Photo by Gene Pittman
The Walker Art Center’s Scott Stulen has become an unwitting spokesperson for the power of an Internet meme to spark conversation in the real world. The organizer of the Internet Cat Video Festival, which attracted 10,000 people to the lawn outside the Walker last summer, has given hundreds of interviews, spoken on the topic at SXSW, and traveled with the presentation to museums and other venues across the country, even abroad.
The astonishingly popular event returns on August 28, this time at the State Fair Grandstand, where 13,000 people will coo, sigh, and guffaw at their favorite feline film stars. Around the world, across all demographics and cultures, people love cat videos, it turns out, and Stulen has a few theories about why.
“Cats are more interesting subjects than dogs because they don’t seem to perform for the camera,” he says. It’s easy to anthropomorphize cat behavior—to project onto them a wide range of human feelings and attitudes. Case in point: Last year’s Golden Kitty Award went to a video featuring Henri, a French-accented, long-haired black cat suffering from existential ennui who reflects on the bitter absurdity of life.
But perhaps the biggest factor in the festival’s success is social. “For cat owners, the Internet has become a cat park,” says Stulen. And for one night, the festival takes that sense of camaraderie offline.
While the Walker has never sponsored an event remotely close to this size at the State Fair, Stulen sees an affinity. The fair, like the Walker’s Open Field, is all about community, and Stulen is intent on preserving the local spirit of the event. Twin Cities animal rescue groups will be on hand. There will be activities and live music. And Henri will be back to remind us of life’s existential absurdities—Internet cat videos among them. Aug. 28. Minnesota State Fair Grandstand, 1265 Snelling Ave. N., St. Paul, 651-288-4400, walkerart.org