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Catherine Chalmers '
Cockroach Project

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Created: May 11, 2003
Latest Update: May 11, 2003

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Topic of the Week: Facticity and the Death Penalty

The Death Penalty: Up Front and Personal

State-Sanctioned Killing: Up Front and Personal

Site Copyright: Jeanne Curran and Susan R. Takata and Individual Authors, May 2003.
"Fair use" encouraged.

This week's topic was prompted by the review of an exhibition at the Rare Gallery in New York: Cockroaches as Shadow and Metaphor A review by Sarah Boxer of Catherine Chalmers' ""Executions" exhibition, the third part of her cockroach project." New York Times, Arts Section, Thursday, May 6, 2003. <

No, I'm not kidding. This is for real. As a matter of fact, Catherine Chalmers is one of those artists you'd be likely to run into in the Saatchi collection. Some of my readings have found her mentioned in the same kind of company as Damien Hirst and Chris Ofili.

Damien Hirst confronts death and dares to portray it openly. Chris Ofili caused the uproar in Brooklyn with his painting of the Madonna with bits of elephant dung on the piece. Catherine Chalmers explores the world according to cockroaches. And Tracy Hicks collects memories in canning jars. All these artists are exploring new ways of seeing the world. They're breaking out of traditional molds and sometimes facing us with this different vision up front and personal.

Although no one I know of has interpreted the execution series as I have, it has made an outstanding impression on me. Execution, the killing of another by the State, has been a touchy subject since long before Francois Villon's 14th Century Freres Humains Qui Apres Nous Vivez (Oh, human brothers who after us shall live . . . ), spoken by a hanged corpse to the rest of humanity.

Issues of retribution, vengeance, tolerance, forgiveness are all bound up in our feelings about death, particularly death wrought by State edict. For me, Catherine Chalmers' cockroach sitting in that little electric chair with the bolt of lightning coming down worked to separate out the horror of the act from all the issues of guilt and retribution. The act of killing, in itself, stops me cold. That doesn't mean I condone what brought us to this point, but the killing, the cold, calculated killing of a living thing is a humungous act. Perhaps Chalmers' work will strike a greater impression than long-winded arguments. Premeditated, calculated killing is horrible. Just that. Nothing more. Then we'll go back and consider how we want to deal restoratively with social justice.