Painted Cat Hacker Film

Jennifer West

Every midnight in August 2021, a clowder of glowing felines took over Times Square. Artist Jennifer West’s Painted Cat Hacker Film transforms the “low art” of cat videos into a mesmerizing and monumental public artwork for the big screens.

To create the spectral and lo-fi effects in Painted Cat Hacker Film, West first compiled 16mm clips of cats against a green screen. Manipulating the celluloid in her signature style, West applied brightly colored dye to the filmstrip before transferring it to high-definition video. The resulting piece is a multi-channel work of handmade digitized GIFs that pay homage to the feline’s role across many moving image genres — from the viral video, to experimental film, and the screens of Times Square themselves.

Painted Cat Hacker Film is also a playful nod to the ongoing phenomenon of the public’s fascination with cats on the Internet. The subject of both serious writing and light-hearted inquiry, research has suggested that viewing online cat media is linked to positive emotions, and that it may even work as a form of digital therapy or stress relief. As filmmaker Werner Herzog has said, “When you are really down, you better switch on your laptop or smartphone and watch 60 seconds of crazy cat videos. It just lifts your spirits. Nothing wrong about it.”

Cats on Video, Cats on Film
August 1–31, 2021 | Online

Selected by Jennifer West

In August of 2021, in conjunction with her Midnight Moment exhibition, West presented a curated selection of artists’ videos and experimental films featuring cats. Although the exhibition has ended, you can see a list of the selected pieces below.

Says West: "In this program I pay homage to the rich history of the feline as muse in experimental and avant-garde film, video art, and their recent explosion on the Internet in funny cat videos, memes, and gifs."

Peter Fischli and David Weiss, Maya Deren and Alexander Hammid, Carolee Schneemann, Joyce Wieland, Chris Marker, Mark Leckey, Cory Arcangel, Sarah Zucker, Francios Vogel, Casey Kauffmann

Peter Fischli and David Weiss
Büsi (Kitty), 2001
Video, color, silent, 6 minutes 30 seconds
Courtesy of the artist

Screencap of Busi (Kitty) by Peter Fischli and David Weiss, showing a white and black cat lapping milk from a bowl


Maya Deren and Alexander Hammid
The Private Life of a Cat, 1944
Digital video (transferred from 16mm black and white film) silent, 22 minutes
Private Life of a Cat, © Tavia Ito, courtesy of Re:Voir

Black and white screencap of The Private Life of a Cat by Maya Deren and Alexander Hammid, showing a fluffy cat lying on a table


Joyce Wieland
Catfood, 1968
16mm, color, sound, 13 minutes
Courtesy the New American Cinema Group

Screencap of Catfood by Joyce Wieland, showing a cat lying on a table behind a fish


Chris Marker
Chat écoutant la musique (Cat Listening to Music) , 1990
Color video, sound, 2 min 54 seconds
Courtesy Electronic Arts Intermix (EAI), New York

Screencap of Chat ecoutant la musique by Chris Marker, showing a cat lying on an electronic keyboard


Carolee Schneemann
Infinity Kisses - the Movie, 2008
HD video, sound, 9 minutes, 8 seconds
Courtesy the Schneemann Foundation and Electronic Arts Intermix (EAI), New York

Screencap of Infinity Kisses - the Movie by Carolee Schneeman, showing a curly-haired white woman kissing a black and white cat


Mark Leckey
Felix Tail
Digital video
Courtesy of the artist

Screencap of Felix Tail by Mark Leckey, showing a curling black shape that looks like a dangling cat tail


Cory Arcangel
Drei Klavierstücke op. 11, 2009
Youtube video with sound, 4 minutes 20 seconds
Courtesy of the artist

Screencap of Drei Klavierstucke, Op. 11, by Cory Arcangel, showing a cat walking across a piano keyboard as someone attempts to play


Sarah Zucker
Space Loaf, 2018
Looping .mp4
Courtesy of the artist

Screencap of Space Loaf by Sarah Zucker, showing a startled-looking cat sitting with paws tucked underneath it in front of a staticky background


François Vogel
Chat sur fond vert, 2020
Digital video, 25 seconds
Courtesy of the artist

Screencap of Chat sur fond vert by Francois Vogel; a cat steps forward with a partially grassy background and the left half of the image abnormally stretched


Casey Kauffmann
#sometimesirun#sometimesihide, 2021
Digital collage GIF, 1152 x 648 pixels
Courtesy of the artist

Screencap of #sometimesirun #sometimesihide by Casey Kauffman, a manipulated image with photos and illustrations of cats manipulated into an illustrated landscape along with other visual elements

Painted Cat Hacker Film Credits
Cat played by Munchkin
16mm cinematography by Peter West
Shot on Arriflex 16X/B 16mm camera on Kodak 7207 film
16mm film processed by FotoKem Motion Picture Lab, Burbank, CA
Frame by frame painting and dying by JWest
16mm negative transferred to 2K by Dino Everett
Background keying by Kelsey Boncato
Edited by JWest

Jennifer West (b.1966, Topanga, CA) is a Los Angeles-based artist who has explored materialism in film for over ten years. Significant commissions include works for Seattle Art Museum (2016-2017); Institute of Contemporary Arts, London (2016); The High Line, New York, NY (2012); MIT List Visual Arts Center (2011); Aspen Art Museum (2010); and Turbine Hall at Tate Modern, London (2009). West has had solo exhibitions at JOAN Los Angeles (2020); Contemporary Art Museum St Louis (2018); Yuz Museum, Shanghai, China (2017); Seattle Art Museum (2016-2017); Museo d’Arte  Nuoro, Sardinia (2017); Tramway, Glasgow (2016); S1 Artspace, Sheffield, UK (2012); Kunstverein Nürnberg, Germany (2010); Contemporary Arts Museum, Houston, (2010); Transmission Gallery, Glasgow (2008); White Columns, New York, NY (2007). Her work has been included in group exhibitions at The Whitney Museum, New York, NY; Drawing Center, New York, NY; Pompidou Centre, Paris; Barbican, London; Kusthalle Schirn, Frankfurt; Centre for Contemporary Visual Arts, Bordeaux; and ZKM Center for Art and Media, Karlsruhe, Germany, among others. West received an MFA from Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California, and a BA from the Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington. She has lectured widely on her ideas of the “Analogital” and is an Associate Professor of the Practice of Fine Arts at USC’s Roski School of Art and Design in California. Her writing has appeared in publications including Artforum, Frieze and Mousse Magazine. West has produced fifteen zine artist books which were recently acquired by the Getty Museum.


Images: Jennifer West. Painted Cat Hacker Film (2021) video still. Courtesy of the artist.