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Beaty Biodiversity Museum

The Beaty Biodiversity Museum at the University of British Columbia is a newly open research centre and museum focusing on all thing natural and all things naturally diverse.
Read more about the museum here +

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Taxidermy Artists

In recent decades, taxidermy and other preserved animal parts have begun to appear in a surprising amount of contemporary art.  Taxidermy has become a potent medium to discuss a variety of pressing issues: the contours of the line between humans and other animals, questions about conservation and species loss, and more basically to provoke deeply enigmatic encounters with the natural world.  The thing is recognised as an animal, but the nature of the encounter is less clear. 




Not Taxidermy but ... 

Check out this charming little film about UK jewellery designer Kate Gilliland. For those of you who have been following this blog for awhile, you'll know all about the new vouge of young British female artists transforming dead animals into beautiful and beloved objects.  Most of Kate's work is not taxidermy, but it offers a gentle, precious take on death by gilding little bones, transforming them into tiny treasures.

See more of Kate's work on her website:


"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.



Where's Chloe?

Ok ... more old stuff.  I've just come across this piece from 1994 by Nina Katchadourian.  As you can see, it involves a stuffed lapdog on a pillow, but the story of the piece is what counts.

"A group of artists were invited to make sited works at the San Diego Museum of Natural History as part of inSITE '94. I kept coming back to the animal dioramas as my primary point of interest, because they seemed so full of paradoxes: the animals were shown "in the natural habitat," but the viewer always came unnaturally close to them; they were made of their real skins, but at the same time, they seemed dead and artificial. To me, pets have always presented interesting questions around the natural and the unnatural, I found myself wondering if people ever preserved domestic animals this way. It turned out that people did, and I found a taxidermist in the San Diego area who sometimes stuffed people's pets. Through her, I arranged to borrow Chloe, a Papillion lap dog, who belonged from an older woman who lived in Palm Springs (Chloe was at the taxidermist's for some cleaning and touch up). I interviewed Chloe's owner on the phone about Chloe's natural habitat: a house with a cream-colored carpet, a special pillow, and a peach-colored towel that Chloe slept on. I proposed setting up Chloe in the same manner as the other animals in the Natural History Museum: presented in a vitrine, with signage indicating Latin name, habitat, etc. The museum, however, refused to exhibit the piece, stating that it was offensive, and that people would find the situation confusing and that children might get upset. I pointed out that Chloe was genetically very much like the Coyote who lived in a nearby diorama, and that the Coyote didn't seem to upset or confuse anyone too much, but to no avail. The piece was booted out of the show. I was allowed to place the vitrine in the museum, sans, Chloe, and Chloe was displayed at a local gallery instead with the anecdote of how she came to be there."

And here's the picture of the display sans Chloe -- the vitrine in the middle with a bio on the pillow rather than Chloe. For more visit:


Cai Guo-Qiang’s Head On 

I've just come across this great article on Cai Guo-Qiang’s Head On which discusses the piece within the various museums it has been displayed, in particular the National Museum of Singapore and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum.



Artist: Kate Clark

Talk about unsettling ... these sculptures by Kate Clark are some of the eeriest things I've seen in a while. 

Despite the perfect blurring of human face and animal body, these creatures don't seem to have been born this way. Rather, they have the air of humans transformed with the poetic intensity of an ancient Greek metamorphosis.  They exude a distinct philosophical acceptance, a long suffering wistfulness, a calmness that seems hard won after the panic of entrapment has at last subsided.

But then, when reading the stories of Ovid's Metamorphoses or any such tale of transformation, I've always wondered about what it must feel like to realise you have forever become a spider, a bay laurel, or a stream. The finality of a life lost but not finished and the claustrophobic horror of becoming a voiceless tree or rock or a stag.  In makes me think of the anguished thrashing of Wikus van der Merwe in the South African alien film District 9 once he realises that, slowly but surely, he is becoming an alien.  But panic can't last forever.  Evenutally acceptance comes, and a new, ghostly life of the forever transformed begins.


Fantastic Mr. Fox 

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.



Betty Spackman

Not officially taxidermy, but if you happen to be in and around the Lower Mainland area of Vancouver, check out Betty Spackman's exhibit "Found Wanting." I haven't seen the show myself, but it consists of 43 forty relic boxes filled with animal bones variously found or given to the artist.  The animals on exhibit are mainly domestic animals that are consumed as meat or tranformed into other "useful" products for human use.  The exhibit is meant to offer both a reality check and a lament for human ingratitude towards the animal world, the misuse of animals, and the human greed for ever more.

