Chicago is a city plagued by vacant lots. It’s also home to, according to the Tree House Human Society, nearly 500,000 feral cats. And artist and independent curator, Christopher Smith, is taking on both in his new project The Terraformer Advancement Towards Interspecific Communication.
Smith commissioned a dozen local makers to design and build shelters for feral and stray cats in an empty lot between Zhou Brothers Art Center and the Co-Prosperity Sphere in Bridgeport. (Smith also lives in the neighborhood.) The outdoor felines will be treated to basic wintertime necessities—shelter, food, water—and some additional aesthetic experiences. After all, these are artist-made objects.
For instance, Alternative Curatorial Practices, the School of the Art Institute class taught by artists Jason Lazarus and Nicholas Wylie, will use the opportunity to think about the long-term care of the cat community “beyond the hilarity, novelty, and excitement of the opening,” says Lazarus.
Lazarus’s class designed its shelter based on soup kitchens housed in local churches. They also hope to monitor the food level in the cat feeder and have set security camera inside the shelters; video footage will be accessible at tatic.weebly.com.
Kevin Jennings, another local artist, built a shelter that resembles scaled-down replicas of the Great Pyramids. His work plays off American’s obsession with cats, a mania that rivals that of ancient Egypt, he says.
“What I really hope for is a back and forth between the cats and other art projects on the site,” says Smith of his project. Smith's additional projects include a artist-made graveyard for a show that paid homage to the tragic history of vacant lot (the site of a tragic drive-by shooting a house fire that killed a construction worker). “Cats are a natural complement to the graveyard show,” he said.
It may seem an odd population to target, but Ellen Miles, founder of CatVando, says that the stray cats are indeed in need of help. “While cats are a hearty breed, they do benefit from shelter against the elements, especially our harsh winters. Without shelter, cats are subject to frost bite, especially their ears and paws and some just freeze to death." Miles also notes that many stray cats are abandoned pets, and are “ill-equipped to survive life in the streets.”
The cat shelters will be unveiled this Sunday, from 2 p.m.–6 p.m., with a public reception in the lot.
The Terraformer Advancement Towards Interspecific Communication opens on October 27, from 2pm–6pm, in the vacant lot south of 3216 S Morgan.