THE BREATHLESS ZOO IS HERE!

My book The Breathless Zoo: Taxidermy and the Cultures of Longing!

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ANIMAL FASHIONS

Tuesday
Jul032012

Diamond Tooth Taxidermy on American Hipster Presents

The documentary series American Hipster Presents has done a video on Beth Beverly, a Philadelphia taxidermist and owner of Diamond Tooth Taxidermy.  Miss Beverly fashioned some pretty stunning hats including a chicken hat and a hat with an antler that curves dangerously close to the eye.

Friday
Sep092011

"Well, they were death anyways ... "

Check out Merel Bekking's graduation exhibition "Well they were already dead anyway," part of her graduation project from the School of Arts in Utrecht.

The idea for the series started when Merel began researching guilty pleasures.  She interviewed a number of people, but one sentence stood out.  One woman really loved to buy shoes, endless pairs of shoes.  However, these shoes are made from leather and leather is made from cows. But she condoned her addiction by saying saying: "Well, they were already dead anyway," referring to the cows. In Merel's own words: 

This sentence was the basis of the current series. Day-old chicks, residual material from the bio-industry, can be bought frozen for 2 euros 35 per kilo at your local pet store. You buy paint by the liter, fabric by the meter, and apparently chicks by the kilo. In this way, the chicks are not chicks anymore but they are turned in to material.

 Extensive research preceded the current range of products. I was consciously looking for the tension between what you can do and what you can not do, between chic and tacky. In the series, there is a fashionable fur hat, despite of the very clear reference to the origin of this wonderful yellow fur. A classically stuffed chick refers to the dead, yet remains cuddly. Golden porcelain chick pendants are hung on necklaces which is a beautiful sight. However, for every pendant, a new chick was needed, so these are not as innocent as they look. The chick as a stress ball calls on both emotional and physical feelings.

 

Friday
Dec032010

Stacy Haiduk's Cat Purse ... crazy ... 

At the Daytime Emmy Awards this year soap opera star Stacy Haiduk appeared with a cat purse.  Apparently, Haiduk's character on the Young and the Restless is a crazy lady who thinks that her dead cat is still alive, and apparently this cat purse is made from her stuffed co-star.  But I don't really know the details for sure, and, to be honest, I can't really be bothered to track down the straight facts. Let's just leave it at crazy.  

If you must, read all about it here +

Friday
Mar052010

Schieferstein's Hoof Shoes 

 

Berlin artist Iris Schierferstein's new shoes.  Above is Hoofs (2005) with horse hooves and zippers. Below is her more recent Vegas Girl (2009) with cow hooves and toy pistols and Temptation (2009) with pigeons.

See more of Schieferstein's animal shoes at http://www.froschportmann.com/IS.html

Check out more hoof styles at http://www.designboom.com/weblog/cat/8/view/9050/hoof-shoe-success-continues.html 

Thursday
Mar042010

Strange Sightings : Cat Hat 

Check out the interview with Rebeccan Beachy about her rather unusual cat art including her cat hat. Yes, she made a hat out of a found dead kitten.  Apparently the legs dangle down the back. But if you think that's a tad unnerving, take a peak at the cat marionette endowed with baby teeth a little further down the page.

Huh ... different. Very different.

If you're needing some help thinking your way through such feline crafts, make sure to read the comments below the interview. As ever, when it comes to dead animals, everybody has an opinion.  Or maybe I should say, nobody is without a reaction.  From deep disgust to aesthetic pleasure, nobody can look on a cat hat without feeling something.

And perhaps this is the point. Most of us don't see a dead cow when we look at a leather jacket. But we certainly see a dead cat when we look at Beachy's fluffy bonnet. Typically, we don't invite cows into our homes, onto our beds, or into our hearts.  Unless you're a dairy famer, cows are an anonymous bunch.  However, cats (at least for cat lovers) are something special.  A lot of contemporary artists are using the bodies of dead cuddly loved ones precisely to highlight such inconsistencies in the ways we use and thinking about animals - the ways we put some into the "inedible friend" category and some into the "yummy yummy!" category and some into the "nice Barcelona chair" category. Making a cat into a hat most certainly crosses boundaries and so necessarily provokes strong reactions.    

But still, I'm not sure I'd want to wear my cat (her name is Mary) on my head to make this argument more concrete.  You?

