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Davis, California

Sunday, May 19, 2024

The art and science of creepy crawlies


Our Davis apartments and dorm rooms are not immune to invasions of various non-human creatures. So why do we hate them so much?

Artist Catherine Chalmers will explore humans’ hatred of such creatures with the lecture “Sex, Food Chains and Cockroaches” tonight at 6:30 in Wyatt Pavilion Theater.

As part of the Centennial celebration, the Art/Science fusion program at UC Davis has organized a four-part lecture series called “The Consilience of Art and Science.” All lectures in the series are free and open to the public.

Based out of New York City, Chalmers uses media such as photography, sculpture, drawing and video to explore her chosen topics. She has gained national acclaim for her work with insects, spiders, snakes and other small creatures to explore why humans are so disgusted with them.

The pieces on the artist’s website, catherinechalmers.com, include detailed photographs of insects eating each other, gigantic sculptural representations of cockroach body parts as well as lengthy videos of frogs, snakes and other creepy crawlies.

Other works, however, are downright whimsical. Chalmers takes a playful approach to insects in her photo book “American Cockroach,” which includes images of cockroaches painted to look like ladybugs and pictures of bugs strapped in miniature electric chairs or mating on disheveled dollhouse beds.

Chalmers said she was drawn to her subjects in different ways. Her work with houseflies was inspired by her fascination with sharing space with them, while her work with cockroaches begun out of her own disgust.

“I think it’s a very complicated thing,” Chalmers said about why people have such hatred for these creatures. “They seem to challenge our sense of controlling our world, of having an ordered relationship to nature … we can’t control them. Where we go, they go – they follow us.”

Carol Simmons, executive assistant to Ullman, said that Chalmers was chosen because of the interesting ways she combined art and science in her work.

Though Chalmers said she is most comfortable talking to art students, she welcomes the chance to explain her work with animals and insects to science students. She said that she hoped people would come away from her lecture with a deeper connection with the non-human world.

Led by entomology professor Diane Ullman and science and society program representative Donna Billick, the Art/Science fusion program began in several departments after Ullman and other members across departments recognized a lack of communication between the disciplines.

“It was critical to create a forum for thought provoking discussions between the sciences and humanities on the UC Davis campus and in our community,” Ullman said in an e-mail interview. “Our hope is that the lectures and discussions that will be part of the [series] will catalyze new collaborations and educational experiences for faculty, students and the general public.”

Future lectures in the series will include the exploration of the connection between technology and art by Eduardo Kac on Mar. 5 and the collaboration between artists and scientists by David Edwards on Apr. 9.

For more information, visit artsciencefusion.ucdavis.edu.


LAURA KROEGER can be reached at arts@theaggie.org.


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