Memes & cats, pop art of a new era

tl;dr: The Walker makes a bold statement about something seemingly ubiquitous. A new movement in pop art is born.

This summer, I ended up at the second annual Internet Cat Video Festival, which moved to a new and larger venue, the Minnesota State Fair. This year’s festival was also the launch of a new international aspect: planners stated that it will be travelling to small and large venues across the world (the schedule is yet to be released). The festival has even spun off in some other locations too, with Oakland hosting its own in May of 2013.

Surprise festival. Maybe you attended the festival, planning on cat videos from the opening time to the absolute finish, not expecting that the inclusion of “festival” in the event name would result in live performances, and other festival accoutrements from local businesses (the Kitty Cat Klub, naturally among them). After arriving promptly at the beginning, and confronted with musical numbers, a friend and I discovered to our dismay that the actual video portion was shockingly far off into the evening. But, we stuck it out and well, the hour and a half of solid cat videos more or less placated us— we could no longer complain about the exceptionally awkward second musical act.

Human aspects and cat celebrities were by no means absent. The festival took time to honor those humans who turned on the camera and pointed it at their cats. More often than not, the human owners and videographers were surprised to end up in the place they had. Grumpy Cat (Tardar Sauce) was particularly of this origin: his owners simply uploaded a photo one day to Reddit, and boom, instant celebrity. Grumpy Cat’s presence on stage was for his internet adorers as a Papal visit would be to Catholics, except in this case, the Pope met with Buddha: Little Bub.

Film? A quick peek around Twitter during and after the festival provided some skepticism from self-identified film people that maybe “film” wasn’t the right way to describe the medium. What was it about these short and widely viewed clips— sometimes humorous, sad, or even introspective— that qualified them as film? This question is the answer. One could further question what even qualifies memes as art. Well, for starters, cat films, lolcats, and all other kinds of memes, static or dynamic, are a form of self-expression. There’s room for admiration in that a quick glance at one of these pieces is all that is necessary to understand the meaning, the context, and where the author/artist (qua feline) is coming from.

Yes, it’s art. Yes, it’s film. To not want to call it either is to be a little defensive. It shouldn’t be a problem for such a broad domain to take in some new territory, so, why even patrol these borders? To deny entry to this new member is to devalue the whole of what is film or art.

Maybe the average animated gif, or clip on YouTube of cats in their element does not seem like enough to qualify individual pieces as art though: and indeed, the film festival did mostly show a curated set of films that demonstrated some intentionality (amongst them, Henri)— but, there was time for many of the incidental recordings of cats reaction to their environment. Including these with the more intentional set of films demonstrated that by participating in the meme, the uploaders are participating in the form as a whole. So yes, they too, become art. It is thus, just as important to recognize the movement as it is the individual members.

It’s also important that these things are being presented (for the second time) in a serious (or well, official) context, which the Walker Art Museum has made space for. By snapping up lolcats and the relevant tags on YouTube, the museum has given an endorsement to internet cat film as worthy of standing alongside other artists and genres within its walls.

If the festival should grace your town, just go. You can watch the whole lineup on YouTube (or Vimeo, or whatever), but the experience is key. Much like Rocky Horror, where the audience particip—— etcetera makes the whole shebang enjoyable, you might find a larger audience than could fit on your own sofa will thoroughly improve your enjoyment. Oh, and, leave your allergies at home.