See video documentation, below.
A 29-screen video installation examines The Life Cycle of Toxoplasma Gondii and the memetic proliferation of cat videos. T. gondii is a parasite spread by cats, which is present in 30% of the human population. The microbe reproduces in cats, and is spread fecal-orally. When imbibed by other animals, the parasite produces cysts in muscles, even the eyes and brain. Mice and rats with toxoplasmosis lose their innate fear of cats, and are instead aroused by the smell of their urine, causing a “fatal attraction.” The cats can capture and eat these docile rodents, and thus the parasite completes its life cycle—through mind control.
While generally presumed to have no effect on healthy people, recent studies by Czech evolutionary biologist, Jaroslav Flegr, show that those who carry the parasite exhibit personality changes, which increase over time. This may be due to neurotransmitter-producing enzymes in the cyst, which sometimes lodges in the brain. Women become more easy-going, gregarious, and attentive to dress. Men become more jealous, suspicious, and sloppily attired. Toxo-infected people have slower reactions times, leading to greater probability of car accidents. Toxoplasma is commonly found in schizophrenics, and may cause more severe hallucinations and delusions.
Human beings are apparently a dead-end for the parasite, which does not return to the cat to sexually reproduce, as it can with prey. However, the proliferation of cats as pets—and on the internet as videos—might suggest otherwise. The installation explores the relationship between our biological affinity for cats and the technocultural expression of that desire.
The Lifecycle of Toxoplasma Gondii was installed for Pitzer College Art Gallery’s Wunderkammer exhibition in January 2015, curated by Ciara Ennis. All but one video was found on the web.