Art

Selling Insecticide with a Triptych Collage of 60,000 Dead Roaches

Raid® Roach Art (screenshot by the author for Hyperallergic)

Pro tip for starving artists: The next time cockroaches infest your apartment, ask the exterminator to leave behind a few thousand dead bugs for you to turn into a massive collage. It could help you land a plum gig at an ad agency, the latest commercial for Raid® Ant & Roach Killer suggests. Set to classical music, the video chronicles the making of “Roach Masterpiece,” a triptych composed of 60,000 dead cockroaches meticulously glued to canvases, harvested from petri dishes in the Raid Entomology Center. These mosaics of shiny brown wings, furred with legs and antennae, depict some kind of roach reaper spreading the news of how quickly this insecticide kills. 

“[It] was a lot of fun,” says an unsmiling Jonathan Kenyon, creative director at design studio Vault49, of creating “Roach Masterpiece.” (He plays the role of “artist” in the video, a term used loosely in the branding and advertising world.) “We couldn’t be happier,” he says.

The title of “Roach Masterpiece” is not entirely uncontested: Cockroach art has a long history. In the past century alone, it includes photographer Catherine Chalmers‘s series American Cockroach, for which she spent months in her Soho loft photographing and filming cockroach “executions”; painting and decorating her roaches to resemble cuter, more likable bugs; and building dollhouse-sized roach homes where her bugs could shack up. Cockroach wings are the preferred medium of artist Fabian Peña — they comprise, among other works, “The Impossibility of Storage for the Soul I (Self-Portrait),” in which a human skull is covered with the insect parts. In 1972, Ed Ruscha made a screenprint featuring cockroaches against wood for his Insects series. Decades earlier, German graphic designer Carl Struwe took artful microphotographs of cockroach stomachs.

Though some might argue the insect’s use in an ad disqualifies it as “art” in the loftier sense of the word, in terms of sheer size and ambition, “Roach Masterpiece” is certainly trying to be the Sistine Chapel of cockroach art.

h/t The Awl

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