Find the interview at http://gapersblock.com/ac/2009/09/30/the-cat-is-the-hat/

Tuesday
Feb092010

Not exactly taxidermy, but ...

Friday
Aug282009

Animal Masks

Check out this animal mask from Kepa Rasmussen.  Pretty wild stuff.  The animal is a ferret, by the way. See more of Rasmussen's masks here: http://www.kepa.co.uk/ 

Monday
Jul132009

Hunting Trophies versus Belts

In light of recent comments from readers (see below), my next few posts will try to get to the heart of why particular pieces of taxidermy are more offensive to some than other uses of animal.  Hunting trophies seem a good place to start.  Let's call this one: Hunting Trophies versus Belts: Which is more ethically icky?

When most people people think of taxidermy, especially those who dislike the practice, they think of hunters' trophies: severed heads of animals killed for sport, attached to wooden plaques, and mounted on the wall over the fireplace.

Why do trophies elicit such strong emotion, even in meat-eaters? Disgust is understandable from vegetarians, animal-rights activists, and any community who believes that there is no excuse to kill an animal.  But for meat-eaters, jello-eaters, and anyone who owns leather shoes, belts, or bags the reaction is less straightforward. What is the difference? A steak, a belt, a trophy. In all cases an animal has been killed and refashioned.  And yet a clear distinction exists in contemporary opinion: trophies are worse, ethically speaking. Why? 

It could be argued that trophies are more appreciative of animals than leather belts since trophy heads strive to capture some semblance of the beast. Belts, which are nothing but strips of cured, tanned, dyed skin, don't look anything like an animal. The animal has been reduced to a bit of utilitarian material, easily discardable, completely disassociated from the animal it once was.  And in this sense, trophies potentially highlight a hypocrisy: if you eat meat or wear leather,what makes trophies so additionally abhorrent?

But this isn't the way debates usually go about the moral merits of belts versus trophies. The reason? It is the particular way the animal died that offends, not the product that is made afterwards. Leather belts are typically made from the hide of cows that have been raised specifically for their utilitarian benefits to humans (meat and leather), which is to say, leather belts are the products of cold, anonymous killing. The death is planned from birth and conducted in a sterile space with machinery invented precisely for the purpose. Trophies, on the other hand, are the products of passionate, hot blooded killing. Someone has specifically sought out the opportunity of killing an animal, and the trophy head is a remembrance of that experience. Belts are not remembrances of anything: not of the cow, not of person (or machine) that killed the cow, not really even of the belt manufacturer. Belts erase everything about the cow, its life, and its death. Trophies bring it all into focus.

Then again, a degree of respect is always due to the dead. Parading or desecrating dead bodies is as morally reprehensible as violating the living.  That is, just because we may eat an animal, does not mean we want to see its death memorialised.  And this begins to get us closer to the heart of contemporary dislike for trophies. It is not so much death that offends but the blurring of animal with a personal human significance. The animal's death is bound up with a personal narrative of triumph: the two are inseparable. Trophies exist because they embody a significant personal narrative. The animal is remembered because it put up a battle, a worthy chase, but ultimately fell to the hunter’s weaponry, skill, and violent desire.  Such passionate desire makes many urban dwellers queasy. And any memorialisation of the outcome of this desire is necessarily even more queasy-making.

But still, if you eat meat or wear leather, an animal has also died.  Does it matter how it died?  Or who did the killing?  You tell me. 

Monday
Jun012009

Taxidermy Jewellery

British vegetarian and artist Reid Peppard has created a rather distinctive series of animal jewellery. The works use animals that were either killed on the roads, by Peppard's cat or bought frozen from pet stores where they are sold as snake food. 

Peppard creates mice necklaces, winged headbands, and mouse-head cufflinks as sort of "found" object jewllery.

 

Not sure what to think?  Here are Peppard's own words to describe the pieces:

RP/ENCORE challenges our attitudes towards fur, leather and waste. In a world where leather is worn with out question by most, and replaced by un-biodegradable plastics by the rest, it is ironic that the image of an animal preserved using taxidermy is still enough to cause widespread outrage and fist banging. It is for this reason I taxidermy the prolific, consequential vermin result of London’s excess. A member of the UK's Guild of Taxidermists, I use both traditional and alternative methods of taxidermy to preserve and embellish creatures that are widely thought disgusting and unnecessary. When they become sculptural headpieces, necklaces and cuff-links, the specimens cease to be waste and become objects to behold. RP/ENCORE makes use of the city’s leftovers.

