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Ping, Purr

Ping, Purr explores the currency of Instagram cat reels in my relationship, framed by chronic illness and its impacts. This self-published poetry chapbook is my contribution to the exhibition Carolee Schneemann’s Cats at Blindside Gallery (Melbourne, November–December 2023).

Its been difficult to communicate the extent to which life has been upended since Helen, my partner, became incapacitated with long Covid in April 2022. It’s not only that people might not understand how debilitating post-viral fatigue can be, it’s also that when I describe Helen’s condition – and its impacts on our daughter and me – I worry I sound like I’m exaggerating. The truth is, though, it’s been extremely hard for us all. Ping, Purr attempts to communicate this extremity via a different medium.

After ruminating on themes I wanted to explore, a booklet-length poem burst out in a few fervent days. But I was also a writer who needed to draw. For I was examining how Helen’s regular delivery of Instagram cat reels had become her new way of connecting with me and lightening the mood, yet I can’t escape into videos like she can. Tracing (and retracing, and retracing) stills enabled me to engage more deeply with the reels and Helen’s underlying message – to truly “receive the information,” as the late, great artist Carolee Schneemann said about ailing cats’ gestures of care for their human carers. Yes, this did mean adding more work to my already overwhelming workload; however, my meditative retracings were also a singular means of satisfaction at a time when our lives had become so constricted.

And despite the constricted spaces of their domestic interiors, these illustrations helped me expand. Parallel to the public, viral nature of reels – and to the public health concern that post-viral fatigue truly ought to be considered, what with an estimated 65 million people afflicted worldwide – I took the risk of crowdfunding the endeavour. In so doing, I reconnected with individuals whom I hadn’t felt able to talk to about our situation, and I opened up to additional support. A modest risk, compared to many of Schneemann’s. But like escapist pleasure, vulnerability means different things to different people. I’d like to think Schneemann would be pleased to know she inspired me to push myself.

Please drop me an email if you would like to order a copy of Ping, Purr.

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