Generally speaking, I am not a fan of taxidermy that makes new - and often woebegone - creatures from the parts of other animals. I think much of such combinatory art uses animals as mere raw materials, manhandled for shock effect or to manifest the dark depths of the human imagination. Perhaps this is just not my personal taste (I am hardly a fan of ghoulish aesthetics), but I think a certain respect is always due to the dead, animals included. Of course, it could be argued that kittens wearing dresses or post-suicidal squirrels are equally disrespectful, misusing animals for humorous effect, yet at least these beasts are whole, recognisable, and retain their organic integrity. But of course, with taxidermy everything is open for debate.
Having said that, I must admit I find Iris Shieferstein's series "Life can be so nice" immensely compelling. Little pigs, snakes, birds, and other small animals are combined into new species and posed to spell out a refrain from the Prince song "Life can be so nice." Prince's lyrics are unambiguously blissful: "Kisses never lie when delivered / with milk from your lips / Morning glories never cry / My love for you baby drips / Life can be so nice / It's a wonderful world, sweet paradise / Kiss me once, kiss me twice / Life can be so nice, so nice / Life can be so nice." Transmuted in animal flesh by Sheiferstein, the refrain becomes something different, not darker or sadder exactly, but filled with a searing sort of reality, a haunting enigmatic truth.
All taxidermy renders animals immortal, and by that immortality they exist apart from us while still physically lurking in this world. Shieferstein's "Life can be so nice" wouldn't be the same if she had spelled the letters with "real" animals. There is something extra that is conveyed by the fact that these are dream beasts, immortal dream beasts, which literally spell out a yearning for a simple paradise on earth.
Photographs by Stehpan Rabold.