Studying Mycology with Cat Rabbit October 08 2019
Cat Rabbit is a Melbourne based textile artist and designer who works out of a studio in the Nicholas building and also does sewing in her home studio, with the company of her cat Porco. She makes plush sculptural works of her imagined characters and the worlds they might live in.
Ahead of Cat's upcoming show A (Mostly) Fabricated Mycology, we chatted to the Melbourne maker about her favourite snacks, her evolving creative process, and her fascination with mushrooms.
Interview & photography by Viet-My Bui.
What are your earliest memories of making art?
I used to make things all the time and it’s hard to narrow down to a specific memory, but I remember putting lots of effort into the weekly competition for Saturday Disney (if you wrote them a letter and they showed it on TV you won an inordinate selection of toys). I put so much work into those letters: painstakingly mimicking Disney characters and scenes in coloured pencil and restrained, artfully applied texta, stitching little toys, making a selection of items that I definitely considered ‘high art’ – how could the presenters overlook these overcooked and overblown entries? Well, they did ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.
You recently went on a whirlwind adventure in Japan! What's your favourite thing to do in Japan? And what inspiration do you gather from your travels?
My favourite thing to do in Japan is eat fluffy cakes. ^_^ In between the cakes and other delicious foods, I love just walking around the quiet neighbourhoods and spotting cats and nice plants and houses. I love seeing the characters and mascots that are so prevalent in Japanese culture - that is a huge influence! I also love how craft is just a fact of everyday life there, so you can see traces of handmade everywhere - signs and decorations in shop windows, shelves and displays. It’s very charming and aspirational.
How has your creative practice evolved over the years?
I suppose my work gets more detailed and involved - in terms of construction and execution at least. I’ve developed a suite of felt shapes in my memory bank that I can draw on when needed, so I’ve moved from making very 2D felt cushion-type-shapes to 3D sculptures - which I suppose is just a result of doing something for many hours everyday, and trying to do it better every time. At some point I also decided to up my photography game. It’s all very well to make a nice thing, but if I can’t document it properly, then I’m not doing it justice! I feel like it’s a very important part of my practice to not only make the character, but capture its mood and expression with a well-styled and shot photo.
You work from home as well as from your Nicholas Building studio. Tell us about these spaces. What are your ideal conditions to create?
It took a while to get this balance right. I used to have my whole studio in the city and I found I just never went home. And I like being home. I think the best conditions for me to sew are at home, with a cup of tea and my cat and all my things. I guess that’s how I started, so that’s what I’m used to? I also like having the option of sewing late into the night and walking a couple of metres to my bed. The studio in the city is a shared space and if I’m working on photos, editing, design or on my collaborations with Isobel (from Soft Stories) then it’s perfect, and it’s nice to put in a 9-5 day with colleagues and coffee breaks ^_^ (Though a lot of the time our days are more like 10am til last train).
Your sculpted characters have so much personality and style. Where do you find the inspiration for their outfits & accessories?
Thank you! Much of the time they are outfits that I would like to create and wear myself, if only I had the tailoring skills. Other times they are outfits I’ve seen on the street or style blogs. I love how different people can wear the same outfit but completely differently, just by hoisting their pants a little higher, or tilting their cap to the side.
You are always working on exciting projects, from your own textile sculptures, to product launches, children's books (as part of Soft Stories), animations, installations – my goodness! How do you manage your time and energy levels to do it all?
Truthfully, a lot of the time I don’t. If a great opportunity comes up, I just take it! And if it’s quiet on that front, I often tend to get tied up in creating a new series of characters and see where they take me. Either way, and for better or for worse, I am working all the time. One of my biggest failings is negotiating my optimism and time management - two opposing things.
Your Instagram presence has steadily grown and you were recently featured in the official Instagram page's stories! How do you approach social media & manage the pros and cons of this platform?
I think of Instagram as a tool that everyone can use in a way that feels right and true to them. For me, that is sharing my characters and sometimes little glimpses of what they get up to on my desk. I present my character’s lives, not my own. People seem to react really positively to my characters and I love that they can bring even a small amount of happiness to someone. I didn’t set out to make a big following, and there is a lot of responsibility that comes with having this kind of reach. I’m not sure if I use this reach to its best potential in a lot of other respects but I’m learning and open to getting better at it.
Snacks are often lovingly portrayed in your work. What is your favourite thing to munch on while making things?
I think variety is the spice of my snack life! A go-to is apple slices (there’s something quite comforting about slicing up an apple and eating it from a bowl) and almonds. Crackers with a selection of toppings is also a good everyday snack. My favourite snacks have occurred when I work on a project with Isobel. We are both heavily motivated by snacks, cakes and pastries being a favourite.
If you were to be reimagined as a felted furry creature, what would you be?
I suppose I would be a cat. A chubby brown one - too lazy to chase birds or mice but instead kneads wool into felted creatures with my claws.
Who are your favourite storytellers?
My storytelling heroes are Zadie Smith, Michel Gondry and Miranda July.
Tell us about the concept behind your upcoming show with Outré, and the works you've created for the exhibit!
I have a fascination with mushrooms - both their physical structure and their myriad amazing abilities. I also enjoy how they pop up in books and fairytale settings - they have a capacity to add a magical quality to any scene. This exhibition is a compendium of my own fabricated mycology. Some pieces are based on my favourite fictional mushrooms from storybooks and TV, while others are entirely my own creation. I have taken these vague mushroom memories and constructed them out of felt - in both 2D with felt and embroidery, and 3D in felt and soft sculpture. As well as a family of smaller fictional fungi, I have created some larger pieces - such as a giant sculpture of my cat's head with a mushroom cap - as well as some detailed recreations of scenes such as Beatrix Potter's desk (where she studied at being an amateur mycologist).
Tell us a tale about yourself.
One day I was running very late for a meeting with Isobel and I was hurrying. It was getting to the end of summer and the days were cooling down, which was nice as my whole body puffs up in the heat. My feet must have deflated quite a bit, as when I speedily rushed onto the train, one of my slip-on sandals slipped off and fell into the gap between the train and the train tracks. I had to hop off the train, literally hop off with one bare foot raised in the air. I landed back on the track, the doors closed on a train full of passengers giving me very puzzled looks. The train zoomed off. I could see my sandal on the tracks but the platform was empty of people and I didn’t really know how to proceed. I couldn’t just continue about my day with one shoe, but I was also pretty sure climbing down onto the tracks was frowned upon. I hopped about for a bit, then I hopped back inside the station and finally found an attendant. He was very nonplussed about my situation - I think if he had had a little chuckle we both would have felt a bit more at ease. He disappeared to the back room and emerged holding a long pole with a hook on the end and marched out to the platform - all the time I was hopping meekly behind him. He very deftly hooked my sandal, like a pro, and placed it in front of me. I thanked him and made reference to how funny my day would be if I had to hop everywhere. He did not find this funny, and walked away sort-of politely but ultimately disinterested in the whole situation. There you have it: the tale of the day I lost my shoe and got it back again in very unremarkable circumstances.
Thank you so much, Cat!