Review of her work at a Canadian gallery showing in 2003:
Viewing Catherine Chalmers' exhibition Food Chain is a little like watching The Sopranos on television. Both are about the drama of sex, intrigue, predators, consumption and death. The twenty-two large-scale colour photographs in Chalmers' exhibition are the result of a long-term project, which involved raising insects and other animals in order to re-create the predator-prey encounters one would normally see in nature and then capturing them on film. In viewing the exhibition we are able to witness a food chain that takes place in the artist's New York loft. A caterpillar eats a tomato, a praying mantis eats a caterpillar, and a frog eats a praying mantis. The result is humorous, horrific, surprising and unsettling.
Photographed on a stark white background with controlled lighting, the creatures are removed from their usual contexts and we are forced to examine the vivid detail of their actions. "I'm interested in how, these days, we're unhinged from the natural world," says Chalmers. "The truth is, these life and death struggles happen all around us, all the time. And in some ways, the very beginning of our desire to be civilized is a desire to be out of the food chain ourselves." Her riveting photographs reinvent natural history for a culture increasingly distanced from nature.
I heard about Catherine last night on an archived show Animals on Ira Glass’ This American Life. Very moving. During the program these points were made by the narrator and Chalmers.
It made her see animals like most people. She found herself taking on sides, and these sides change. You take the side of the underdog, then this one becomes the predator and you change sides again. It is a twin set of emotions, disgust and fascination. She goes on to point out the hierarchy of death. We put our human emotions into it when you can see a full grown mouse, that can see feel in a way that is clear, it get harder. She makes the point about who gets to decide what makes a pest versus a predator; the mouse, the snake or us?
I admit to having killed hundreds of caterpillar this last summer. It was vile. Day after day killing and still they came and wiped out the lettuce, spinach, beans, etc. And yet I will continue to plant. At least I am paying attention and I am paying attention to details more intently than any time in my life.Chalmers said she thinks of her apartment as an oasis, in the middle of Soho. She loves coming from the cars, the concrete to living things. In another away it is the middle of a planet full of nature. All around things are eating, having sex and dying and we are in the middle of it unaware.Now I have also possibly killed hundreds of worms. I am afraid to look. Fuck master composter, I’m coward composter. I am headed to compost class tonight, hoping to get the backbone to face my wormery despairs. I need to face this reality.