 Contact Peppard at www.reidpeppard.blogspot.com

Thursday
Nov082007

Victorian Jewllery

In the second edition of his Practical Taxidermy: A Manual of Instruction to the Amateur in Collecting, Preserving, and Setting up Natural History Specimens of All Kinds published in 1884, Montagu Browne thoughtfully adds a short section on jewellery and household items.  He notes that "society demands that objects of natural history should not all be relegated to the forgotten shelves of dusty museums, but live as 'things of beauty and joys for ever'" as broaches, earrings, paperweights, and tabacco boxes. Hence the new alliance between the goldsmith and the taxidermist, resulting in "a thousand ingenious combinations of nature and art." 

hunting_broach.jpgFor earrings, Browne suggests two leopard claws mounted as "miniature Robin Hood bugles." Beetles also make dramatic adorment for the ladies ears. For broaches, the heads of hummingbirds with "their throats wrapped with a fillet of gold" are very handsome as are the feet of various species of grouse of owls capped with silver or gold such as the one above.  Pins for "the sterner sex" could be made from the teeth of foxes or dogs.

For ornamental household items, horses hooves served as snuff boxes, inkstands, and paper weights, deers' heads as gas chandeliers, and monkeys, bears, ibises, owls, and eagles could be set up as either dumb-waiters or lamp bearers. The shells of tortoises - if lined with silk or metal - were wonderful tobacco pouches, and the long wing bones of albatrosses made strong pip-stems.  Browne's strangest (and now most gruesome) ornamental taxidermy suggestion involved newborn kittens and puppies.  "Kittens or puppies of a few days old, if nicely marked, can be stuffed and mounted on a piece of marble for paper weights, or on a red cloth for penwipers." 

Sunday
Jan072007

Cover "it" with fur

81--Attila_wMtnLionHelmet_300.jpg

For a $2000US, you can purchase an item listed as Mountain Lion. Closed Mouth. Boone & Crockett Scale Mounted on your sports helmet. With cape or Tail as options from Attila the Hun Custom Ski Apparel's online gallery of helmet covers.  Using the finest pelts, the Chieftan Hun Taxidermist creates truly original custom pieces.  In fact, the Hun requires clients to send in their helmets to ensure an exact fit.  Besides the rather spectacular cougar displayed here, available animal options include Alaskan Timber wolf, wolverine, cross, silver, blue, or artic fox, and coyote.

Attila the Hun also sells fur trapper hats with tails attached, mitts, headbands, archery quivers, belts, key rings, and yes, the fur bikini, available in either beaver or otter fur. swim2.jpg Although not properly taxidermy - no beaver head appears anywhere it shouldn't - a fur bikini is just too noteworthy not to take note of.  According the website: "the beaver bikini is a Hun exclusive and sure to be an attention getter."  No doubt. The bikini is one-size-fits-all ("if it doesn't fit you, you probably shouldn't be wearing it anyway"), costs about $150, and weighs 2 pounds.

Check out the Hun: http://attilahelmets.com/8.0.html

Sunday
Jan072007

Animal Mask Sporrans

dunnbadger.jpgIf you are going to wear a kilt, you'll be needing a sporran to hold all those bits and bobs that fill up your trouser pockets.  And if you're going to wear a sporran, it better be one of Craigie Originals' animal mask sporrans.  Although located in Florida, Craigie Originals produce a variety of sporrans and leathergoods for the noble hearted Scotsman, but few items of their items can compare to their animal mask sporrans.  

Perhaps you'd like this badger sporran complete with two well-clawed paws and six brass bells?  It'll cost you $490.  Or maybe a crocodile or beaver sporran?  Craigie Originals has even endured the aroma of making sporrans from skunks.  The company also makes less elaborate (headless) pieces from plain fur.CROCK1.jpg

The animal mask sporrans cost between $400 and $500, but considering the splash you'll make at your party, they're well worth the cost. In addition, any of the sporrans can be made into a purse or bag for the ladies with the addition of a leather shoulder strap.

If a sporran is quite your style, how about a Davie Crockett style raccoon headpiece or a raccoon rug?  Check out all of Craigie Originals' one-of-a-kind items at: http://www.sporrans.com/index.html