The 100 #46 – Cat and Mouse…

If you enlarge the above notice by clicking on it you will have most of the factual information you need about this public art piece. The ever changing art on the windows of this downtown Vancouver Transit station fascinate me and this work by Mark Soo is an excellent example of text based public art. The idioms or phrases used (all of you English majors out there, what are these pairings called?) are: Beast of Burden / Bread and Butter / Cat and Mouse / Bridge and Tunnel / Horse and Buggy / Carrot and Stick. Soo fragments them so they are not immediately recognizable.

I hung out at the station entrance with my camera and watched for any response of people to the art presented here. Within my spaced 15 minute periods of observation I noticed that, out of hundreds of people entering or leaving, perhaps two or three actually stopped long enough to look at the words on the glass. Even less took time to read the description plaque.

These observations evoke questions about the accessibility of public art. I support it but wonder about the interest of other citizens who support it through their taxes. I know that some public art attracts and some is essentially invisible. What is it that makes the difference?

I enjoy and am delighted by Soo’s playful interweaving of  socially known phrases but how many share this observation?

The website for this work includes the following quote: “While rewards alone have little influence on cooperation, punishments have some. When the two are combined the effect on cooperation is dramatic, suggesting that rewards and punishments are complements in producing cooperation.”    James Andreoni: Rewards, Punishments and Cooperation. I have yet to unravel the connection of this quote to the artwork – any ideas?

The 100′ series was initiated by my 100th Post in April 2012. As text and images are the essence of my blog my intention is to present 100 pieces of textual art from historical and contemporary artists and from my own hand. To view the series to date click on ‘The 100’ in my Category Menu.

16 thoughts on “The 100 #46 – Cat and Mouse…

  1. Hmmmm. That quote is an interesting one to go with this artwork. My initial though on the connection is that it may have something to do with constructive rigidity of language/letters with all the well-defined imposed meanings that are assigned. Where the “rewards” are when all the linguistic rules are followed – the status quo remains. And the “punishment” is the redirection/reassignment of the text to create new meanings and opens up a discussion on new context and actually creates new possibilities of appreciation and/or understanding that serves also as a gentle wake-up call. Again, just thinking out loud. Nice post.


    1. I think you maybe on the right track there Terry – the connection is complicated by the language used, but I agree with you that we accept reality as we accept the idioms presented. The artist wants us to question this status quo…


  2. I think it relates directly to “carrot and stick”. Not sure about any of the other pairings. On the other hand, and this might be a bit superficial, the instant reward could be that half of the lettering written L-R and the ‘punishment’ is the extra effort chasing up the reversed text.


      1. I think that text is visually arresting out of its usual context. I think the work you discussed (at the transit station) probably just looks like more words on windows to the passersby.


  3. I want to share this with my readers on Facebook, John…but don’t know how. I thoroughly enjoyed this one! And…if I come back to the litter…I think that people don’t NOTICE. Do you think? We notice what we know. Our heads are also cluttered with so many ideas that sometimes those distract from our perceptions of the world. I wonder if you observed during different times of day if that would make a difference.


    1. I’m not sure how Facebook works as I’m not a member – I guess you could just provide a link to art rat. I think you are right on Kathleen about how we become caught in our mind webs and miss the wonders (and the ugliness) of the world around us. I did observe at different times of day but as that station is probably the busiest always it made little difference. Thank you for commenting…


  4. My sense about art proffered to the public is that it is not in the realm of their understanding. Many people do not understand the abstractions of much contemporary art. Many of us are uneducated in our ability to appreciate it. I am guessing that we are strongly bonded to representational images rather than amorphous creations which are often unintelligible but to the few. When self-help books, and even some psychology books, are written they are published to appeal to a reading level at the eighth grade so that they are intelligble immediately to all. Much of contemporary art doesn’t seem to do that. Visual artists need to reach more to those whom they hope will appreciate their art. They need to build bridges. How…I do not know.


    1. Some salient points here Giovanni and perhaps this is not the place for a full scale discussion on contemporary art and the public, it is too wide and complex a subject. Self Help books may (arguably) be written to appeal to grade 8 level but what about Literature? And do we expect Poetry, Dance, Theater etc to appeal only to children? I believe visual art’s role in our society is to promote discussion, to question the status quo, to disturb and create unexpected laughter, to reflect the human condition and to ask us to think about who we are. I have noted with dismay and sadness the dumming-down of North American culture over the few past decades. I’m all for raising not lowering the bar. If the fault lies anywhere, perhaps we can place it in the lap of arts education in our schools and homes that has been so sorely cut, abandoned or ignored. As I have mentioned before in commenting on this subject, visual art that we now accept as innocuous and traditional, such as the Impressionists, was, at the time of its making, considered by the public and critics as puzzling, inaccessible, crude and irrelevant! I think “building bridges” is a two way architecture and the viewer, if interested, also needs to make some effort to understand what they see. Thank you for your thoughtful comment Giovanni – John


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