Fat Cat Walking On Underwater Treadmil (sic) appeared on Youtube in 2011, posted by elusive video artist PlanetNick01 (the presence of “Nick” in the username is thought to refer to the users actual name, although the 01 remains tauntingly inexplicable (joke, typo, birth year?))
It’s a non-narrative experimental video piece consisting of a single long take, but that take is founded on a sophisticated series of camera moves that demand closer-inspection. Let’s take a look:
The take begins in a close-up on Fat Cat’s face, then drifts into a downward tilt. The downward tilt reframes Fat Cat’s feet in close up (and remains static) for 14 paces before relenting, and tilting reluctantly back up. But this second tilt is complicated by a zoom-out, reframing Fat Cat– for the first time– as a full entity. His (or her?) body is restored, but is it restored to him or to us? The camera continues its zoom out with slowly mounting anxiety, revealing eventually the entire apparatus of the treadmill, as well as the veterinarian (or physical therapist?) gently holding the cat, legs spread around him for stability in an uncannily symmetrical tableaux.
Then the camera, unwilling to linger, pushes forward. A zoom-in reframes Fat Cat’s head in close up, filling the frame with fluff and whisker once again.
I read this as a methodical destruction and re-assemblage of the Fat Cat’s body as a whole. It is shattered by the digital zooms and restored by the zoom outs. The tilts have the same effect of shattering the whole. This denies Fat Cat identity as a “real” individual, paralleling his situation with embarrassing earnestness. He is being held captive in a demeaning and unstoppable cycle, the goal of which is to reduce or destroy a condition forced upon him by human captors (slavers.) That is: his grotesque obesity.
By contrast: while his face, by coloration and design, is fixed in a Joker-like grin (unless you read a certain stretch of white fluff to be Fat Cat’s faux mustachio) his fate is mind-numbingly static, hopeless, inherited, and humiliating. (The place of “water” in the cat psyche has been well-documented.) The soundtrack selection (a slick R&B number of mysterious origin, is both funky and sublime) furthers this point/counterpoint game, designed to draw out the horror and sadism inherent to both the predicament at large and the smile, glimpsed occasionally, across the lips of the veterinarian behind Fat Cat.
It’s easy to get bogged down in the anxious dance of the camera around its subject. More of a second character (to Fat Cat’s primary character) than the other visible presence (the veterinarian,) the camera’s gaze oscillates between documentary transcription of zoological reality-as-lived and Sisyphisian existential labour/nausea.
All of this begs the question: who is Planetick01? The mastermind behind other seminal works like “Stick Figure Zombie Attack,” the artist clearly has his sights set on bigger things. We’ll have to wait and see.