I'm Shauna, and I was never that keen on Instagram – until my partner became disabled by long Covid and started sending me a steady stream of cat reels. But why, and what was I to make of them? My project Ping, Purr explores the role of this cat content in our relationship, framed by chronic illness and its impacts. Poetry and illustrations will come together as an artist's book, to be included in Carolee Schneemann's Cats at Blindside Gallery in Melbourne (November 2023), as well as a printed chapbook. Would you help me achieve this outcome?
A writer on art, animals, and nature, I am a member of the newly convened artist collective Cats Like Plain Crisps. Our inaugural exhibition at Blindside pays homage to Carolee Schneemann (1939–2019), remembered for her trailblazing performance art, experimental film and video, and critical work on gender, sexuality, and the body. We also adopt Schneemann's muses – her cats – as our own. Companions and co-conspirators throughout her long career, cats infiltrate her work, as we witnessed in a recent retrospective.
Reading her advice on nursing an ill cat put my partner's reels in a new perspective. "Just because she is ill does not mean her capacity to care…is diminished,” Schneemann wrote. Since Helen became severely enfeebled by long Covid almost a year and a half ago and had to put her life on pause, losing herself in animal videos has been one of her few escapist pleasures. As for me, I hardly had the capacity; the Instagram notifications were only making new claims on my overstretched time. However, I soon saw past the humour or cuteness on the surface: sending a reel had become a gesture of care from the cared-for.
I have written a poetic text on these themes, and stills from the reels will form the basis of a series of tracings or drawings. The obstacles now ahead are the usual: it will take precious time to work on the twenty-odd drawings and construct the artist's book, and materials and printing have their costs.
Contributing to this cause means more than helping me illustrate and self-publish my poetry; it means investing in a creative professional at a critical point in her development. But it especially means supporting a freelancer and mother who suddenly found herself working double time, both at her desk and at home, while her partner is severely unwell. It's not easy for me to ask in this way, but a bit of help would make heaps of difference.