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Two Dead Mice
Two Dead Mice
Ultramarine blue and cerulean blue Liquitex acrylic paint tubes, duct tape, ferret teeth marks
Each tube: 1" x 1.75" x 5.25"

Upon returning from a ten-day trip, I was informed that my pet ferret, Fang, had reached a forbidden stash of paint. Of course, the paint was presumed to be stored safely and inaccessible to him. Nevertheless, a tube of ultramarine blue and a tube of cerulean blue had been mauled. Initially I was disappointed at the loss of an expensive resource. But another impulse warned me to keep the carcasses. Months later, I came across the dried-up tubes and contemplated them with a fresh outlook. It occurred to me that they were something he had, in effect, “made.” Following the opportunity opened by that insight, I began to imagine the experience from his perspective. I admit this is purely speculative. But if things like content, intention, and motivation are generated by the viewer’s experience as much as the artist’s that precedence only invites such musing. For example, it was not hard to imagine Fang’s excitement at successfully reaching the paint tube. No doubt the pliant tube felt satisfying against his carnassials. Biting released the paint, like some oozing visceral juice.

There’s an expression that says “If you are a hammer every problem you face is a nail.” I suppose that for a predacious animal everything is instinctively potential prey. It seems absurd to claim that Fang was doing something creative. He was following an instinct. Presumably an instinct he was incapable of second-guessing. In this, he set an example for my creative practice. I am learning to be aware of my creative impulses; unpremeditated urges to do things. That awareness is usually preoccupied with questioning and dismissing impulses rather than enabling them. I was fortunate to have obeyed the quiet prompt to save the eviscerated paint tubes, and not just throw them away.

That very faculty that permits the cognitive distance to second-guess or analyze that also permits us to see things beyond the literal. To see things symbolically and with awareness of associated feelings. I can examine my actions “from the outside” with a degree of objectivity. Obviously, I can do that with Fang. I can reason that as a predator, it follows the paint tube was some form of prey. He treated it with the same behavior. Furthermore, judging from the scale of the tubes, in relation to him, they would approximate the size of a mole or mouse. As mice are a more likely thing for him to locally encounter, that option makes more sense. It is not impossible to conclude that Fang made a tube of paint into a sculpture of a dead mouse.

I do not know what Fang was doing when he stole and gnawed the paint. Judging from the mess, it was a satisfying experience. While the capacity to attribute a likeness to the tube is as foreign to his mind as infinity is to mine, I can complement his instinctive act with supportive awareness. In this, I can raise questions about authorship, object biography, the creative practice, and the role of the artist.