The first questions that people generally ask are "why cats?" and "why self-portraits?"  When I was a kid, I drew myself and my family members as people with cat heads.  I'm not sure where I got this idea from, I would love to say it was divine inspiration, but it must have originated directly from me imitating Gary Larson or Richard Scarry.  I realize now that drawing myself as a Cat-Person allowed me to draw without the shame and luggage that traditional figure drawing demands.  Also, cat faces translate to the human face better than, say, dogs or alligators, and cats were the only pets that my parents allowed for us to have--"have", meaning we fed them and they roamed around our barn pissing all over my parents' carefully collected antiques."

A detail from a drawing called "In Every Cry of Every Man, In Every Infant's Cry of Fear, In Every Voice, In Every Ban, the Mind-Forge'd Manacles I Hear". See more pics by visiting K-Fai's blog.

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