Jack the cat belonged to a fellow resident in my block of flats. While still little, Jack would follow his owner to the bottom floor laundry where, one day, Jack spotted me. A few days later I heard a tiny meow at my door – it was Jack. He came to say hello. Other residents said the same. It was a delight to be visited by Jack.
After a couple of weeks, though, Jack’s conversation changed. He would meow, walk in, turn around and wait for the door to be closed. He expected to be cuddled. Allergic to cats, I resisted. He stared and waited. Ashamed, I stared back; unable to explain why. The stand-off finally passed. In a way, he seemed pleased.
My flat is basically an art storage room stacked with objects and their shadows. Jack would crouch at a shadow’s edge and wait to pounce on whatever darted from its darkness. He also discovered my window that looks onto the garden, his paradise.
This new routine lasted a couple of weeks. Then the next meow I heard was not from outside my door, but my window. At first it was during the day, then at night — all through it. Roused from sleep by Jack’s terrifying screeches of despair, my flat became his thoroughfare. It was a nightmare to be visited by Jack.
Nevertheless I figured poor Jack was being locked out. So I opened the laundry door late at night and left a note that asked for it to be left open. This worked fine at first – until someone took objection, closed the door and removed the note just about every time. A war of attrition ensued for weeks between the note-watchman and me, and me and Jack.
Then, the note-watchman left a message. (1)It read: ‘No it should remain closed as per directors order! Please do not leave unauthorised notes against Rules & Regulations. Thank you‘. To dob Jack and his owner in or not to dob but continue to suffer — this was my dilemma. Although it was wrong to leave the door open, was it not right to help Jack? I decided it was and ignored the message. A letter to all residents from the real estate demanding the door remain closed followed.
Since obligations as citizens afford us rights as individuals, most important of these is abidance of the law. While the law, at large, was not brought into question here, the so-called law of my block of flats was — and I was running up against it. When is it right to do wrong?
The question tapped into ramifications far broader than Jack’s situation. Although a law-abiding citizen, I have nevertheless been breaking the law in art just about my entire adult life.
‘There is no right or wrong in art’, you might say. Well, so the storybooks tell us. That, though, tends to be an illusion supported by a fantasy that artists are self-indulgent non-conformist bohemian brats — a picture painted as justification by those who deem it equally self-indulgent to assist art financially at a governmental level.
The right and wrong in art concerns originality. This, though, is not without paradox, since originality in contemporary art takes on certain parameters within which any shift too great breaks the context that defines it. (2)Something I previously wrote in ‘Why I make editions‘. If one breaks the context, the tools with which to recognise art as art are broken too. Unable to be recognised as art, originality suffers illegitimacy. It is locked out, not unlike Jack.
Any artist who dares to let it in suffers the consequences of devoting themselves to an activity that, in being illegitimate, is neither recognised nor supported by the establishment (their art is not included in glossy art magazines nor discussed favourably in The Australian or Sydney Morning Herald newspapers). They have, therefore, to carry the social burden of its originality — the social isolation and resulting poverty. (3)Oddly in Australia, it seems, those who act on another’s originality and thereby treat it as fact, as established, benefit from it, are even recognised for it, while the originator doesn’t benefit nor is recognised. Why, then, let originality in if it is such a nightmare?
As odd as it might seem, this is the question I faced every time I was denied the comfort of sleep by the harrowing pleas of Jack, when I would then let him in. More odd still is the answer I discovered in doing so. For no matter the hardship caused by Jack’s pleas, it would be wrong to blame Jack for this hardship by not letting him in. To blame Jack would be to blame the darkness of night for every burglary that took place at that hour. Jack was innocent. So too is originality in art, no matter the hardship it causes.
Art is not made anew by originality. Art remains the same. Yet habits in seeing have us lose sight of art every now and again; we forget what it is. Originality reminds us. Originality lets us find ourselves in art once more, by taking us down a different path to meet it.
It is not entirely fair to say Jack treated my flat at night as a thoroughfare. After the fist week, once let in, he would dive for one of my feet, curl up on it as though to weigh it down and prevent me from reaching the door to let him out. This photo was taken just after one of these occasions, at something like two or three in the morning.
After some weeks this new routine sadly ended, too. Jack met with an accident on the road outside, crawled into the garden’s darkness one last time and closed his eyes on paradise.
In truth, I am not sure for how much longer I could have lasted his final routine. My productivity decreased markedly. I will, nevertheless, always be thankful I met Jack the little kitten cat.