Artist Midori Araki × Wisdom — the cat who likes to stroll

May 20, 2011 / Interviews

Photo: Shin Suzuki / Edit&Text: Madoka Hattori / Translation: Seth High

After graduating from art school, Araki began her career as the chief editor of a lifestyle magazine before becoming a visual artist. Surrounded by Araki's artwork, which includes a chair based on a tree stump motif ('Stump') and a table in the shape of bear ('Polar Bear'), lives her beloved chinchilla named 'Wisdom'. With an extremely dignified air, Wisdom relaxes in the shade of her favorite garden tree. Having absolutely no fear of cameras, Wisdom gracefully saunters around at her own pace. Just watching Wisdom walk is somehow therapeutic.

All of a sudden - 3 cats!

— How did you first encounter Wisdom?

“A friend of mine brought three newborn kittens over to my house and said, 'I think you definitely have good chemistry with cats'. After thinking it over for a full day, I decided to keep one. Of the three, two of them were males that simply had too much energy and pride. Wisdom, however, slowly emerged from the cage last (laughs). Compared to the others, she just seemed to be a little more delicate. So I chose her."

— Had you ever had a cat before?

"Growing up, my family had a dog. However, because my parents took care of it, Wisdom is pretty much my first experience with a pet. Moreover, she was only a two-month old kitten when I received her - and I had no idea how she should be cared for. After deciding to keep Wisdom, I returned the other two kittens and then went out to buy the necessary cat food and litter box. Upon her arrival, Wisdom seemed to inherently know that she wasn't allowed to go to the bathroom in the house. The instant I set up her litter box, she really let it go. I was quite impressed with how patient she could be without even being trained."

— It sounds like she quickly adjusted to life at your home

"Yeah, she did. Because Wisdom thinks the entire house is her own territory, she will choose different places to sleep each season. Since winter is a little cold, I will leave a sweater out for her to sleep on. However, she will invariably choose to sleep on a chair instead. Because she is a quite docile variety of cat, Wisdom doesn't scamper around the house. Though she does occasionally act like she is training to be a hunter, Wisdom usually moves around quite slowly."

— Does Wisdom ever misbehave?

"I guess the only thing is going to the bathroom where she shouldn't. One time, she peed on the bed in my bedroom. From that time on, whenever she was in the same area, she would smell her own pee and decide to go to the bathroom again. Though she doesn't do it so much anymore, it was really a big problem for a while."

— Where did you come up with the name 'Wisdom'?

"Once, when visiting Sedona, Arizona in America, I stayed at a facility run by a later generation flower child. While practicing an activity called 'channeling', the word 'wisdom' kept coming up. In addition to having their own pace, I sometimes think that cats can see more than I do. It's the same with trees and plants. Like what we refer to as 'God', they exist in a way that humans can't fathom. They are full of a certain kind of wisdom. So I decided to namer her 'Wisdom'. However, saying her entire name has started to be a kind of pain in the ass (laughs). Recently, I just call her 'Dom."

A daily routine - Strolling on the veranda and in the garden

— Does Wisdom have any favorite toys?

"Not really. She really doesn't like to play around, though she will playfully bite at my hand sometimes. Because I have some children's toys around, she has been known to play with a ball a little when she's in the mood. At first, she hated being approached by children. However, at some point, Wisdom realized that it can't really be helped. When a child tries to pick her up now, she just kind of gives in (laughs). She seems to know that with kids, you just have to put up with them."

— What are her favorite places?

"She likes chairs, the stairs, and the veranda. Apparently the garden outside my house has become a thoroughfare for cats. Wisdom watches it intently from the window. Looking at my house from the outside, Wisdom almost looks like a statue as she stares outside. Every morning, she goes on patrol. After breakfast, Wisdom goes out on the veranda and takes a look around before begging with her eyes for me to open the door. Once outside, she takes a long walk and then, like a tiger sleeping in the shade of a tree, Wisdom finally rests under a large leaf."

— When you let her outside, she doesn't run away?

"She rarely leaves the vicinity of our house. Sometimes, when my attention is elsewhere, Wisdom will end up sneaking off for about 30 minutes. However, when she finally returns, I will find her tired out and on her belly (laughs). More than specially made cat grass, Wisdom seems to like eating the ordinary grass that she selects by herself. Though there are a lot of dogs that take walks around our place, she shows absolutely no interest in them. However, Wisdom is a spirited hunter of butterflies. They don't stand a chance if they come near her."

— Is Wisdom picky about food or where she goes to the bathroom?

"For dry food, I get her the chicken-flavor Nutro for adults, which I store in a can with a cat pattern. Wisdom loves steamed white chicken meat. However, she shows no interest in the chicken legs that people enjoy, which I find strange. She always eats her food from the palm of my hand - one piece at a time. If I put it on a plate, she only looks at me and meows. I have to give it to her one piece at a time. Sometimes, when I'm really busy, Wisdom will eat food from a plate. However, when I return she will pretend that she hasn't been eating and beg me to hand feed her (laughs). She also eats unsweetened yogurt. Because I like the rough texture of her tongue, I'll put it on my hand and let her lick it off. As for her litter box, I place it next to the toilet. She will actually go to the bathroom at the same time as people."

