Cats. The ancient Egyptians worshipped them, and now the internet does.
Reykjavik-based designer Thorunn Arnadottir, creator of time-stopping clocks and warm-blooded radiators, is now launching her latest project: melting kittens.
Pyropet is a cat candle perfectly timed for Halloween: you burn the kitty candle and as it melts, a surprise is revealed—a charred, devilish skeleton with fangs.
The cat’s name is Kisa (the Icelandic word for kitty) and the idea first came about when Thorunn began thinking about the use of candles. If, say, a jolly old Saint Nick candle were deformed as it melted into a sad pool of wax, would there be anything to show for it?
It may as well be turned into “a true theater of the macabre in wax,” she said.
Thorunn, who studied at the Royal College of Art in London and has designed for Swarovski, said that every cat has a split personality—purring one minute, hissing the next. Kisa, then, represents both the good and the bad, transforming from cute to demonic through the burning of candle wax. Thorunn spoke to me from Iceland—where they don’t even celebrate Halloween.
VICE: So the idea came about when you were thinking about the way people use candles. Are you over tea lights and candlesticks? Or is it just the candles shaped like Santa Claus that you want to change?
Thorunn Arnadottir: The shape of a tea light or a candlestick makes sense, because its form follows function to provide light. But the purpose of candles in different shapes really puzzles me. Why make them into elaborate shapes when they are going to be all deformed and creepy when they are in use? I saw potential in there to make something more out of this experience.
Pyropet captures the duality of a purring cat turned into a “brooding skeleton.” Why so ghoulish?
It's just so much fun, because people don't expect it. Candles are usually in the area of some sweet and cute home decorations. It's a very romantic product. You would normally not expect to see the skeleton of the cute little cat candle you just lit. People don't even think twice about what they're doing to their candle, they will just assume that it will melt down and nothing more. They know the story before they light it... It's just a bit boring. I find it very satisfying to be able to create a new storyline in a product. It's like a romantic film that turns into a horror satire.
When cute goes wrong, is there a beast inside?
Yes. Cute makes us feel safe and relaxed; it's something predictable, well-behaved, friendly. So when cute suddenly goes wrong, it's unpredictable, it's uncanny, we don't know how to react or control it, it becomes a... beast.
How many candles will you make for your first run? Where are they produced? Is it limited edition?
We tried to find a factory in the US or Europe that could make them, but had no luck. We ended up finding a great candle factory in Hong Kong, and we have been developing the whole production process in collaboration with them. We will need to fulfill a minimum order quantity of 1,500 pieces, and that's why we are doing a Kickstarter campaign, so we can cover this cost plus other start-up expenses. We decided to make the candle available for a reasonable price and not a limited edition, although we might make some limited-edition versions of them later.
Have you ever owned a cat? Was it a bad experience, or do you just really like Halloween?
Don't get me wrong, I love cats! And yes I've owned a cat, and he was the sweetest thing, loved to cuddle and would even fetch a ball, like a dog. However, in the evenings he would sometimes go completely ballistic and shoot across the walls while making these crazy, beastly growls. I have also noticed that throughout history in popular culture, cats have often been associated with sorcery and witchcraft, and even cat owners joke about how moody or untrusting their cats are. There is a great mysticism attached to cats, they were praised as gods in ancient Egypt and now they rule the internet. And they have nine lives. It's very suspicious. I don't really believe in superstitions. In the UK, meeting a black cat is considered to be good luck. It seems to be very inconsistent, so no, I'm not buying into that one. We don't celebrate Halloween in Iceland, so I don't have any experience of it personally... sounds like fun, though!
Why did you decide on the colors pink and gray for the burning cats?
I initially made the cat pink because I loved the contrast between the sugary color and the metal skeleton inside it, but I wanted to offer other colors too. Some people have asked for a black version, but I thought it just looked too dark, I thought it should start out as this sweet little creature that will then have a metamorphosis into something darker. So I've created a soft gray version for those people who are uncomfortable with buying pink stuff. I think the colors also go great together.
So when you burn the candle, an aluminum skeletal frame is revealed. Does the aluminum have a distinct smell when it is burned? Does it charcoal?
No smell. It will charcoal a little bit in some places.
How long did it take you to figure out the melting? Were you stuck in the design studio late at night?
Oh, yes. I can't even count how many different prototypes and tests I have made of both the candle and the skeleton, and people will probably not even notice the difference. That's exactly what the biggest challenge was, to keep the initial design almost the same, but make it burn more nicely, and to make the production processes easier.
How do you think people will use the aluminum cat skeleton, as something to hang on the Christmas tree? I’m sure it’s a keepsake to be saved and not tossed out into the chilly North Atlantic.
It is up to the user what they want to do with the skeleton. After the candle has been burned, it can stand as a sculpture with the melted wax around it. Or you can pick off most of the wax and then pour boiling water to clean away the rest. It would be wonderful as a Christmas ornament. In Iceland, there's this story about the "Yule Cat," a crazy cat beast that eats children who don't get new clothes before Christmas. He's like some sinister children-eating fashion police! So... yes, creepy cats are very Christmas-y in Iceland.
Would you ever do other animals in the Pyropet series? An elephant could be cool, or a seal.
Yes! I'm already planning the next animals. A phoenix will be revealed next spring— rising from the ashes.
What are the final plans? When will this finally launch into production?
If we reach our Kickstarter goal, then we're all ready for production and ready to take orders from stockists as well. They will be ready to ship in January.
What are your future plans for Pyropet and other design projects?
Kisa is only the first product of Pyropet, our plan is to expand on the range and add more animals to the collection. Kisa will lead the Pyropet gang to world domination!
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