The adventures of Derek, the Virtual Reality Cat

I have been very busy painting, from memory, the virtual reality drawings I have made. I will write about them all more fully later. For now, I want to talk about Derek. My favourite painting by far is my virtual reality cat. Notice, how I have taken possession of him, he is my cat. Notice how I have given him a gender, he is a him. Notice, too, as you will, that he has a name: Derek.

Derek started life as a cat. A cat that isn’t called Derek. Here is a photo of the non-Derek cat.

I doubt this cat is really called Derek.

Derek lives in a dark space. Derek is happy. Derek, the cat, is suspended in mid air in mid time. He lives there now. He is happy there. He is in a state of static not-quite-real reality. But who owns Derek? Does his original owner, a friend of mine from Shrewsbury, have the right to claim him as her possession? She certainly owns the cat in the photograph above. He isn’t called Derek to her. He might not be a he to her. He could even be a she. I suspect he is a she. I don’t know. I should ask her (the owner).

So if he is now a he to me and he is now Derek (named and gendered by me), does that mean that he is now my and not my friend’s cat? Do I, the artist, who has transformed him from solid organic matter, fur and paws, whiskers and warmth, into a series of marks and lines, own him now? I’ve changed a lot about this cat. He doesn’t much resemble his inspiration. He’s a copy.

Virtual Derek

Derek is still recognisable as a cat, yet he isn’t at the same time. He is a cartoon cat. He is a humorous cat. He isn’t a cuddly cat. Yet, he is quite cute in an ironic crudely drawn way. He clearly isn’t a cat as you and I might know a cat. We can’t stroke him. He doesn’t move. He isn’t animated. He can’t purr. But he’s now my cat, my virtual reality cat. He’s Derek.

Then, Derek became an oil painting. Is he still a cat? He is still suspended in time and space. He won’t change. He’s changed his dimensions from three to two and he’s changed his appearance, but not totally. He might decay, over time, as a painting, but that will be a slow process (I hope). I have captured him in another moment of time and space, moved on from the time I drew him in VR. He is in two dimensions.

Derek has had many incarnations now: cat, photograph, social media cat, memory of a cat, virtual reality cat, memory of a virtual reality cat and now oil painted cat. Derek has travelled far. Is he his own owner? Does Derek own himself? Or do you, the viewer, take part possession of Derek? Is he partly yours? Do you want to take some ownership of him? You will take him away after reading this, in your memory. That memory might only last a few seconds. But it transforms Derek from an oil painting to firing neurons and a virtual image in your head. If you forget him, is that the end of Derek? Perhaps you are his final and only owner and the rest of us (my friend the original owner, the original cat, the photo, the drawing, the memory, me) are just temporary custodians of Derek.

Derek in oils – is he mine now?

Who is Derek anyway? Is he real now? Oh so many questions. I will miss him. Alas poor Derek, I knew him so well.

Ultimately, I can’t help thinking that my re-constructions (deconstructions) of Derek the Cat are not actually that accurate. Clearly, they aren’t. In fact, my ‘drawings’ in virtual reality and in oils are quite crude, cartoonish, almost. The whiskers are rather alarming. I made a decision to turn Derek around and colour him brown and fawn. But that doesn’t matter. The conceptual journey of Derek is the artwork rather than my re-creations.

Derek lives on for me.


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