This is my a presentation of my research and ideas I explored in this class., in the form of a mind map describing how one idea led to the other.
A few quotes from this chapter that summarise the concept in my mind
“With loss comes remembrance, and with remembrance a longing for the departed and, it its absence, a sentimental yearning for a token, an object, something that can be felt and touched.”
“Death souvenirs have fallen out of vogue since the nineteenth century. Death is now put away, cleanly and promptly.”
“Organic materials have the potential to be far more haunting souvenirs than manufactured objects.”
“Nothing determines that bodily relics will be desired or, once taken, cherished. They should not exist. They should have been burned, buried, or floated out to sea, but instead they remain. As such, death relics an exhibit a strange kind of material longing: a desire to remember in a physical, tangible way, a longing to possess remembrance itself.”
I’ve started narrowing down my ideas and there are some repeating concepts in my thoughts that I’m figuring out. Something about trying to freeze time physically and keeping something forever is interesting to me.
Is anything really forever?
What if we put it online? Does virtual media last forever?
I also see video and animation as a natural next step of preserving something’s liveliness. I think that the gif format is interesting in the sense that it’s a repeating motion that is looping non stop.
What is a virtual cabinet of curiosities? I see tumblr blogs as the current Wunderkammers. The user collects random images that symbolise concepts that are meaningful to them, creating some type of grid that represents their mind map.
Is a tumblr “cabinet” eternal?
My idea is to create a website that will be designed like a cabinet of curiosities.
THe cabinet will include animations / videos / gifs that will give life and movement to the dead creatures. Looping gifs that will attempt and give eternal life to these beings.
Classmate Ken Amarit is also interested in collaborating on this idea of a modern animated cabinet.
This is the type of delicate animation we have in mind:
My expert, Joanna Ebenstein, will only be available for a chat in early March.
However, I did find a new case study: I met with a classmate of mine Zoe Logan, who’s an artist that is involved in amateur taxidermy and also an amateur tattoo artist.
Zoe says that the two interests are intertwined for her, and they also came at the same time. She was working as a pastry chef in a restaurant and one day she noticed they were getting rid of pig skins. She asked to take one home and had decided to tattoo an illustration on it, as a gift for a friend. She got a tattoo starter kit and made this gift. Later on she made more tattooed skins and started taking taxidermy classes at Morbid anatomy/Observatory.
Zoe has pet rat and rabbit, and she says she would never taxidermy any of her own pets. She thinks it’s creepy, too painful to look at and also that the pets never look like themselves. She does feel that she has a close relationship with the type of animals she took apart because she has these type of pets.
“It was gross. Once it’s dead it’s less upsetting… but I’m still like… thinking… please don’t haunt me! ”
Zoe 3D printed skulls and she says the “Memento Mori” effect works with those as well. Another memento for her is her own wisdom teeth.
Because both the tattoo world and the taxidermy world are very serious about apprenticing and hierarchy, Zoe doesn’t do any of them for money professionally.
She only does work for herself and for herself, which makes her a very interesting case, in my mind. The only animals Zoe worked on died a natural death. She told me about her feeling when working on a taxidermy cat, mice and a pigeon.
This week I visited the Morbid anatomy museum and library together with fellow classmate Ken.
The museum is basically a room organised like a cabinet of curiosities with many random objects related to human and animal anatomy. Jaw moulds, specimen jars, skeletons, mummies, taxidermy, books, dolls, photos and more.
The museum is very busy on Saturdays but I got Joanna’s email and asked her to schedule another visit and an interview. Meanwhile she suggested I read “The Breathless Zoo” by Rachel Poliquin.
The book deals taxidermy and tries to understand the motives behind it.
Each chapter deals with a different aspect/reason – wonder, beauty, spectacle, order, narrative, allegory and remembrance.
I’ve been also looking through ebay, amazed with specimen jars and people selling dead animals online. I collected a few images that I found interesting. I liked the ones where the animal was isolated or held by human hands.
http://www.parsonstaxidermy.com/webcam.html this is interesting to watch, because of that project idea I had.
Some new thoughts
- Marina mentioned webcams in zoos and it made me think. What if I placed a webcam on taxidermy? The same way that taxidermy is a still image of a living thing, the webcam will show live footage of a still creature and hopefully provoke thought about man’s attempt to freeze time and emulate nature. I think it could really be interesting and want to approach the American Museum of Natural History to ask if I can place a camera on one of their dioramas.
