Q&A With RAT TABLE Creator Jeeves Basu
Ben. Willard’s Socrates. Splinter. The Bubonic Plague. The Secret of NIMH. The word ‘rat’ might conjour the aformentioned pop culture zeitgeists, but these misunderstood rodents have never been poised to change the face of design — until now.
Enter RAT TABLE: a miraculous object that will be created entirely by rats.
(Visit RATTABLE.COM for project updates, video previews and more.)
Is RAT TABLE simply Jeeves Basu‘s crazy art project, a statement on commercialism or an ingenius marketing stunt? Like a pair of tiny incisors gnawing a small hole underneath your bedroom door, time will reveal.
If the recent Cool Hunting blurb on Rat Table left you unsatisfied, indulge your obession with Rattus norvegicus on The Lair and take a peek into the twisted, brilliant mind of Jeeves Basu …
LAIR: Do you like rats?
JEEVES: Rats are alright. Working with them has helped me see past the stereotype that they are just these grimy creatures that lurk in the sewers. In fact before we started the project, I was convinced that all rats looked like Splinter from the The Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles.
LAIR: How old are you?
JEEVES: I am 25.
LAIR: I Googled you earlier and saw that you work as a Creative at Saint London. What do you do there?
JEEVES: I am a copywriter/art director at Saint which is an ad agency in London. I work on lots of thingsâ€¦ from making pieces of film to posters to interactive things for the Internet and beyond. My teammate and I just finished a campaign called â€˜Recode Decodeâ€™ for the Victoria & Albert Museum in London.
LAIR: What inspired you to start the rat table project?
JEEVES: It sat as a spec idea in my portfolio for a while. Then one day in conversation with a friend we said how it would be amazing if we actually tried to do it. So we did. Itâ€™s nice when youâ€™re working for yourself. I like being in complete control of the creative process. Without lots of people interfering. I think creative people have to create. I wrote an article on this for Boards magazine.
Itâ€™s taken over a year to figure everything out. From how the rats will carve the table, to how to build the enclosure to getting the right people involved to make this happen. I treat the project as an experiment. Even though weâ€™ve planned it as thoroughly as we could, weâ€™re having to make some bits up as we go along. I guess its because we have nothing to compare it against or use as a guide. I like that. It makes me feels like we are genuinely doing something new.
LAIR: Do you think that rats get a bad rap?
JEEVES: Yes, and itâ€™s why I think the idea of working with rats to create something beautiful seems an interesting flip on things.
LAIR: What were some of the reactions you received?
JEEVES: The usual two are â€˜Thatâ€™s crazyâ€™, â€˜how the hell are they going to do that?â€™ and â€˜how will they know where to leave the legs?â€™. Iâ€™ve also heard, â€˜This is freaking amazing. I love itâ€™ (that was you).
I never though in my life I would end up attempting something like this. And with rats of all things. Itâ€™s all come about in quite a random way.
LAIR: How many people does it take to make a rat table?
JEEVES: Itâ€™s a small team. Weâ€™ve got camera guys, a sound designer, friends whoâ€™ve helped me build the enclosure and help with all aspects, my animal handler and his assistants and of course the rats themselves. Lots of them.
LAIR: Is this table being commissioned by someone or are you just making it for fun?
JEEVES: Rat Table is not a commissioned piece. I thought it was interesting and wanted to give it a try. Product design is an area that interests me. I particularly like design where the process is as important or as compelling as the end piece.
I like doing stuff that makes people go, â€˜how did you come up with that?â€™ I think it shows youâ€™re in a good place creatively. Iâ€™d like to take on more commissions too. Big or small. And work across even more types of media.
I didnâ€™t receive any grants so Iâ€™ve put my own money into it. Which is fine. It makes me want it to work even more.
LAIR: Do you think that products created by animals (instead of out of animals) is the next big thing?
JEEVES: Lets look at archetypal man of the future â€“ Fred Flinstone. Look at all the great things around himâ€¦ A turtle used as a drum, a porcupine hairbrush, a pig under the sink as waste disposalâ€¦ I could go on. A bumblebee razor, a fire breathing dragon toaster. Amazing.
LAIR: Do you think that you would eat anything placed on a table built by rats?
JEEVES: I donâ€™t see why notâ€¦ wouldnâ€™t you?
