Generally speaking, we think we know our pets. We read their behaviors and tend to their needs, all the while projecting onto them certain attributes and inclinations. Eventually we construct entire pet personalities, without them ever speaking a word.
But do we ever really know what they want, or what they need?
Artist Kuang-Yi Ku has no pets of his own, but he’s observed his friend’s cat with interest. One day, he noticed the feline was in heat and acting rather strangely. “I was not sure what feeling the cat experienced but I just thought that I could feel it want to have sex,” Kuang-Yi explained in an email to The Huffington Post. “However, I am not a cat, so of course I could not understand what cats want.”
This limitation intrigued Kuang-Yi, who doubts it’s possible to ever truly understand another person’s feelings, let alone another animal’s. Despite the lack of hope, he began his latest project by interviewing pet owners and veterinarians to find out more about the feelings of pets ― particularly, pets’ feelings about sex. Is sex just about reproduction for pets? Is pleasure a guiding factor? What about attraction?
The first thing Kuang-Yi learned was how ubiquitous a practice castration is, along with the resounding opinion that it makes pets healthier, tamer, and more suitable for domestic living. The artist was shocked at the popularity of the response. “I just asked myself: ‘Do we (humans) really have the right to cut off another creature’s sex organ and even claim that it is for their own good?’” he explained. “However, if we don’t do that, how could we solve the sexual problem of pets?”
Kuang-Yi devised two potential solutions to this “sexual problem.” First, in lieu of castration, he’s opting for contraception. The artist is developing design propositions for spray-on condoms, as well as oral contraceptive pills ― of course, for pets. And second, to help pets find potential partners, Kuang-Yi conceived of a dating app specifically for pets. How else does anyone meet someone nowadays?
The dating app “PatPet,” currently in progress, is a collaboration between Kuang-Yi and Yi-Ling Wu (an engineer), Tzu-Yen Chen (an architect). and Wen-Yu Tsai (a filmmaker). The design vaguely resembles Tinder, Grindr and the like, with photo streams accompanied by users’ age, gender and personal preferences. Of course, all the images are of cats and dogs, but this much is obvious.
Oftentimes, as Kuang-Yi work reminds us, pet owners and lovers imagine the animals in their lives as innocent companions, almost eternally infantile in their cuteness. But perhaps we’re forgetting something. Specifically, pets’ sexual needs and desires. Save for the occasional awkward chortle that results from witnessing a pup humping a pillow, do we ever appreciate the possibility that pets are sexual beings too? In an interview with Dazed Digital, Kuang-Yi compared the widespread denial of animals’ needs to the way we treat people with disabilities, often assumed to be “angels without lust or desire.”
The contraception and app projects are part of Kuang-Yi’s ongoing artist residency at Liverpool’s FACT, called “Pet’s Petting.” There, the artist is re-imagining the way humans will interact with their pets in the future ― the main difference being that pet owners will acknowledge and encourage their pets’ sexual needs decades from now.
“Maybe in the future, it will be a new practice of animal welfare,” Kuang-Yi said.
Kuang-Yi considers himself a multidisciplinary researcher, at once a biomaterial scientist, a visual artist, and a gender study theorist with a masters degree in dental science. His work often takes a hybridized art-meets-science approach to unpacking the invisible structures that govern the way we live.
As a queer man, Kuang-Yi often works to destabilize the norms that govern our bodies and desires. “For me, in my future imagination, medical technology is no longer controlled by the doctors and some experts,” Kuang-Yi said. “The knowledge is shared to every individual. So people in the future can choose their own body structure. In the queer utopia, every individual might look different, but sometimes there will be a group of people with similar appearance to share one identity.”
Kuang-Yi’s work with pets, which he described as “fictional design,” has raised even more questions than he started with. Assuming in some distant future “Pets Petting” comes to fruition, what role would owners play in the facilitation of their pets’ sexual exploits? How would human architecture shift to address the newly adopted need to cater to their beloved animals’ urges?
The artists imagine a brave new world with brave new animal sex hubs in it. Such centers of activity include, prospectively, a Love Hotel for Dogs in Taiwan, and a Dog’s Sex Park in France. Furthermore, Kuang-Yi hints at a universe in which owners relocate to live closer to their pets’ longterm partners, completely restructuring the way we live. The project, founded upon scientific research, straddles design and science fiction with a little bit of furry, erotic fanfic thrown in.
In the end, Kuang-Yi embraces the silliness of his proposition while acknowledging the serious undercurrents beneath the surface ― the importance of sexual freedom for all, no matter how “other” they may be. According to Kuang-Yi’s forecasting, pet-centric architecture will be coming to a world near you in 2046.
Until then, humping pillows will have to do.