Tapestry artist Kayla Mattes, whose work often looks at the wider world and the way we discuss it digitally, has noticed something specific about internet culture’s fondness of cats. Across social media, many meme fans will notice that cats are used in a variety of ways, leading these furry creatures to have a variety of roles and representations in society. The artist realised: “Cats have this incredible power on the internet,” she tells It’s Nice That, “to disseminate information through memes, and Instagram fame.”
This realisation led Kayla to consider the possibility of making a series of “cat-centric” works, a project which would be the next step in her work utilising tapestry “as a means to slow down and archive the chaos of the present moment, in regards to digital consumption, climate change and socio-political issues,” she explains. In turn, the series represents “the catastrophic result of human’s ecological impact on Earth from the perspective of cats.” The results, which are in equal parts alarming and hilarious, feature a whole troop of feline friends, some who are angry or frustrated, maybe nervous, and often “travelling in packs, kind of like protestors,” she points out.
Settling on cats as an area to represent these themes in her work, Kayla also begun to think about the representation of cats in relation to femininity too, “especially when explored through a historically feminised medium, like weaving,” she tells us. “We can look at cat-lady stereotypes, witches, and even language like ‘cat-calling’ and ‘pussy’ and note that there’s this cultural connection between women and cats.” Diving deeper, the artist also points out how there is often “this socially accepted disdain for cats, something that isn’t permitted with dogs,” she says. “Cats are gendered as female and dogs are gendered as male.” Consequently, this adds a whole other level to Kayla’s brilliant pieces which, “in the context of the work” represent marginalised voices, “especially since weaving has a history of being used by women as a political tool.”
Viewers of Kayla’s Cat-astrophe will begin to unpack the nuanced ideas which fill the artist’s work upon further inspection, but the immediate element which draws audiences in is her use of humour. The first to admit this, Kayla explains that the level of humour within her work demonstrates a personal interest in “what happens when comedy and tragedy intersect,” she says. “Humour has the ability to make the unthinkable easier to process.” And in this case: “The cats provide that outlet.”
Outside of the immediate use of cats in the series however, it’s also Kayla’s approach to naming the works which has had us cracking up with laughter. A self-described “strategic decision to title the works in LOL-cat speak to frame each scene with a cat’s voice to amp up the humour,” examples include: HALP! TEH HOUSE IZ ON FYRE! (“a reference to Greta Thunberg’s iconic message”) and wut will they fed us when all teh fishes r gone? Compositionally, these pieces act differently depending on the comment Kayla is making. Some pieces are “intimate honed-in scenes of perilous situations that the cats are attempting to navigate” for instance.