I confess now that I don’t know how I feel about taxidermy.
Paradoxically, there is a haunting allure juxtaposed with primal revulsion felt when I stare at samples of dead animals rejuvenated into the living dead. Questions of propriety are raised – does taking the outer covering of an animal, stuffing it and displaying the noble beast, provide solace for the bereaved pet owner, pride for the hunter and research material for the zoologist, deliver justification? Why do I feel so uncomfortable when faced with a stuffed fox/badger/pheasant/owl while I sup a pint in an old pub? Is there something primitive, echoing the hunter stirring or a ghost of a life that insinuates its presence?
Whilst researching my latest book, The Language of Mixed-Media Sculpture (to be published next Spring), I needed to investigate this ancient craft and write about it at an introductory level – this exercise provided an insight that led to a new awakening to the possibilities of taxidermy and a respect for those that excel at it – I am too squeamish to attempt such work.
Macedonian sculptor Elpida Hadzi-Vasileva takes the employment of animal parts into her art into a new dimension that has earned her international recognition.
Contemporary artist Thomas Grunfeld (Germany) has furthered this concept in his collection Misfits. Here hybrid animal sculptures elevate the traditional practice of taxidermy by relating a sense of disquiet that is transfixing, but restless. The motionless creatures watch pensively through multiple species body parts reconfigured. The Misfits series are improbable animals carved from the artist’s delight and imagination to politically symbolise the moralistic folklore stories from southern Germany. The wolperfinger reference human-like animals that evoke struggles between good and evil. Grunfled has utilised a strong surrealist sensibility in the Misfits that delivers both a witty and unsettling duality that questions our own principles.
My adventures with dead animals in my work, when appropriate, must include the use of tweezers; the car-squashed, sun-dried toad in Book of Revelations: Traffic, carefully extracted from the road, was never touched by flesh. Recently, the purchase of a collection of rodent skins (transformed into ladies neck scarfs, yes complete with heads) from a junk shop, will form the key component of a new sculpture, but each time I handle them I shudder. Wonderful Irish artist claire Morgan has no such reservations – she has harnessed the skills of the taxidermist and created beautiful works of art.
So how do you feel about taxidermy? Included in this post are some links that you may find insightful, entertaining and engaging. I am VERY keen to hear other peoples feelings and viewpoints about the subject so please get in touch.