About the book, she says:
"Taking off from some of the things I talk about in this blog, my book explores the cultural and poetic history of preserving animals in lively postures from sixteenth-century cabinets of wonders to contemporary animal art. Why does anyone want to preserve an animal, and what does this animal-thing become? I suggest that taxidermy is always entwined with the enduring human longing to find meaning within the natural world. By drawing out the longings at the heart of taxidermy—the longing for wonder, beauty, spectacle, order, narrative, allegory, and remembrance—I explore the animal spectacles we desire to see, human assumptions of superiority, the yearnings for hidden truths within animal form, and the loneliness and longing that haunt our strange human existence, being both within and apart from nature."
If Ravishing Beasts caught your eye, I suspect it this will be a fascinating read for you.
Last weekend, MOV participated at IDSwest and our booth featured animals from our upcoming exhibit Ravishing Beasts. Specifically: a vole, a snow owl, and a dog by the name of Lucky—all three of them taxidermied.
We’d prepped for possible blow back (”Displaying a stuffed dog? Are you out of your mind?!”), and while there was a bit of that, more often there were double takes followed by incredible conversations, ranging from animal rights to the Museum’s new vision and how Ravishing Beasts fits within it. What a time.
Guest curator Rachel Poliquin aptly describes the exhibit “as a question show.” Don’t come expecting tidy interpretations. Most of the animals displayed are part of the Museum’s natural-history collection, and most are shrouded in mystery. We know little about many of them except that they were donated by Vancouver residents. But more on all that after the show opens on October 22. (Tickets to the opening night party happening on the 21st are now available. Click here.)
We’ll leave you with this: One section of the show looks at taxidermy’s resurgence in art and design (something the crowd at IDSwest was well aware). Other museums are tracking this trend, too. Currently, the MAK art museum in Vienna is hosting Furniture as Trophy, which chronicles the use of animal materials in interior design. There are medieval antler chandeliers, Le Corbusier’s famous leopard-skin covered chaise, and contemporary art pieces, like sculptures by Micha Brendel that use organic materials to explore relationships between medicine, science, and art. Absurd? Surreal? Beautiful? Offensive? That’s for you to decide. Click here.
Image credit: MAK Art Museum
Tomorrow night marks the opening of our latest exhibit, Ravishing Beasts. Long time coming. Most exhibits take years to plan and execute. In a way, this one has taken decades. Some of the animals and specimens on view haven’t been on public display in half a century; others were acquired and have remained in storage ever since. Credit our guest curator Rachel Poliquin for bringing new life to this historic, eclectic collection. Ravishing Beasts features some 110 species, representing two-thirds of MOV’s natural-history collection. The opening party starts tomorrow at 7 p.m. For details and tickets, click here.
In the exhibit, Poliquin presents a thorough analysis of taxidermy, from its origins to its future relevance, and devotes much space to its current cultural moment in art and design. Taxidermy might not appear an obvious design trend at first, but once alerted to it you start to notice it everywhere from Cactus Club restaurants (note the head trophy mounted over the fireplace in most locations), to contemporary art (George Vergette’s Waning Light is featured in the exhibit), to local design (Pemberton-based Pamela Beattie fashions reclaimed furs into upholstered furniture in homage to B.C.’s pioneer past. Interestingly, her husband is a taxidermy enthusiast with an extensive bird collection. The natural world figures prominently in their home. Click here for details on her design practice.).
Taxidermy is not easily described, running the gamut from strange to profound to provocative to kitschy to offensive. Example: In the latest issue of T magazine, The New York Times’ style magazine, Julia Lohmann is interviewed. The London artist and designer is best known for her piece “Cowbench” (pictured left) in which a single cowhide is “stretched over a framework to look like the live animal that gave up its skin for us. Except that the cow is without a head. Or legs… It is a depiction of a cow, made of a cow.” In her design “Ruminant Bloom,” a preserved cow stomach is used as a lamp shade. Her stool “Lasting Void” uses a cast of a calf’s internal cavity after it’s been gutted.
Lohmann’s work inspires much controversy, even outright hatred. For her, the outcry is the ultimate hypocrisy. “You kill and cut up a cow and people are outraged,” she is quoted as saying in the piece. “Yet we do that every day. And what percentage of that meat is being thrown away?” For her, the point is to mark the transition from animal to product—and shake up our comfort level. “The transition point is not the killing, or when you take the organs out—we still have emotions for the animal then. It’s only when it’s cut up that it becomes steak, and we feel detached.” (Read the rest of the article here.)
Poliquin, too, has encountered a backlash in her research and documentation of taxidermy (she is currently at work a Ph.D. on the subject through the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and will publish a book entitled Taxidermy and Longing next year). Her question is this: Is taxidermy more honest to animal form than fashion or art? Interestingly, one of her least favourite pieces in the show is a stool made from an elephant’s foot because the animal was dissected for the design. She sees Ravishing Beasts as a “question show,” and an opportunity to not only explore the related, and many, controversies, but also to see taxidermy in a new way. “Taxidermy isn’t just about death. Its history is rooted in the wonder and beauty of nature. It reveals much about us, and how we see nature in the world.” For Vancouverites, it’s also a chance to see a collection largely donated by local residents. This is a window into the city’s and the Museum’s past. Much more to come on all of this in the coming weeks.
We’re in the final stages of acquiring objects for Ravishing Beasts, our featured exhibit on taxidermy and, more broadly, on MOV’s history of collecting. The exhibit opens October 22; more details are linked here.
The subject matter makes for interesting shipments, each one more unusual, random, quirky, and politically charged than the next. Recently arrived is a gopher diaorama from the wilds of Torrington, Alberta (pop. 200+). The town isn’t as well known as its RV-sized “Torrington Gopher Hole Museum,” which presents 71 stuffed gophers arranged in anthropomorphic scenes (one example is pictured). Imagine: Gopher as cowboy; gopher as farmer; gopher as bank robber. The one featured in Ravishing Beasts is dressed as a tourist—complete with toque, luggage, and a map of Canada—and was created from Torrington’s cache of frozen gophers.
So, why a gopher museum? Like so many other anonymous Canadian towns, Torrington saw an opportunity for tourism. One can only imagine the brainstorming: ”What’s our hook?” “We’ve got an overactive gopher population, lets do something on that.” “What if the town actually were overrun with gophers? What might it look like?” Check out this visitor’s image slideshow for highlights—and visit us in October for the rest of the story.
Image credit: KenniesBurg
We’re about to dramatically shift gears here: Velo-City closes September 7; on October 22,Ravishing Beasts opens. The Museum goes from a look at local cycling culture to exploring the history and present-day revival of taxidermy. An unlikely follow up, you might say. Velo-City was a strong example of the Museum’s new direction and, to our minds, prescient; Ravishing Beasts explores our past, fitting elements of our collection into a contemporary context. The exhibit features taxidermy and other items from our natural history collection that have not been on public display since the Museum moved to its current location in 1968. Expect an eclectic and dramatic round up of exotic and local species alongside taxidermy-influenced artwork by artists like Vancouver’s George Vergette. Also expect interesting debate about the past, present, and future course of the Museum of Vancouver—and the changing nature of museum collecting in general—in the months ahead.
Interestingly, little is known about the provenance of many of the animals in our collection, only that they were donated by Vancouver residents. We’re looking to riff on that a bit, by asking locals to loan us their deer head trophies for a wall display we’re creating near the entrance of the exhibition. To participate, send a digital image and the dimensions of the piece to Wendy Nichols, curator of collections: email@example.com.
It’s going to get interesting around here… Many more posts to come.
Image credit: Rachel Poliquin