LAIR: How do the rats carve the table? Are they being guided in some fashion or is it a free for all gnaw fest?
JEEVES: They are very clever rats.
LAIR: What do you look for in a rat and where do you get the rats from?
JEEVES: Rats that donâ€™t keep falling asleep are good. As are ones that like to gnaw. If one starts, the others copy. All the rats are hand-picked by myself and my animal handler. He has many and takes good care of them.
LAIR: On your website you have a photo of a cat wearing a wig.
What was that?
JEEVES: These were teaser posters that pointed people to a short film online. It was a project we did for the launch of Hellboy 2. Die-hard Hellboy fans will know that heâ€™s a bit of a weird superhero that is obsessed with catsâ€¦I knowâ€¦and we released a â€˜tribute to the cutest catsâ€™ film that looked like it had been posted online by Hellboy himself. Have a lookâ€¦
LAIR: So you dabble in cats and rats, interesting.
What are some things that you have learned about rats that you didn’t know before?
JEEVES:The front incisors of rodents never stop growing. Thatâ€™s why they constantly gnaw on stuff to control the length of their teeth. Unfortunately rats and mice donâ€™t chew perfect archways in skirting boards like in cartoons, though that would be pretty neat.
LAIR: Do you have a favorite rat?
JEEVES: The leader rat. The others do what he does. If he gnaws, they gnaw. Otherwise my favourite rat would be whichever rats donâ€™t bite me.
LAIR: Besides enslaving rats for your own diabolical schemes, What other things do you like to do?
JEEVES: I like to write. I have a long list of sketch ideas I hope to do something with one day. At the moment Iâ€™m concentrating on my product ideas. In addition to Rat Table, Iâ€™m also working on something called Impossible Lamp. Itâ€™s â€˜a lamp made of wax that works without meltingâ€™â€¦
I have lots of other product ideas Iâ€™d like to try too. But Iâ€™d like to get Rat Table finished before I start on those. Iâ€™d also like to collaborate more, particularly with fashion and furniture designers.
LAIR: What are you going to do with the table when it’s finished?
JEEVES: I would like to exhibit the table along with the 5 minute time-lapse making-of film. Iâ€™ve had chats with a few galleries already. If anyone knows particular shows/galleries that might be interested, please do get in touch through my site http://www.RatTable.com
LAIR: How will you know when the table is finished?
JEEVES: I have this mental image of how I see the finished piece. To get a rough ideaâ€¦ imagine a really simple line drawing of a table. Now imagine that some of the lines are just a bit more wobbly than usual. It wonâ€™t be a massively abstract form passing for a table. It will look like a table.
LAIR: Have you received any feedback from the rat community yet?
JEEVES: Not yet. But Iâ€™d love to hear their thoughts.
LAIR: What are you going to do with the rats when the project is over?
JEEVES: The rats will return home with my animal handler.
LAIR: Have you ever owned a pet rat?
JEEVES: Iâ€™ve never had a pet rat. But I imagine if I had, Iâ€™d talk to it, sharing my worldly thoughts. And one day itâ€™d reply, and Iâ€™d be like â€“ wow, you can talk. And immediately look for ways to monetise a talking rat.
LAIR: What was the best movie you saw in 2009?
JEEVES: I saw the film UP in 3D at the iMax. I loved the bit where you see hundreds of balloons lift the whole house off the ground. What an amazing visual. And the really evil dog with a squeaky high pitch voice. And the dog pilots were funny too. It was wonderfully written and there were so many nice ideas in it.
LAIR: Did you ever see the movie Willard?
JEEVES: Never heard of it before. Did a quick google search to find itâ€™s about a man who seems to have developed an extremely healthy, normal and especially everyday friendship with millions of rats.
Iâ€™ve no desire to do the same. The rats we are working with are all pros. Seriously. And would never want to be seen hanging around with the likes of me.
In fact the next time you see them, theyâ€™ll probably be in an ad for soap powder or scurrying about in the air ducts for some Hollywood action film.
– All photos courtesy Jeeves Basu
OFFICIAL WEBSITE: http://www.rattable.com/
EDIT: Recent RAT TABLE updates include the following, via RAT TABLE tweets:
– progressing with a rehearsal for the finished table and filming in Feb 2010. go rats go! (1/13/10)