The exhibit is on until March 27th, 2011 at The Reach - the gallery museum in Abbotsford.  For more information visit


Z is for Zebra

On now at the King Street Gallery in Syndey until December 11th is Rod McRae's exhibition "The Heart of the Matter," which explores the human impact on the animal world.  Using only animals which have died naturally or were ethically sourced, McRae's exhibition addresses a number of issues in condensed taxidermic form including hunting culture and the meat industry.

''This is not a show about taxidermy, this is a show that uses taxidermy specimens to talk about the environment … for people to have empathy for the animals so that they feel something for them - a sculpture in bronze doesn't pull at the heart strings like animals do,'' McRae said in an interview with the Sydney Morning Herald. Read article here +  See more images on the gallery page here +   


Maurizio Cattelan's cat cage

This just sent in from a reader.  See a few close-ups here + Thanks Eric! 




Tom Schmelzer, Darwin, and the Church

Take a gander at Tom Schmelzer's fabulously eccentric 2009 installation, "Homo Bulla, or the sacred baboon" composed from baboon, carpet, bishop's ring and miter, and a bubble machine.  The piece is a reaction to the Archbishop of Canterbury's apology to Charles Darwin on the 200th anniversary of his birthday, September 14th, 2008:  "Charles Darwin, 200 years from your birth, the Church of England owes you an apology for misunderstanding you and, by getting our first reaction wrong, encouraging others to misunderstand you still."   See more of Schmelzer's work at


Joseph Cavalieri's Two-Headed Swallows


See more of Cavalieri's work here +


A Few Words on Tinkebell

Tinkebell, the Dutch performance artist best known for killing her own cat and making it into a handbag (below) and a reversible cat-dog purse known as the popple presented an exhibition of her work at Torch Gallery in Amsterdam late last year. 


The Torch gallery offers this analysis of TINKEBELL's work:

"TINKEBELL. provokes by exemplifying the blind spots of modern society. She confronts a public that revels in being indignant about everything that has nothing to do with them, but at the same time is very apologetic about their own actions. She questions why millions of male chicks are brutally killed every day (often by throwing them against the walls of a barn) but she gets arrested for threatening to do the same in public. Why are people who openly discuss the lowering of the sexual age of consent treated as vile pedophiles, but are 'barely 18' websites intensely popular? By turning her own cat into a handbag she tries to show people their own hypocrisy about the use of animals for consumption and leather production. If anything, her works form a extreme incentive for the discussion of our morals and the way society is developing." 


Any thoughts from readers?  What do you think of that reddish fox-like thing being dragged down the street outside Cartier? Is she actually challenging hidden beliefs?  Or are her goulish aesthetics too strong to provoke any thought beyond, "eww .. gross?"


Alex Randall's Rat Swarm

A few unusual pieces from Alex Randall collection of taxidermy and lighting fixtures.  Above "Rat Swarm" with twenty-seven taxidermied rats swarming together into a rat pillar in order to reach the globe of light.  Below is "Duck Desk Lamp."  Check out more at


Artist Julia deVille

Some work from Julia deVille, a New Zealand born, Australian based artist.




Check out more of her work and her highly impressive website here:


Raf Veuleman at Strychnin Gallery, Berlin

Belgian taxidermy artist Raf Veulemens is exihibiting his work at the Strychnin Gallery until March 22nd, 2008.  See more of his work here +



Børre Sæthre's Unicorn

Check out this recent installation by Norwegian artist Børre Sæthre. It can be seen at the PS1 in Queens.  The exhibit is a highly immersive experience infuence by an 2001: a space odyssey aesthetic with flashing lights and strange noise and odd visual affects such as the cloudy unicorn - at times the glass is perfectly transparent, at times the glass appears hazy and obscure.

 See a video of the exhibition here  The unicorn piece is at the end, around 3:15. 


North Woods Chimera

3vv-head-smalles.jpgAccording to Homer, the Chimera from ancient Greek legend had the head of a lion, the body of a goat, and a serpent for a tail. The fire-breathing monster was said to have terrorized the Lycians of Asia Minor before being slain by Bellerophon.

In contemporary usage, the word chimera has lost its ferocity and refers to a mere illusion, an unrealistic fancy, a wild fabrication of the mind. The scientific meaning, however, highlights the ancient beast's genetic fusion: a chimera incorporates the genomes of more than one organism. For example, a bough from a peach tree graphed onto the stalk of a plum tree could be termed a chimera if both peaches and plums flourished on their separate limbs.