— Does she take baths?

"She doesn't take them very frequently. Though I do brush her, Wisdom's hair becomes knotty quite quickly, so I undo the knots whenever I pet her. When Wisdom sheds her hair during the spring and summer, I take care to brush her often so that she doesn't lick her own fur, which causes hair-balls to form in her stomach. Cat's get really scary expressions when they are throwing up - kind of like in 'The Exorcist'! (laughs). The first time Wisdom threw up a hair-ball, I was really worried that she might be sick. However, soon after she vomited, I realized that my worries were for nothing, as she quickly returned to her old self."

I like how she doesn't worry about me

— After having actually lived with a cat, have you made any new discoveries?

"Because I spend a lot of time at home by myself making things and writing, I decided to get a cat as a kind of diversion. Unlike dogs, cats are fundamentally not very welcoming. I like this kind of attitude. However, my favorite thing about cats is their smell. Like covering my face with a towel, I like to press my face against a sleeping cat. In addition to the smell, there is the sound of a cat's beating heart. There is a sense of comfort that I get from being with animals."

— Can Wisdom sense your moods?

"I don't know about that. Even when I am burning up due to a cold, Wisdom still comes up and expects me to hand feed her (laughs). So I don't think she really perceives my feelings much. But I like how she doesn't worry about me. That said, when I am sad, I do like how she doesn't runaway when I go to her for comfort. Of course, I don't really know how Wisdom actually feels."

— Wisdom doesn't seem to have any fear of cameras whatsoever...

"When I worked with magazines such as 'Ryoko Tsushin', Wisdom often modeled for us. When we are shooting my artwork as well, she will make appearances - kind of like a child actor. She'll even meow for the camera and take requests."

— Did the earthquake and its ongoing aftershocks scare her?

"When the earthquake first happened, Wisdom was close to me, so I held her. However, as the shaking continued, she decided to go outside. Since then, Wisdom always goes and waits in front of the door whenever aftershocks occur. She probably thinks that only our house is shaking and that if she goes outside, everything is fine. As an emergency measure, I have prepared a portable cage and 2 kilograms of Wisdom's cat food. The cage is actually for dogs. It can be worn as a backpack if needed. Because Wisdom is already used to airplanes, she doesn't have any problems with going into the cage."

—There doesn't seem to be any cat-related goods in your home...

"I am not interested at all in what people know as 'cat design' and graphic cat representations. However, one thing that I do like are the cat photo cards that I picked up at MOMA in New York. When I look at them, I am amazed by the variety of expressions that cats show us. I actually bought them even before I had Wisdom, when I wasn't especially a cat-lover. I thought it was cool how I had never seen many of the strange facial expressions before."

—Looking at your works, I notice that a lot of pieces feature animal motifs such as bears and mice...

"Of all animals, I probably have more rabbit-related items in my house than any other. But if you asked me if I liked rabbits, I'd have to say no... Perhaps I am only interested in animals because of their interesting shapes. If I think that mice are cute, they will appear cute. However, if I think that mice are disgusting, they will disgust me. I like how living things have this two dimensional appeal. However, considering that I have never used reptiles or insects as motifs in my work, I guess that I do like animals with fur."

What kind of design is based on cat behavior?

— Do you have plans in the near future to release any new works?

"I am currently working on some products that include a pendant light, bookshelf, and wall clock. If everything goes well, I think they will be out by the end of the year. Though I actually want to spend more time on artwork, raising a small child keeps me quite busy these days. Because the makers assist me greatly in the development of products, these days I find myself mainly taking on these kinds of projects."

— Do you have any interest in designing toys for cats, such as a cat tower?

"Because I have an understanding now of cat behavior, I would like to make something that a cat can use. Recently, I wanted to get Wisdom a straw 'Neko Chigura' house. However, she is too big for them. However, I heard that the craftsmen can create custom-sized straw houses if I first build a base. They are not only available in round shapes. Even forms like fluctuating caves seem to be possible. I think Wisdom would enjoy a cavernous house with stalactites. But I think I would like to start by making a cat tower. Since having a baby, I have been astounded by the size of the market for children's clothing and toys. However, as daily goods, products for children must at least have some kind of practicality. Things for cats and other pet goods, on the other hand, are bought by hobbyists who are almost like collectors. Therefore, I think there is a market even for objects that are a little strange.

  • name: Wisdom
  • age: 5 years old
  • sex: Female
  • lind: Chinchilla Golden
  • Midori Araki

    After graduating from the Graphic Design department of Tama Art University, Araki worked as the chief editor at 'Ell Deco' and 'gap' magazines. From 1999, she began creating works that straddle the border between art and design. In 2001, she released a book of her artworks titled 'Junk Sweets' (published by Aspect). Receiving a cultural scholarship from the French government in 2002, Araki took part in artist residency programs in both Paris and Marseilles. After holding exhibitions in Paris as well as Karlsruhe, Germany , Germany, she returned to Japan in 2004. Currently, Araki is busy with a wide variety of activities, including product design, scenography, video installations, book publication and corporate collaborations.