Brian Jungen

Kitty Scott
  • Brian Jungen, Habitat 04, installation view, Fonderie Darling, Montréal, 2004. Photo: Guy L’Heureux, courtesy of Fonderie Darling, Montréal and Catriona Jeffries, Vancouver
  • Brian Jungen, Habitat 04, installation view, Fonderie Darling, Montréal, 2004. Photo: Guy L’Heureux, courtesy of Fonderie Darling, Montréal and Catriona Jeffries, Vancouver

Ottawa’s Parliament Hill is home to a large number of commemorative bronze sculptures. In a scenic location not far from these statues, there once stood two crudely built, miniature mansard-roofed plywood houses. Within them, you might have seen a tabby cat sleeping in an old rocking chair and another sitting perfectly still, watching wildlife. These cats were understood to be descendants of feral specimens introduced in 1877 to counter the local rodent population. On one map of the city, this compound was identified as “Cat Condos”; the Government of Canada’s Parliament Hill website referred to it as the “Cat Sanctuary.” This unusual community functioned as another kind of monument until early 2013, when it was dismantled and its few remaining occupants relocated.

In 2004, Brian Jungen, in response to the Cat Sanctuary and architect Moshe Safdie’s Habitat 67, produced Habitat 04: Cité radieuse des chats/Cats Radiant City for a contemporary art gallery in the former Darling Foundry in Old Montréal. It was conceived as a much-needed service in support of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals: for the duration of the exhibition, the artist collaborated with the SPCA to find homes for homeless cats. Habitat 04 was wired with tiny surveillance cameras discreetly installed throughout the central platform to capture views of the cats’ activities, which were displayed on screens in the restaurant attached to the venue and in the small “backstage” gallery. This gesture seemed at once benign, allowing us to view the cats and their sculptural home, and sinister, replicating systems of power and surveillance. The artwork could be interpreted simultaneously as an experimental utopia and as a model of social control, a prison whose detainees have no knowledge of their state.

Given that all the sculptures on Parliament Hill commemorate some aspect of Canadian identity and history, perhaps the Cat Sanctuary and its residents represented a democratic and positive image of Canadian society: humane, tolerant, and generous. Habitat 04 was another kind of monument: one both echoing that liberal optimism and suggesting the darker forces subtending the contemporary state.

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