- Also, yesterday I ordered a bird from ebay, all cleaned and prepared for study / taxidermy and I am looking forward to experimenting with it and also maybe with the bird that Marina found. I am looking forward to getting my hands dirty and dealing with two birds in different levels of human intervention.
- This is just great, Banksy.
Thinking more about dead animals being used by humans for different purposes, This week I gathered and read quite a bit about the subject and tried to realise what is my point of view.
Taxidermy for example, has been in use for many years in different levels of art. In the (great)book “Still Life”, Melissa Milgrom explores taxidermy from many angles and even stuffs a squirrel and enters it to compete in an official championship (in the amateur category).
The first kind she accompanies are a family of taxidermy experts that do work mostly for museums, preserving animals that died natural deaths in zoos or in the wild, some were road kills and few hunted. The Family are described as animal lovers, striving to bring them back to life and present the glory of nature without causing it much harm.
phrases that stayed with me:
– Taxidermy is an attempts to animate nature while preventing it from taking it’s course.
– The beauty of nature and the harsh reality of death ”
Taxidermy champions also share a love for nature, which they choose to show in a slightly different way by “obsessively killing things just to put them back to life”. The championships are a predominantly macho male environments celebrating the hunting of animals. “In his (Walker, the champion. z.s ) view, worshiping nature and killing animals are perfectly compatible endeavours.”
An interesting fact is a category called re-creations in which not a single part of the animal belonged to the real actual specimen. For example, a panda that is made from different animal parts, not including any panda parts at all.
Searching for experts
An wonderful find and knowledge resources that my classmate Ken Amarit mentioned is the Morbid Anatomy museum and library in Brooklyn. It is run by Joanna Ebenstein and every Saturday between 2 to 6 pm she is there for information and questions and I hope to get there this Saturday to interview her. She is dealing with the way we perceive death and beauty both in humans and in animals and also in The way we collect and create specimens. In one of her projects she documented people’s cabinets of curiosities – (“WunderKammer”) which is a concept that I find very interesting.
Cabinet’s of curiosities are basically the first version of museums. Placed in homes to collect and present the wonders and oddities of our world. In the interview with Joanna about the project, she talks about the randomness of the layout of these cabinets vs. the way museums are curated.
Something about the cabinet of curiosities concept appeals to me (being the grid fan graphic designer that I am) and I’m trying to see how I can translate the format to a different medium perhaps.
Many artists have incorporated dead animals in their works in different ways.
The most famous one is probably Damien Hirst, with his sharks, sheep, butterflies and cabinets. He might be a good case study and I feel that he revolves around the same themes in his work.
Antennae magazine that Marina mentioned in class has been a great resources for artists whose work relates to nature. A list of artists that I found inspiring in the magazine and on the web:
Cai Guo Qiang
David R Harper
Emily Mayer – Damien Hirst’s taxidermist, I love this taxidermy realistic house dog. especially because it’s not attempting to glorify reality.
A technological reference
Thinking about technology and the way I can use it in the project.
I stumbled into this project which I found quite disturbing but also thought provoking.
This artist inserted mechanical parts and a microcontroller into a dead frog’s body and moved it inside liquid, badly (intentionally?) trying to emulate it’s natural movement and broadcasting it on the web. I think the thought about cyborgs and combining technology with organic beings is very interesting. The thing I dislike about this project and the problem I have with taxidermy in general is that it seems to me like after all they have done wrong, humans are actually torturing an animal’s corpse without consent and disregarding the possibility of the animals entitlement for burial the same way we bury humans.
When a terror attack or some kind of massive death occurs in Israel, there is an organisation called Zaka that searches the entire area for any tiny piece of human remains to bring to burial. In Judaism, every little piece of the human is considered sacred for us yet none of the animal parts are, in life or in death.
I feel that these are the areas I want to move around but I need one more day of thinking and hopefully by class tomorrow I will have a solid idea of a project.
The things that interest me the most, coming into this class, involve dead animals around us. Not just the ones some of us eat but the way humans collect and surround themselves with dead animals that are utilised for different purposes.
I am fascinated by how taxidermy even came to being. How we create these “Tableau Vivant” of dead animals frozen forever in the same expression. How can we use this concept of taxidermy on other things we would maybe want to preserve? Using dead animals for decorative purposes is a thing I think about a lot. For example, sea shells that used to house living creatures and are used for decoration. Is it any more moral to wear the shell of an animal that died of natural causes?