There is a lot of unusual, creepy or downright terrifying taxidermy out there, to the point where many would hesitate to call it art. Hunters often stuff animals they have shot as an image of pride or preservation. However, there is a taxidermist subculture that sees the act more as an artistic outlet than a mere means of preservation.
Contemporary artist Claire Morgan has been using taxidermy in sculpture for years. However, while many of her pieces seem humane and sensible, there are some that nauseate me.
For example, 2008’s Fantastic Mr. Fox is an average taxidermy fox surrounded by rotted rabbit flesh suspended on fishhooks (http://www.claire-morgan.co.uk/2008(2955700).htm). The scene is almost revolting, although the juxtaposition of images of life and death is effective.
In some ways, works like this are reminiscent of “found-object sculpture” in which the artist creates a sculpture piece using items found at garage sales, garbage dumps or other unsavory places. Taxidermy should be equal to this kind of sculpture. After all, it is creating something out of raw materials, applying a certain amount of skill, and making aesthetic and creative decisions to produce a sculpture piece.
On the other hand, the mere use of animal tissue is not the only gross thing about taxidermist art; some artists go as far as to create new animals or combine pieces of different animals.
For example, sculptor Kate Clark experiments with the overlap between human and animal—literally. Her recent sculptures feature human-esque faces attached to the bodies of animals. While the animals are properly taxidermied, the faces are made of clay and foam and utilize many of the techniques that go into the making of prosthetic makeup.
The practice seems to cross a line between art and mad science, bringing to mind Frankenstein’s monster or the Minotaur. Clark’s work forces the viewer to think of humans and animals in the same being and, in turn, imagine the possibility of their own face on a stuffed creature.
In my opinion, everything about taxidermy except the final product is disgusting, and when used for art, this disgust is greatly amplified. Perhaps it is the trivialization of death or disrespect for life—or my belief that dead things should stay dead.