C.A.T.S. stands for Creative Arts Thinking Space. It’s been a part of the Sarah Lawrence community since 2008. A group of students including Noah Singh, Jane Quigley, Olivia Peebles, and (the late and beloved) Jamie Kanzler formed the arts collective to both fill and create spaces in the Sarah Lawrence community. It’s been passed down the generations into the hands of current students. Amongst the many involved are Nic Apodaca, Jessica Butler, Livia Charman, Kayla Ephros, Jon Worcester and you, if you’re interested.
The collective makes room on our campus for (mostly visual) arts of all types–photography, video installations, performance art, painting, sculpture, and any combination of these, physically making galleries out of seemingly nothing (for real, what would the A*Space be without C.A.T.S.?).
It also fills the space that our academic system left out for visual arts. “The third program at Sarah Lawrence is incredibly successful for the dance, theatre, and music programs because of how immersive it is. Yet the visual arts lack that kind of intensive concentration and it makes it difficult for art students to find an active creative community on campus,” says Nic Apodaca. He and the collective aim to “foster the same constant creative environment that the third program creates by addressing the social side of it. It is a group where any artist on campus, even if they aren’t in an art class, can come and participate and have their work shown on campus, or throw a show of their own.”
As Nic suggested, C.A.T.S. aims to be super democratic and all-inclusive, even in its leadership. “We’ve broken up the C.A.T.S. leadership into four different committees to spread out responsibility. The people working on each committee is both rotating and open to anyone involved,” he said. “There’s a lot of potential for this that we still haven’t explored yet. The more people who participate, means the more we can do.” And the prospects seem pretty exciting.
C.A.T.S. has put on two shows already this year. The first showcased work from students’ summers and semesters abroad, and was held in the A*Space in September. The most recent show, Blossom of Goodness, was curated by Livia Charman and Kayla Ephros, and was held in the Heimbold Lower-Atrium on October 17th. Here’s an excerpt from the show statement, because it speaks for itself:
Blossom of Goodness is an exhibition exploring the aesthetics and arising implications of spa culture. An initial sensorial attraction to spas, salons, beauty supply stores, and other similar establishments has fueled our desire to further investigate the cultural significance of this realm. Through multi-media installation, we aim to question our positive associations, and the implicit value our society bestows upon relaxation and beautification. Why do we use simulated and abstracted nature imagery to represent the ideal of inner peace? What is it about these colors and textures that encourage us to participate in indulgent, “purifying” treatments? Are we left feeling renewed, or disconcerted by the conflicting signals of plastic plants, saccharine decor, and organic mud masques? Is the process of self beautification merely luxurious consumption, or a healthy striving to nurture our “internal perfection”?
The work of 20 students (and two non-SLC-students) filled the space. Among them was Jessica Butler, a senior who displayed her cardboard and play-dough sculptures in the show. Jessica is also one of C.A.T.S.’s central organizers. “There’s a level of excitement and commitment we can all count on with one another, and a sense of community…I think it’s really rare to have an outlet on campus open to anyone who shares this excitement about creation that facilitates dialogue, pushes us to create more things about ideas we may not have considered in our work otherwise, and provides a space to share and think about these things.”
This last show certainly cultivated the community Jessica discussed. “The show went really well,” said Nic. “We had a lot of work from students in all years and a lot of people showed up and hung out. ” It also showed how, as desired, the community is growing. “I saw a lot of unfamiliar faces, which was really awesome because it means that we’re already achieving what we set out to achieve and are reaching a whole new audience.”
Blossom of Goodness was the first monthly C.A.T.S. show of the year, each to be curated by different students. Curators “Kayla and Livia were both really excited about the theme, but it was very specific. Despite that, it yielded an awesome diversity of work,” said Nic.
Livia was pleased with the theme. “A few people told me, ‘I feel like I can’t move with this music on’ and proceeded to sit and lay on the floor languidly,” said Livia. She detailed many of her impressions of the work, noting the mixed responses to “Dashael’s [aforementioned performance piece] ‘Pre-Birth Regression’ treatment’” and “Jonathan Worcester’s beautiful, textured, watery abstract painting.” She also noted “Emily Loughlin’s take on a classical archway, Hanah Rifkin’s seashell-esque ceramic sculpture,” Ben Schofield’s “two quilted, pink and purple comforters,” and Kayla Ephros’s “uncanny installation of a miniature wicker patio furniture set inside the shelf of a tile-lined art supply gladiator.”
“It seemed like a lot of the work was playing off of a similar vision of frothy, domestic comfort and creepiness; there were lots of elements that looked coated in frosting,” she said. “Everything seemed to deal with an excessive, warped comfort that pointed to a sinister underside, and maybe ultimate discomfort that was very effective, though we never could have planned or expected it.”
With equal fervor, Livia spoke about her C.A.T.S. experience at large, and why she decided to take an active role. “Finding out about C.A.T.S. my freshman year made me feel like a part of something great in a really cheesy and magical way. Watching Jamie Kanzler (rest in paradise) and Harry Kardon play their original music at each show, and subsequently getting to know them, I can say without hesitation, changed my life and deeply inspired me. The people I met whose art and music I admired, and the receptive and nonjudgmental outlet I found for my own work, was exactly what I needed and wanted as a freshman here, and I only hope we can continue to share that experience with everyone who comes after us.”
The C.A.T.S. organizers want to share this experience with you. Join the C.A.T.S. Facebook group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/358142447601261/ !! Visit: www.slccats.com !! Email:firstname.lastname@example.org !!
(Featured image: Video piece by Milah Libin & Arvid Logan. Photo Credit: Milah Libin)