Revital Cohen is a designer who came upon an ad for rats engineered to be depressed, sold by Genoway. She couldn't stop thinking about these sad animal-commodities. So she decided to design cages that would cheer the rodents up.
These rats, she discovered, are genetically engineered to be incapable of absorbing serotonin in their brains - just like some humans who suffer from depression. So they've been designed to be sad, with the justification that they might help cure depression in humans - an idea Cohen finds morally questionable. As part of an exhibition in a Belgian art museum called The Unnatural Animal, Cohen created an amazing rat habitat full of fun things to play with and toys that would stimulate the rats' serotonin.
Each compartment in the cage is based on a subversion of a common laboratory anxiety test: forced swimming, elevated plus maze, open field, light dark tests. In this cage the maze has no dead ends, there are areas made for hiding and for gradual exposure training, the swimming pools are shallow and covered in climbing ropes and there is plenty of space, stimulation and serotonin-inducing exercise structures. The design of this object was inspired by DIY cages that people build for their pet rodents. I wanted to explore the space between treating an animal as pet and using one as a research tool.
No word on whether she managed to cheer the rats up.
Sad rat illustration by lizspit; photographs by Kristof Vrancken.