Dog Bites

Golden handshakes, cat scans and tree controversy

Whoa!

Bleszinski is a 24-year-old video game designer who, in his spare time, creates, um, art. His technique is simplicity itself: He places a cat on the glass of his computer's flatbed scanner, hits the button, and records the result. (See photo accompanying this column for further details; we find ourselves unwilling to attempt a description.)

How did Bleszinski, who moved from SoCal to Raleigh, N.C., to work at Epic Games, come up with the idea that led to the creation of his oeuvre? "I was just hanging out at my place in Ontario," he says. "It was one of those 120-degree days, and I was bored. The cats were hanging around my computer, and it was like, 'Cat. Scanner.' I just had this inspiration. It was like the chocolate hitting the peanut butter. You know -- 'Hey, your chocolate's in my peanut butter.'"

Look at those little feets! It's a cat scan.
Cliff Bleszinski
Look at those little feets! It's a cat scan.

Bleszinski posted some of his cat scans ("I was like, 'Get it? Cat scan,'" he says) on a Web site (www.cat-scan.com), at which he also invited others to explore the possibilities of this often-underutilized medium by scanning their own cats and sending him the results. It is this enterprise that has brought him worldwide infamy and multilingual death threats from those convinced Bleszinski, a self-described cat lover, is encouraging cruelty to animals. "Well, sure, you gotta hold them a little bit," he admits. "But bathing a cat is probably more traumatic for it than scanning it."

Many correspondents tend to disagree, and Bleszinski posts their hate mail on his site: "I guess you do not realise that you don't give a shit for your cat since you scanned it!!! You americans are really the country of controversy you say?? (i m french)," writes one Nicopas. "Next time scan your girlfriend's eyes very very close and I bet you will love being cut into pieces by her nails!!! You are an irresponsible person!!"

ESP curator Tony Meredith, on the other hand, saw the cat scans online and e-mailed Bleszinski to ask if he'd like to participate in the six-person show "Emotionally Annoyed." Explains Meredith: "I went out and tried to look for people whose work showed things that were really kind of" -- he pauses -- "fucked up."

Seen en masse, the 77 Bleszinski works in the show become almost abstract; Dog Bites admits to having been transfixed by the repetitive images of fur, paw pads, and (awww!) the occasional tiny tooth. Or, as the artist himself puts it: "They have this kind of aesthetic, surreal beauty to them. ... Uh, I sound like an idiot."

The show continues through Feb. 18, but Bleszinski is already planning his next step. "Someday I will make money off this," he says. "I've thought about having mouse pads or calendars made. Or one thing I'd really like to do is a coffee table book." Say -- memo to Chronicle Books!

Well, how much would an original Bleszinski go for? "Whatever somebody's willing to pay for it," says the artist. "I mean, if you've seen the Web site, you can own one. All you need is a color printer."

Meanwhile, the cat scans have even received a small mention in the latest issue of international art journal Frieze. ("And artists are bleeding from the eyes to get into Frieze," notes Meredith.)

"I suppose I was somewhat discovered in the art world," says Bleszinski. "And you know, why the hell not?"

Natural Blues
Unless you grew up in San Francisco -- oops. Can. Worms. All overfloor.

Um, let's just start over. If you attended elementary school in the city, you'll doubtless already be familiar with the Randall Museum. If you didn't, it's the nature museum tucked away on the shoulder of Corona Heights, an aging, algae-stained cinder-block building visited by 15,000 schoolkids a year, home to such wildlife as a blind possum, a friendly raven, and an owl with a broken wing, inspirer of poems to guinea pigs that include such lines as, "Don't be scared. I won't bite./ I will promise to love you with all my might," and, of course, repository of much enthusiastically poster-painted artwork.

So sure, the Randall doesn't seem like the kind of institution you'd imagine as the villain in a bitter neighborhood battle. "For us to be the bad guys was really hard for a lot of us," admits Ben Harwood, the museum's director of development. "It's not a position most of us ever thought we'd be in."

Well! Apparently, museum staff should have thought of that before they decided they were going to cut down trees!

As part of a planned two-phase renovation of the museum -- whose present building dates from 1951 -- the Randall has marked 14 trees on its 16-acre grounds for removal. For one thing, the museum needs to build new disabled access ramps; for another, the staff hopes to increase space in which to hold outdoor classes. "We're taking out pavement on the east and west sides of the museum and replacing the asphalt with parkland," says Harwood. "We thought the community would think that was pretty great."

But at a recent meeting some angry Corona Heights residents made it clear they didn't think the scheme was great at all. Though the plan calls for each tree that's removed to be replaced, using native species like toyon and live oak, the disgruntled locals demanded a halt to the redevelopment until further hearings could be scheduled. "The whole argument that we'd be planting native trees was kind of lost," Harwood says. "There were about a dozen people, but they were very vocal. There was a lot of anger." Nevertheless, he says he believes "the spirit of cooperation" will prevail.

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