Douglas Repetto's Squirrel Cages

DSC02022.jpg Earlier in the fall, I had the opportunity to visit Douglas Repetto in his office at Columbia University in New York. The founder of Dorkbot and organizer of ArtBots, Doug is an artist and maker and he writes the "Art Work" column for Make magazine. When I visited Doug, he was working on a piece about Squirrel Cages. These cages are quite beautiful constructions, made out of wood with the assistance of a laser cutter.

At the time, I wasn't familiar with the term "squirrel caging", which means to turn things over in your mind without end. One writer describes squirrel caging as the "act of rumination on negative thoughts." Whether they are good or bad thoughts, we all have had the experience of not being able to stop thinking about SOMETHING.


Click on the above photo picture to go to a short movie of the squirrel cages in action.

The completed work, "Distributed Squirrel Cage for Parallel Processing" was later exhibited at the Main Street Museum in White River Junction, Vermont. Doug explains:

Humans are invited to write obsessive thoughts on scraps of paper, deposit them in squirrel cages, and turn the crank, thus offloading the actual work of obsessing to the mechanism. This cutting-edge apparatus applies the latest techniques in distributed, massively parallel processing to the age-old problem of broken human minds.

Maybe Doug could set up a Squirrel Cage installation somewhere down on Wall Street.


  1. I see,I see, one turns the crank and eventually the exhausted gerbils are grated through the slats into a tasty topping. Most ingenious!

  2. I’ve also never heard the phrase “squirrel caging”, but can confirm that a squirrel will circle the interior of a cage in a frantic and terrified search for escape. I mistakenly caught one while trying to rid our garden of a woodchuck with a havahart trap, and felt terrible about the trauma I caused it.

  3. aye, squirrels,hate ’em. Tree rats with bushy tails. Nasty buck teeth, dripping plague fleas, gnawing your electrical wiring, chasing the cat, assaulting the elderly… filthy nut-stealing, fledgling-eating little vermin.

  4. Funny, I’ve been dealing with PTSD for the last four years (think I’m finally coming out of it a bit) and I’ve often described my own mental processes as being a lot like a cage full of hamsters running frantically on hamster wheels. (Never heard of squirrel wheels.) When I would get stressed or triggered, it was like someone had put speed in the hamsters water bottles.

    I think hamsters like to run on wheels though.

  5. hooked on cigarette butts. screeching, eating the helpless offspring of long suffering trees, stripping bark from struggling saplings. staring like idiots when you accuse them, rightly, of raping the countryside.

    that deer was a friend of mine.

  6. Two thoughts:

    (1) I’d like a “squirrel caging” iPhone app, to accompany my frequent outbursts of compulsive, neurotic rumination.

    (2) Yet another Boing Boing blog post which would benefit from the insertion of Yakety Sax.

  7. There’s this large squirrel that comes to my back garden every time. He competes with the birds for the scraps of food that get chucked out from the window. From the way his tail waves, I know he is enjoying his daily excursions. He is wary of cat that always lurks around on the roof. That is minor compared to his worst fears. The horrible dream he had last night about being locked up in a cage.

  8. Not too often you see my hometown mentioned on the internets.

    God I’m glad I don’t live there anymore. Though hey, they’ve got a fine squirrel cage now, so maybe I ought to go visit.

  9. gnawing your electrical wiring, chasing the cat, assaulting the elderly… filthy nut-stealing, fledgling-eating little vermin.

    You say that like it’s a bad thing?

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