Abbey Lee & Cara Stricker On Your New Fav Art Project [Exclusive]

A “pet” need not always mean something “tame” or “domesticated.” Quite the opposite—the word can also be used affectionately, to connote attention and care. Case in point is PET, an all-female artist co-op founded by director/photographer/music producer Cara Stricker, and web artist/musician Madeline O’Moore. According to Stricker, “PET came from a desire to nurture the beginning of something you really care about.” Indeed, PET was first conceptualized as a platform of mutual support, a space for creative experimentation and fearless expression.

Launching on August 11th with the first of a series of six showcases at Brooklyn’s National Sawdust, PET comprises a long list of creatives: Abbey Lee, AZUL, Louise Chen, Naomi Shimada, Lizzy Sanford, Sonja Mauro, Natalia Parsonson, Soliana Habte, Natalie O’Moore, Anna Cordell, Kate Silver, Dana Marcolina, Diana Irvine, Nicole Van Stratum, Jedda Daisy Culley, Gina Gammell, Vivianne LaPointe, Margot, and Chela. To celebrate the launch, first Stricker and Sydney-based photographer Natalia Parsonson took a trip to El Mirage, where Stricker posed for a series of portraits taken exclusively for Milk (which you can ogle in the slideshow above) that aim to embody the mission of PET—that is, to be a reliable platform for women in the arts. Then, model and actress Abbey Lee (whom you may know from Mad Max: Fury Road or The Neon Demon) sat down with Stricker to ask her about her goals for the collective, and what we can expect from their series at National Sawdust.

Photographer Natalie O’Moore.

You are launching your first [PET] event at National Sawdust. What’s going to happen there? 

We have some really amazing acts here; Margot, [who will be] performing a violin piece with string ensemble as well as new songs off her solo record. She will begin the night with a violin and grand piano duet, joined by Sonja Mauro. Following that is rare Angeleno [singer], Azul. I saw her perform [before] her show at FORM festival in Arcosanti, Arizona, and she just blew me away! Closing out the night is the ephemeral French and English downtown NYC producers, Beau.

What’s really interesting here is each performer is also inviting another artist who inspires them [to paint] in a VR Tilt Brush live [alongside them] on stage. [The painting] will be projected on the walls of National Sawdust.

I wanted to give a stage to masters of unique visions and connect them with their contemporaries in other mediums to allow their expressions to come together for a heightened experience.

By Cara Stricker.

So these PETS are all uniquely gifted, but what specifically drew you to these women? Do they all have something fundamentally in common? 

They are all badass female producers of sorts! They are women I look up to.

For instance you, specifically—your support and the importance that you place on your health, creativity, career, love, and friendships is very inspiring and something I’ve always looked up to. Your ability to take on characters, [to] focus and really express freely without hindrance. [You do whatever it takes] to ensure the purest expression of a project.

Madeline, whom I co-founded this with is pretty much the best coder and web artist I’ve come across, and also a musician. The way Naomi inspires women—[she’s] a dynamic force of self-acceptance and body image, and [is expanding] this into film [that documents] social issues that affect women across the globe… The list is endless!!!

Fundamentally, it’s not about excluding sexes, but a chance to actually make a sustainable difference. To create films, music, exhibitions, showcases, and mixed media material [by and curated by women]. Statistically, [these areas] tend to favor a male viewpoint.

Drawings by Abbey Lee.

Where do you think your passion for femininity came from? 

Probably my family! To be honest, their independent dispositions felt very normal growing up, and it seemed the only way to be. I guess it’s not really a passion for feminism here; I’m focusing on experience and the comfort in expression.

What would you like to see change for women in the arts? 

Have equal expression of all genders regardless of color or sex preference. We’ve seen a lot of change here in the last couple years but there is still so much inequality.

“Although I do know what it feels like to…be turned away for the strong burly man with his low voice that makes the client feel safe.”

Have you had any specific scenarios as a female artist where your gender has been a hindrance? What did it feel like? 

Yes and no. There are a lot of men and women that have given me guidance. Although I do know what it feels like to walk into a room and try to persuade someone that you’re right for the job that you want to do and are trained for, and be turned away for the strong burly man with his low voice that makes the client feel safe. And later, asks you out for a drink. That hurts a lot. That kind of boys club I’ve definitely experienced.

In music in happens a lot too. I don’t want to become harder because of it, yet it’s overwhelming at times and you have to be on your guard a lot. It’s frustrating.

(L) Painting by Jedda Daisy Culley. (R) Naomi Shimada.

What do you want people to talk about when they walk out of that art space?  

I want them to be inspired to create what innately comes to them, and to feel like they experienced a new kind of immersive exhibition.

Do you have specific plans or things you would like to see happen with PET in the near or distant future? Or are you planning to see what forms organically?  

Producing film under PET and releasing music as a label is part of our loose plan. But finding the artists to work with on these projects will be an organic process. In the very near future, I’m really excited to see how other PETs utilize the collective and shape it as their own. Linking with charities here at some point is a number one [priority] here too.

(L) Photo by Soliana Habte. (R) Folk-rock band, Beau.

I’ve never really met anyone so willing to collaborate and open themselves up as an artist. Why does collaboration mean so much to you? 

It inspires me! And really allows the demons to subside, and to cross thresholds that you never knew were possible.

What frightens you the most about taking on this type of project? 

Becoming overwhelmed and losing sight of what you set out to do. Learning to breathe.

What is the most invigorating aspect? 

Watching it run WILD.

PET will be launching on August 11th, as well as their online platform PET.COOL. The first showcase will be held at National Sawdust on the same day. For information and tickets visit their site

Portraits taken exclusively for Milk by Natalia Parsonson.

Special thanks to LiveFast.

Stay tuned to Milk for more art collectives worth joining. 

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