Cat Rocketship, 2007 Art and Design graduate, shares their work on social media and during a livestream Artist Talk on Thursday, January 7, 2021, at 7pm on our YouTube Channel.
Cat Rocketship (they/them) is a white artist and organizer and future ancestor who grew up in Nebraska and moved to Iowa like a million years ago. They’re using their radical imagination plus drawing and internet skills to help shape a world that doesn’t exist yet.
Cat uses their work to lift up the history of working class people and the power of collective action. They explore methods of art making that make low-cost products and make ideas easy to spread, such as producing stickers, digital and linocut prints, and t shirts. These projects feature words and slogans, and common themes include nature, human interconnectedness with nature, queer identity, and concepts of solidarity and the power dynamics around race and class. Cat seeks to open up conversations about the politics of every day life, worker power, and capitalism. Cat also creates community-based projects in order to create strong connections between neighbors and build relationships. These include large art installations at events such as The People’s Presidential Forum, art builds with community groups, and projects like Portrait Studio and zine making teach-ins.
GENDER & SEXUALITY PROJECTS: Nature is Queer (and You Are Part of Nature)
This collection explores one theme of my work: gender and sexuality. “Are You a Boy or a Girl?” (2020) is a mixed media drawing of a crow over a blue background. Above the crow is a dialogue bubble asking, “Are you a boy or a girl?” The crow responds, “Caw caw.” This illustration came out of reading Stone Butch Blues by Leslie Feinberg. An early chapter of this book explores how as a young child Jess feels like she is “making everyone angry” because of the way she performs gender. For a moment, she is alone in nature. She questions a crow about the bird’s identity and reflects, “Nature held me close and seemed to find no fault with me.”
As a gender non-conforming person who performs both masculinity and femininity, often at the same time, I have been asked, “Are you a boy or a girl?” in many circumstances. When children in a classroom ask, it usually comes from a place of curiosity (though sometimes even children are attempting to replicate gender shaming they’ve seen or experienced). When men ask it in a bar it is a question with no safe answer. They are asking, “Should I want to fuck you or fight you?” They are asking me to quantify how much discomfort they should feel about me and my presentation, and what form of violence they should inflict. In a world where queerness is increasingly accepted, transness is still a dangerous place to live. I felt moved to put this metaphor to paper. The conversation between child and bird leaves an answer hanging in the air – that gender is a construct.
“Nature is Queer” (2020) is colorful illustration captures a few of the endless ways life manifests, the endless variety that means survival, including all the differences in gender, ability, sexuality, and bodies that exist in humanity. It was commissioned by One Iowa to celebrate the completion of their 2020 LGBTQ Leadership Institute.
“Lord of the Butterflies” (2018) was commissioned by Button Poetry to be the cover of Andrea/Andrew Gibson’s (they/them) 2018 release, “Lord of the Butterflies”, a collection of poems exploring gender and sexuality. On it, a silhouetted androgynous figure releases a flock of whirling butterflies, each carrying a symbol representing a different gender identity. The illustration is an exploration of the beauty of carrying many genders inside ourselves, and the confusion of sorting them through in a world where we are assigned one tightly defined range of gender characteristics.
POLITICAL AGITATION PROJECTS:
A lot of my work features loud slogans. This comes both from my work as an organizer, and from the memetic power of slogans on shirts and stickers. People want them. They don’t always know why, but they like the sentiment, they identify with it, they put it on their bodies, and they strive to embody it. Then, through exposure to the new idea, they have conversations about it. They connect with others over it. These pieces are created to create cognitive dissonance or, sometimes just to foster an unruly spirit and a reminder of the power of the people to disobey in order to make change happen (like the FSU sticker).
In order to create great social change, we must believe that it is possible. Artists have a role to play in this. As Toni Cade Bambara, black feminist leader and writer said, “it is the role of the artist to make the revolution irresistible.” As communist poet and playwright Bertolt Brecht said, “Art is not a mirror held up to reality, but a hammer with which to shape it.”
Fuck Shit Up sticker (2018) – I drew this sticker after sitting in a meeting with organizers who were planning direct action over an anti-immigrant pro-ICE bill in Iowa. The folks in the room promised that we would gum up the gears of state power in order to slow or stop the bill. I made the sticker on a whim – it’s not an incisive or witty piece, but people respond to it. Even without the power of being connected to a drive for human rights, for livable wages, for trans rights, it’s a reminder to its holders of the power we have to cause a lot of trouble.
