(gif by Hrag Vartanian for Hyperallergic)

(gif by Hrag Vartanian for Hyperallergic)

There’s loving your cat, and then there’s loving your cat. For an example of the former, see my Instagram feed; for an example of the latter, try Carolee Schneemann’s “Infinity Kisses – The Movie” (2008). The roughly nine-minute film brings together the 140 photographs that Schneemann shot for her Infinity Kisses series (1981–88), which captures her cat Vesper’s ritual of giving her a kiss every morning. But soft little kitty kisses these are not; they are “deep kisses,” in which the cat full-on plants its lips on Schneemann’s often open mouth. The photos have a deeply discomfiting eroticism to them, as well as a latent morbidity — Schneemann is always lying down, and it sometimes looks as though Vesper is preparing to bite into her (occasionally it also looks like she might eat Vesper herself).

The film version of the series intensifies these two qualities, with hot white flashes between blurry images and a jangling and droning soundtrack that seems to come straight out of Twin Peaks; it incorporates cat purring in an improbably ominous way.

Schneemann knew what she was doing with all this, of course. “The intimacy between cat and woman becomes a refraction of the viewers’ attitudes to self and nature, sexuality and control, the taboo and the sacred,” she’s written. “The images raise questions of interspecies communication, as well as triggering unexpected cultural taboos.” Taboos indeed, as the close-up, low-fi cat-kiss pictures roll on, making us squirm more and dig deeper into our seats with each passing second.

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Jillian Steinhauer

Jillian Steinhauer is a former senior editor of Hyperallergic. She writes largely about the intersection of art...

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