A few years ago, nobody knew that cats would later become social media stars of the new generation. Cats have gained popularity among young single households, even coining the popular meme “only I don’t have a cat / seriously everyone has a cat but I don’t have a cat.”
“Only I don’t have a cat” was held at Palais de Séoul until June 3, where it showcases paintings and sculptures that captures the charm of cats.
Participating artists include illustrator Lee Jinah, mixed media artist Kim Yeo-ok, folk painter Hye Jin, and Park Eun-ji, an alumna from the school’s College of Art and Design.
The exhibition is located at Seochon-dong, an area highly populated with stray cats, which are often called “thief cats” in Korean. These cats have often caused trouble between residents and the local community service centers, as people have raised complaints over the noise and the mess they make. The four artists participating in this exhibition has all adopted a stray cat, and through the show they aim to improve the perception of stray and feral cats.
“16 years ago, a small young cat walked into my life. Its existence has been my happiness and comfort,” said Hye Jin, one of the artists participating in the show. “Folk art is colorful and warm. People’s hopes are inside every subject. By working with folk art, it would be very meaningful if I can render a more positive view towards my subjects through my work.”
Habicat: making habitats for cats
According to Seoul Metropolitan Government, about 139,000 cats were residing in Seoul in 2017, while complaints regarding noise and the mess cats make have been filed over 26,000 times the same year. Even though Seoul’s TNR(Trap-neuter-return) projects have reduced nearly half the feral cat population during the last ten years, there is still room for improvement for a successful coexistence between cats and humans.
Kim Byung-kwan, the co-founder of the Habicat, decided to build shelters for the cats in order to give stray and feral cats a place to stay and prevent the troubles they were causing to civilians. Majoring in architecture at Korea University, he wanted to solve social problems through architecture. He gathered three other teammates to form Habicat, and started to build shelters named “cat-ters.”
“Cat-ter,” a term that was coined by adding “cat” and the affix “-ter”, means the place for cats. The cat-ter is shaped in a triangular prism with a round entrance. To prepare for winter, the team added insulation to the house to keep the cats warm.
“We focused on creating a nicely designed shelter that wouldn’t cause any disamenity to people,” Kim said. “For easier assembling and dismantling process, we experimented with various materials and looked for ones with high durability and water resistance. Finally, we decided to build the catters by using danpla box and paper fasteners.”
After experimenting with the initially designed cat-ter in front of Kim’s house, the team placed catters around the campus of Korea University. Currently, Habicat provides cat-ters to other schools such as Sahmyook University, Yonsei University, and University of Seoul. According to Kim, most schools already had their own winter cat shelters. However, Habicat wanted the cat-ters as to be more than a shelter, but an objet with artistic worth that would help students interact with the cats. Currently, Habicat further aims to educate people about street cats and bring awareness to the topic.
“We hope to fix the misconceptions that some people have towards street cats,” Kim said. “We want to spread the importance of coexisting with cats, rather than just avoiding them. Like our product “cat-ter,” we are constantly working to create other ways to achieve human-cat coexistence.”