Solidarity Not Charity sticker (2020) – As much as I love the FSU sticker, I’m striving to illustrate the need for and power of collective action and practicing solidarity, not individualized action. The first step is putting the word on everyone’s tongue. The practice of mutual aid is natural to humans, but it’s one that we are educated against here in late stage capitalism. Instead we’re taught that it’s everyone for themselves, and the emphasis on individual responsibility and power infiltrates every aspect of our lives. This concept reinforces and is reinforced by ableism, racism, and sexism. Producing stickers like this one that end up on bags, water bottles, notebooks, and light poles helps spread the idea and concept of mutual aid. It’s part of a greater effort by countless artists, organizers, and agitators to strategically shift culture toward collectivism.
No Borders Bunny (2018) – I drew this during a discussion with organizers about decriminalizing migration. Powerful voices in the room spoke about the inequities of borders: “There are no borders if you’re rich enough.” We recognize that both Republicans and Democrats in the U.S. uphold borders as not just necessary, but the most natural thing in the world. But who do those borders serve? In this image of a rabbit jumping a wall, we are reminded that borders are man-made. They are a tool of the oppressor. We are reminded that borders inflict violence not just on poor and dispossessed humans, but on our non-human relatives as well. We are reminded that we are wild, just like the rabbit, and we can be ungovernable. This is a straight-up anarchist image, and I’ve been surprised by the swathes of people who buy this shirt, sticker, or print. Many of them identify with right wing ideologies. This image has created space for many conversations about radical change.
People’s Presidential Forum art direction (2019) – In 2019, Iowa CCI Action Fund, a grassroots political organization working to build political power with working class Iowans, cohosted a forum where fast food workers, farmers, field workers, and nurses asked questions of Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and Pete Buttigeg. I was asked to create signs, bandanas, a stage, an entrance, and a soundscape that uplifted the people and our collective values that put our communities above profits and our planet over corporate power. Our team was struck by the corporate feel of the event’s location – in Hy-Vee Hall in downtown Des Moines. We wanted to dress the space in a way that made the 3,000 attendees feel powerful and welcomed. We covered the facade of the space – 45′ tall by 100′ wide – with a hand painted banner and mural on kraft paper. We dressed the stage in portraits of our community leaders and words reflecting our commitment to each other. We spent less than $500 to build it all and we transformed the space and covered it in messy, human art.
SKELETONS AND ANIMA PROJECTS
The skeletons are a flexible character in my work. They’re fun, they’ve chill, and they’re a momento mori…in a cute way. To be honest I don’t know why I’m obsessed with death or why I collect bones. I’ve processed the major deaths in my life, but I like to carry a little death with me everywhere. Maybe it’s that any view of the world that doesn’t include death feels incomplete. Maybe it’s comforting to know that my bones and the elements that make me up are fleeting – that even in this very moment molecules are leaving me forever. The anima prints are fun and tie us to our non-human relatives. They also evolved as a big seller at craft shows where in The Before Times I made my circuit.
For a while I was attracted to using skeletons for a large body of work (including a full 78-card tarot completed in 2017) because they are non binary. They exist without race or sex, and I don’t give them gendered costumes. I struggle with this as well — am I attempted to create a world that doesn’t deal with race? What are the ramifications of that? The skeletons can also get away with more things than humans in drawings. The poly skeleton drawing is one of my favorites this year. It’s cheeky af. There’s a whole play party happening, complete with snacks, drugs, and oral sex. But it’s not all that obviously because these characters exist as scratchy skeleton drawings. I can (and have) draw fully fleshed-out humans engaged in sex, flirting, murder, betrayal, love…but there’s something Midwestern goth about only depicting these acts in skeleton form.
COMMUNITY-BASED PROJECTS: MARKET DAY
Market Day (2009 – 2020) is an Indie craft show and community of crafters, artists, makers, and especially women, queer, and femme makers. We’ve cultivated a place for artists to grow together, a place for young artists to get a toe-hold in the community, and a place to expand the audience for low-fi and accessible art in Central Iowa.