Sarina Brewer's North Woods Chimera is rather more provocative: three vulture heads sprouting from the body of a cat. Using only roadkill, donations from veterinarians, discarded livestock, and other already deceased animals, Brewer views her work as a form of resurrection by endowing carcasses and animal remains with a new life and a disturbing beauty. Co-founder of the Minnesota Association of Rogue Taxidermists along with Scott Bibus and Robert Marbury, Brewer aims to expand the imaginative possibilities of taxidermy by manipulating and transgressing the limits of the natural world. "I call it art," Brewer states, "you can call it whatever you want."

go to Brewer's website +


Life can be so nice

Generally speaking, I am not a fan of taxidermy that makes new - and often woebegone - creaturesfrom the parts of other animals. I think much of such combinatory art uses animals as mere raw materials, manhandledfor shock effect or to manifest thedark depths of the human imagination. Perhaps this is just not my personaltaste (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 beastsare whole, recognisable, and retain their organic integrity. But of course, with taxidermy everything is open fordebate.

Having saidthat, 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 outa refrain fromthe 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 theletters 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. 







Photo: Anthony Cheung.

On the white floor of the gallery, a lioness is sleeping, her head resting on her crossed paws, her ears softly turned downwards. She is relaxed, at peace, without worry. But there is only half of her, the front half, beautifully taxidermied, which disappears into globules of gold arcing away from her middle section. The work is a collaborative creation by the Dutch artists Afke Golsteijn, Ruben Taneja and Floris Bakker and is evocatively entitled Ophelia after the tragic heroine of William Shakespeare's Hamlet.

The presence of a real animal in a gallery space, especially half an animal, is disconcerting to say the least. If the lioness wasn't so flawlessly taxidermied and so gently posed, and if she wasn't accompanied by the lumps of gold, Ophelia would seem better assigned to "road kill" than "art." But the visual appeal of the work lulls viewers, and the lioness's almost-human pose almost allows us to imagine ourselves in her position. Hiding the seams hides the violence inherent in taxidermy.

Despite the rawness of the work, its meaning hardly seems confined to its materials. Lion: dun-coloured predatorial mammal native to the African savannahs and Indian forests. Gold: atomic number 79, soft, shiny, yellow, malleable, dissolved by mercury. Rather, Ophelia seems to exist somewhere between its concrete presence and its allegorical significance: t he lioness and the gold, the queen of beasts, the king of metals and money.

The work offers a vision of a world where fantasy and reality merge into infinite possibilities, uncertainty, and wonder. Is the lioness liquefying or coalescing? Has she fallen under some enchantment or is she dreaming herself into existence? Or is this an alchemical vision of matter being transformed into the highest and purest of elements, or a more sinister symbol of humans' transformation of nature's vitality into capital? Is this aesthetic hedonism or brutality? The work brings to mind Stephen Greenblatt's description of wonder as "the power of the displayed object to stop the viewer in his or her tracks, to convey an arresting sense of uniqueness, to evoke an exalted attention." A wonder isn't a wonder until it completely bewilders our expectations. A wonder enthralls us with its strangeness. It's magnetic, magically charismatic, and altogether spellbinding. Yet, while a wonder may transport us out of ourselves by evoking strange and unnatural imagining, a wonder always draws us back - binds us so to speak - to its very real, very concrete presence.

In writing about their work, the artists draw attention to the frailty of the line dividing observed reality and poetic imagination. Combining their talents with glass, metal, embroidery, and taxidermy, the artists decorate and adorn real animals, transfiguring them from regular creatures - rabbits, hedgehogs, swans, birds, mice - into the tragic heroes of contemporary fairy tales. "The basic idea is that various stuffed animals undergo a transformation. It is difficult not to think about death when looking at stuffed animals, but in this case, the morbid is transformed into something beautiful." In one work the ears of a rabbit, its head mounted on a wall as a traditional hunting trophy, are embroidered with intricate looping flowers. In another, a small hedgehog has been soldered on the antique frame of a child's wheeled toy. Sewing pins blend in with its own quills. The works oscillate between brutality and beauty, melancholy and wonder. Ultimately viewers are left to make meaning of the pieces from their own reservoir of images.


The Hunting Accidents

Pascal Bernier's works portray a world disenchanted with its own lost innocence, a world which is marred by the violence of science, agriculture, and human desires. His work highlight the roles in which we place animals and the fantasies that animals - whether hunted or farmed, taxidermied or cloned - allow us to dream about ourselves.

His bandaged taxidermied animals from his series labelled (Hunting Accidents) are at once ludicrous and pathetically endearing. On the one hand, the idea of carefully bandaging a stuffed polar bear or penguin is playfully absurd, on the other, the act acknowledges irreparable loss - what has been wounded will never in fact recover despite all our best efforts. The bandaged animals could be poster children for environmental doomsayers:mere tattered shells of their former health, soundness, and beauty which have all beenbeen irrevocably lost. Ultimately Bernier's works are about the merciless blindness inherent in human nature.

See more of Bernier's taxidermy work here +