The Cat Scan: Jonny

Curator: Stewart Smith
date: November 10, 2011
Categories: Entertainment Design
Tags: Cat, Meme, Photogram, Scanner

The Cat Scan, created by “ex-genius” Jonny, is a rather straightforward Tumblr blog of felines photographed with desktop document scanners. One might be tempted to dismiss Cat Scan as toothless kitsch, but if 4chan’s lolcats have taught us anything it’s that the internet’s infrastructure was built primarily to worship our furry friends—and there is of course an enforcement agency associated with the cat-centric internet nation state. 

Cat Scan’s beauty is in the execution rather than the concept, which is of course a silly pun on the medical term Computer Axial Tomography scan. Scanner photography is our generation’s photogram, but unlike photograms which encode time as opacity (and thereby overload the meaning of opaqueness, which is already tied to the physical opacity of objects), scanners encode time linearly perpendicular to the scan head. For me this is where Cat Scan shines. My favorite scans are the distorted forms of felines in motion—particularly when they appear to be reacting to the motion of the scan head’s backlight itself. Not only is there beauty in the precision of a well-scanned cat but there is perhaps more beauty in the imprecision of a well-scanned cat; movements in time compressed between pixels. 

David Reinfurt’s Watchscan (2009) more clearly articulates this phenomenon by scanning the face of an analog wristwatch, a process that warps the rotation of the straight second hand into an arc across time. Glen Cummings’ Between Stations, inspired by scanners, uses very different tools to engage in this process of linearly scanning time. In this case the scan head is a train window moving past telephone and electric cables and the output is rendered as sheet music. With these examples in mind we can peer a little deeper into the simple cat scans.

There’s beauty in the precision of a well-scanned cat.

But perhaps there’s more beauty in the imprecision of a well-scanned cat.

David Reinfurt’s Watchscan (2009). “While the scanning head moves slowly down the flatbed, the watch (and time itself) continues to move always forward.” See also the Serving Library.

Glen Cummings’ Between Stations piece “translates the patterns present in urban infrastructure into music.” See MTWTF and click on “Between Stations.”

Cat Scan itself—like the majority of internet memes—has a limited shelf life and it’s possible that its sell-by date has already come to pass. (But scanner fixies take heart, there’s always another scanner meme around the corner. See Scanwiches for your next fix.) The significance here is Cat Scan’s ability to pose as innocuous pop while accidentally embedding deeper questions about resolutions of time. And it’s got cats.

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