Cockroach KING, acrylic on Canvas 121 CM x 81 CM
Disgusting, repulsive, horrendous…studying the idea of ugliness in the history of art I became particularly interested in the concept of disgust. Using the figure of cockroach, an insect which in many ways embodies human’s repulsion my goal was to confront the audience with the question why we find disgusting difficult to look at?
My work inspired by the abject art, strongly associated with breaking taboos features three manifestations of the disgusting object a painting, a photography and a physical representation of a dead insect. Linked together they imitated a combination of burial place and an altar. However, the figure of cockroach is only a symbol of a wide range of organic matter evoking disgust in human. A big scale painting of a cockroach is an artistic beatification of the object. Modifying its color and size at the same time keeping its realistic form my aim was to present disgusting as aesthetically appealing. This solution explains one of the key feature of disgust that despite of our initial reaction on repulsive object we are in the same time attracted to it. Disgusting is an excess of living, a surplus of pleasure, we are rejected but also attracted by. Cockroach painted with different shades of golden acrylics is glorified as an object of fascination. The only allusion to the insect as such in my work is a stylistic reference to a pharaoh figure. This becomes a commentary on how human’s dislike of cockroaches reaches the times of an ancient Egypt, similarly to human’s admiration of symmetry as a guideline in assessing beauty. This becomes quite ironic considering the fact that a cockroach itself is very symmetrical.
The burial photography of the cockroach provokes repulsion more directly than a painting. The photo-realism underlines that in the experience of disgust sight plays a major role dominating over the other senses. By portraying an object of disgust in a comical the viewer is encouraged to mock his own emotions and feel interested and not repulse by the representation of the object. The photo-montage also underlines how the mechanism of disgust is connected with our cultural background. Mocking human’s disgust by portraying cockroach as an English gentlemen, I wanted to point out that disgust at filth is only present in cultivated nation, where cleanliness is considered as virtue. The physical embodiment of filth and germs causes in us a response to the idea of contagiousness of offending object, confronting us with our fear of dirt leading to diseases which are directly linked with death.
The last component of my work, the physical depiction of a cockroach is phenomenological explanation of disgust and the issue of mortality behind it. A dead cockroach reincarnates a life that is vanishing and decaying. Only an object, who lived once can evoke human’s disgust which explains why non-living matter doesn’t provoke an feeling of disgust. This phenomenon is called as an animal reminder disgust, confronts us with our animal origins and brings up an uneasy fact that like animals we are mortal.
By manipulating the depiction of a repulsive object I portrayed disgust as a trigger of human’s fears but also an object of fascination. This work can be seen as commentary on social, physiological and cultural aspects of disgust but it can also have a cognitive function. Exposing the audience to the real embodiment of disgusting this art-work becomes closer to everyday life experience. By blurring the difference between reality and art allowing the audience acknowledge the sources of their disgust and possibly leading to the better understanding and dealing with the disgust in real life.