An Artist Has Enlisted the Purr-Fect Exhibition Tour Guide

An Artist Has Enlisted the Purr-Fect Exhibition Tour Guide

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Art & Exhibitions

She’s a cat named Kovu.

Kovu the cat at Candice Lin’s exhibition at the Monash University Museum of Art, or MUMA, in Melbourne, Australia. Photo by Tim Stone.

For her first museum solo show down under, Los Angeles artist Candice Lin has enlisted an unusual tour guide: a fluffy, blue-eyed cat named Kovu.

Kovu is a trained pet actor hired by the Monash University Museum of Art, or MUMA, in Melbourne, Australia, to take visitors through “Candice Lin: The Sex Life of Stone.” (The museum tasked a professional animal talent agency with finding a relaxed and friendly feline for the job.)

The artist has worked with live animals before, although not with mammals—previous works have incorporated Madagascar cockroaches, silkworms, red worms, and Dermestid beetles. But as a cat lover, Lin has long been intrigued by the feline perception of the world. (Her own cat, actually makes a cameo in the show in the 2024 video The Animal Husband.)

“Cats ‘look’ at art with the full sensorial spectrum, using smell, sound, taste, and touch to interpret art and the world around them,” the artist said in a statement.

During tours, Kovu, who is also accompanied by a professional animal handler and curators Pip Wallis and Francis E. Parker, is free to come and go at will. A journalist for Melbourne paper the Age visited with Kovu, and the cat walked straight out, and never returned. But that’s probably not a value judgment on the work.

“I don’t think he’s operating on a like/dislike level. I think he was curious about certain elements. The sound, the movement of the water. And the nice cool floor,” Lin told me in an email.

She believes cats to be interlocutors with the spirit world, and that purring is a way for cats to transmit telepathic mind-control messages. Lin hopes Kovu will help visitors to engage with the haunted qualities of the works in the exhibition, as well as issues such as power dynamics, what makes us human, and our relationships to animals and the world around us.

The exhibition features two video works and several installations by the artist, including I Breathe Through My Anus (Night Stone), a co-commission with the Biennale of Sydney. The work incorporates manganese-gold-glazed ceramics and an audio track telling the story of a sex slug’s sexual transformation.

“Kovu was entranced by I Breathe Through My Anus (Night Stone), which includes a spinning centerpiece and running water—he was slow-blinking at this work,” a museums spokesperson told me in an email. “He particularly enjoyed Lin’s two video works, which both feature cats—he took the opportunity to lie on the floor in that gallery space and relax for quite some time during the tour.”

MUMA has had experience working with animals in the past, installing a live bee hive for a Mutlu Çerkez show in 2018, and enlisting a dingo to walk through the galleries during the creation of a new work by George Egerton-Warburton. Before hiring Kovu, MUMA ensured that the project would meet the standards of the Animal Welfare Victoria’s code of practice for the Welfare of Film Animals.

The first of two free cat tours took place on July 6, and was “a fabulous success,” the spokesperson said, “with Kovu leading human visitors through the exhibition in unexpected ways.”

So far, guests have had nothing but positive reports about their time with Kovu. (And tickets for the second date of cat tours is already sold out.)

“It was an incredible experience,” Australian artist Vipoo Srivilasa told the museum. “The excitement of anticipating what the cat might do or where it might lead us was so much fun.”

“Candice Lin: The Sex Life of Stone” is on view at the Monash University Museum of Art, Caulfield Campus, 900 Dandenong Road, Caulfield East VIC 3145, Australia, June 29–September 7, 2024. The next cat tour is July 20, 2024 at 2 p.m. and 3 p.m. 

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