Damien Hirst’s riches and hype are credited to diamonds… and his formaldehyde-pickled sharks and bisected cows. For this, Morrissey says “Hirst’s head should be kept in a bag.” Using dead animals for art is indeed a sensitive practice with its own culture and cliches. Since Walter Potter’s 19th century taxidermy arrangements that inspired Radiohead, the practice birthed the Rogue Taxidermy Society, a set of ethics, grand-scale museum works and even a Chernobyl Chicken or two. The moral tensions inherent to the work provide plenty fodder for shock art and material for haunting conceptual pieces. Let’s take a look at a few and get conflicted.
Claire Morgan‘s Fantastic Mr Fox is taxidermied and poised among a perfect cube of nylon and fishing hook-suspended, lead-weighted pieces of torn black polythene… and rotted rabbit meat. The original purpose of taxidermy — to preserve forever — is subverted. Death is on display. And that applies to strawberries too.
In Head On, Chinese artist Cai Guo-Qiang arranged 99 wolves leaping through the air, charging in a levitating arch into a glass wall. That’s a costly metaphor.
UK artist Polly Morgan advertises immaculate ethics of her art practice: donated and found animal bodies only. Still Life After Death is missing her signature bell jars and tiny chandeliers.
There’s an intentional kitsch to German artist Iris Schieferstein‘s Vegas Girl pistol stag stilettos and it’s uneasy.
Performance artist Nate Hill’s New Animals are festive in their own right, but it’s the delivery that ups the ante. Graphic creation of particularly large hybrids was filmed with Nick Zed and shown on New York public access TV. In a series of Chinatown Garbage Taxidermy Tours, Hill had his audience dig through fish market and restaurant waste for whole specimens, frog heads, puffer fish skin and intestines to saw up some new animals themselves. Talk about DIY relational aesthetics…
New York-based artist Marc Séguin draws with charcoal, ash and tar, but some of his paintings are made with fake-diamond-eyed birds and coyotes that die of natural causes, usually found in the winter. The hand-written description on this one reads: “Dead crow found on Tuesday, September 12, 2001.”
Artist Dan Taylor respects his found creatures. There’s something loving about his recent body of work: skeletal light-up chicks, webbed, framed fish and “regurgitoads.” Something delicate and not very upsetting.
Pascal Bernier‘s series of Still Life Farm Sets featuring a single animal mirrored on all sides into an endless room of ill-fated “food” is heart-wrenching and paradoxical. Is anyone else getting vegetarian thoughts?
Chinese artist Xiao Yu is the most controversial, ethically-challenged figure in this round up. By using questionable human parts and sawing together living mice he’s giving the whole thing a bad name.
Italian provocateur Maurizio Cattelan has taken to lampooning everyone from Hitler to the Pope and suspended horses’ corpses. This particular piece Bidibidobidiboo is a darkly cheerful reminder that everybody dies.