07 December 2010

Rats: From misunderstood rodents to heroes, artsy inspiration and beyond

Okay...so you're just minding your own business, briskly walking to work in the AM after getting off the subway when -- out of nowhere -- an urban rat darts across the pavement, nearly missing the tip of your shoe. What's your first reaction? Do you:
  • Leap a few feet into the air?
  • Grab onto the closest tree trunk?
  • Shriek like a little school girl?
  • Thrust your foot upward in a lame attempt to send the now-long-gone rat careening through the air like a football?
For some, perhaps the correct answer is "all the above" and yet what we tend to forget about the whiskered, turbo-chomping rodents is that they aren't the vile creatures that we mistakenly presume them to be.

Granted, they were partially responsible for taking out 1/3 of the population in medieval Europe due to the spread of the Bubonic Plague, but hey - they didn't actually start the whole thing. If we really want to blame someone, it's more appropriate to point the finger at rat fleas which were feasting on their blood and spreading the Yersinia pestis bacteria all over the better part of Europe and the Middle East.

Let's focus on all the good things that rats have done for us lately, such as helping us to comprehend diseases, conduct psychological studies, interpret drug reactions/benefits, perform search and rescue missions and even sniff out landmines in third world countries. They've also proven to be excellent and rather affectionate household pets that can perform simple tasks due to their sharp intelligence.

Unfortunately for them, some cultures -- such as those in Zimbabwe and Southeast Asia -- make a regular habit of relying on their wee little bodies as a reliable protein source, but I suppose that this factoid offers yet more proof of how instrumental they've been to the survival of our species. Let's not forget Reid Peppard's collection of RP/ENCORE rodent and vermin taxidermy jewelry and fashion accessories - definitely a gnarly sight to behold. I wouldn't say that the sacrifice of rats in this particular application helps to advance our society in any way, shape, or form....um, perhaps we should just move on.

From the interesting news files comes an oddly intriguing project straight out of Surrey, England starring, well, rats of course! Twenty six year old artist Jeeves Basu has, for the better part of a year now, been coaching a highly trained team of sharp-toothed munchers to strategically carve a solid piece of wood into a functioning table. It may sound like an absolutely absurd experiment, but the copywriter/art director is so serious about his efforts that he claims to be documenting the entire process on film. He will then edit it into a final 5 minute time-lapsed version which will ultimately be posted online, appropriately titled RAT TABLE.

Given the fact that the little rascals thoroughly enjoy nibbling all sorts of snacks and are capable of decimating everything from uncured concrete to metal, Basu's fleet of furniture carving rats should be up for the task. If you're eager to keep tabs on the progress of the artist's ace-team of gnawers, check out his Facebook and Twitter pages as well as his website. It's also worth a few minutes of your time to read this interview for further insight into the motivation for this project, which admittedly borders on the weird. At the very least, Basu's crew will emerge with thoroughly exercised jaws and well-groomed choppers.

Rat Table by Jeeves Basu - Teaser Film from jeeves basu on Vimeo.

Elizah Leigh | @elizahleigh
Elizah Leigh's master's degree in education combined with her passion for the written word and deep-seated interest in environmental issues has proven to be the ideal trifecta for her present status as a green journalist. Currently commissioned to write a reference book on vegetarianism, Elizah hopes to inspire people through her words. Follow Elizah on Facebook.

Photo credit: cc:flickr.com/photos/scurzuzu