Saber-toothed tigers, more appropriately referred to as saber-toothed cats, are the primary subject of E.V. Day’s expressive tableau, CatFight. Continuing her investigation of issues of femininity through the utilization of garments, accessories, and other objects, saber-toothed cat skeletons tangled in battle serve as metaphor for a power struggle or “catfight” between formidable women fighting over territory or dominance.
Upon entering the exhibition, the viewer encounters the skeletons of two adult female saber-toothed cats suspended from the ceiling with thick, plastic monofilament lines (commonly used for fishing). These iconic übermothers of the animal kingdom are frozen in the midst of an aggressive gesture, where one exerts supremacy over the other. The cats, viewable in the round, loom large. Each figure is ivory in color except for silver leaf adorning their teeth and claws, alluding to accessories that might distinguish a female from a male.
While the bones on display are casts from animals discovered in the La Brea tar pits in urban Los Angeles, California, Day discovered in her research that they have a San Antonio connection, as well. During the ice age, these super-felines roamed caves near San Antonio, and the skeleton of a local saber-toothed cat is housed at the Texas Natural Science Center at the University of Texas at Austin. Day’s installation transcends traditional museum displays with dramatic stage lighting and prominent, glistening support lines. Furthermore her concept for this piece is quite different from the didactic goals of a natural history exhibition.
Day’s previous sculptural works often utilized costumes, undergarments, and wetsuits-materials that typically cover one’s body-to tell stories. For CatFight, she chose to focus on the figure, albeit skeletal. This shift in focus on presence rather than absence is a relatively new direction for the artist, who began working earnestly with the figure in Portable Cat Fight from 2007. In that work she took two cat skeletons, the size of domesticated felines, and strung them between the exterior walls of a birdcage-like cube. Unlike the cats in Portable Cat Fight, here the heavy skeletons are weighted by gravity rather than other methods of attachment, such as hoops, a signature of Day’s work.
An intriguing synthesis of natural history diorama, boxing ring, and soap-opera catfight, CatFight reanimates the bones of an extinct creature to make a strong yet playful comment on contemporary gender stereotypes. The bones take on new significance and meaning: they can be seen as surrogates for actresses pulling hair and scratching at each other over the attention of a lover, or over the jealousy that occurs when one’s social standing eclipses another’s. Any meaningful spectacle requires the presence of spectators, and the snakes in the exhibition serve as a masculine foil to the felines’ feminine association. However the piece is interpreted, it’s clear that Day is successful at evoking powerful narratives through her manipulation of objects.