Cockroaches, Coca Cola, and Human Evolution

HOW IS THE COURSE of humanity’s evolution enhanced by the cockroach? Could such a universally loathed and commonplace vermin present itself to be a stepping stone towards greater human development and knowledge? Of course! Most people detest the inevitable fact that where there is human activity, there are cockroaches. And it seems the more human activity in one place, the greater the potential for there to be even more cockroaches. And since life is overall a symbiotic process, we, often in unrecognized or unexpected ways, benefit from cockroaches as well. Take this article from New Scientist I just discovered, written in 2014, into account:

https://www.newscientist.com/article/dn25376-dna-nanobots-deliver-drugs-in-living-cockroaches/#.U03CBcYfHwI

To quote the article, “Nano-sized entities made of DNA that are able to perform the same kind of logic operations as a silicon-based computer have been introduced into a living animal” (the cockroach). This experiment is a type of “biological therapy” in which the robot-DNA can travel around the body and do productive things like release drugs. According to the research, this type of procedure has potential to create new treatment for cellular illnesses such as cancer. So they try it first on cockroaches, inserting fluorescently marked robotic DNA into their insect bodies to track the nanobots’ progress.

Cockroaches filled with Nano-DNA that glows florescent! Brings to mind a (not so little) painting of mine I completed in December of 2014:

Big Bug III / 2014 / acrylic on canvas / 48" x 42"
Big Bug III / 2014 / acrylic on canvas / 48″ x 42″

This painting, the third in my Big Bugs series of four paintings, was inspired by the not-so-little roaches that, without contributing to rent, took residence in the nooks and crannies of the Highland Park, Los(t) Angeles apartment I lived in from 2011-2013. I have never been one to be particularly moved by bugs in a negative way; as one can immediately tell from my art, I have a soft spot for them. Or at least find them immensely fascinating. Still, when reaching to fix up a late-night bowl of Raisin Bran and finding a long, twittering antennae and stick legs peering around the inner lip of the cupboard,  an instinctive chill shivered up my spine. Yet again when, coming home from a weekend away to find a baby one just sitting in the sink, unable to climb out. And before you can complain to the landlord, your craziest neighbor comes staggering to your back door rambling about the dozens of cockroaches that hunker behind the pictures on her walls, and to which no amount of self-administered pest control can seem to manage. Such are crazy neighbors, and such are cockroaches.

Though I never witnessed more than a few in my apartment, the few I did experience made a lasting impression on me. With their precise, intricate anatomy, their craftiness and cunning, and their unavoidable reputation within human history, I could not help but study them with fascination. They possessed the power to simultaneously intrigue and repel me; they were both controversial and a part of my local ecosystem.  I could see the workings of a creature whose computational speed surpassed my own, in ways I cannot logically describe, only to be experienced one-on-one. In short, like all other living things, they have an intelligence of their own. Not only can we learn about other ways of being in the world from our uninvited guests, but we can use their intelligence to enhance our own. The fluorescent-Nano-DNA-infused cockroach being a case in point.

Big Bug III, (nicknamed “Bach”, for irrational reasons) though earthly fluorescent, is infused with a commonplace, non-nano-bot drug: Coca Cola.  The appearance of Coca Cola in this image is only partly a commentary on the beverage and the company, Coca Cola being a giant-among-giants of modern-day consumer culture, and a socially accepted, widely used liquid drug.  Its abstracted but instantly recognizable logo dominated by the giant-among-giants paint-by-numbers cockroach eludes the reading of a singular meaning or message. Viewers are swayed by their subjective experiences of cockroaches and Coca Cola, their vision swimming with the unusual psychedelia of the image. Unanswerable questions such as “What does Coca Cola have to do with cockroaches?”, and “Is the can half empty or half full?” float to the surface of thought. Being third in the Big Bugs series, it represents a scene in the progression of modern-day agriculture where the initial food substance (sugar, corn syrup etc.) has reached full aesthetic commodification. The edible has now been branded, no longer a trademark of nature but of humanity.  This aesthetic commodification represents the process of making an organic substance into an inorganic, non-symbiotic commodity for consumption. It is an end with no return. It is self-fulfilling and self-satisfied with its reverse alchemical maneuver of converting living matter into sterile advertising. Only the cockroach it seems can benefit from what is left after the item has been consumed to its end. And it turns out our beloved cockroach, the universal poster-child of the unwanted pest, loves this drug as much as we do.

As a stand-alone image, this painting has many connotations, references, meanings and suggestions interwoven into its visual fabric. I do not want to go into everything this painting speaks of, for it is primarily the job of the viewer to gather from it what they will, and to complete the work within their experience of it. I am just the artist, I create the image. Still, it is of interest to me to share some of my thoughts on the paintings I create. As for Bach, I could write a book on him! Nine months after the physical manifestation of this painting began, it was finished. Over time, more thoughts and feelings about him will undoubted surface. I plan to expound more upon him and the other three Big Bugs in the future. For now, we can rest assured that cockroaches are an integral part of our evolution, both scientifically and artistically.

Big Bug III detail

Big Bug III is on display through June at the Atrium Lobby Gallery, Ventura County Government Center, 800 Victoria Ave. Ventura, California.

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