Saturday, 2 January 2010

Cabients of Curiosities

We have a special relationships with things, objects, stuff, art, belongings and collections. We are what we own and we form a 'collective' identity through our national collections.
Cabinets of Curiosities have contained the unusual, the peculiar and the grotesque [i.e the ugly], as well as the unique, precious, rare and splendid (the sublime), and in that sense they form the perfect studies, as they illustrate our fascination with the ugly as well as our marveling at the beautiful.
The desire to own 'one of everything'....

My own foray into this dark and dirty domain has been through taxidermy.
A connection with death and yet the preservation of the illusion of life.
Image: Stoat Trophy mounted on rectangular timber shield.

Taxidermy: Whilst taxidermy may not be popular mass culture, it has seen something of a revival in recent years, especially in Modern Art [possibly stemming from Hurst's works].
To some taxidermy is a morbid creation symbolic of hunting, imperialism and cruelty, and in the past this may have been partially true, but it has always been more than that.
It has also featured in some poorly executed museum displays and equally is still found in some delightful curatorial feats [as found in the Manchester Museum, New Yorks Natural History Museum and the Pitt Rivers Museum]. What better way of learning about an animal than actually seeing it {- yes, of course there is no substitute for seeing an animal 'in the wild' etc etc. }

Taxidermy is one of those topics that spans established genres. It is both a science and an art form. It is concerned with our natural surroundings, the beauty of creation, and also with fiction and narrative. Each taxiderm tells a story and sets a scene. It enables us to become un-naturally close to animals that would otherwise be out of reach. It possibly reminds us of death, but for me it is the marvel of looking at a wild animal, preserved and removed from passing time, seasons and the cycle of life.
Many people are scared when they first encounter a taxidermy specimen. Perhaps this relates to an inner ancient mode of self-preservation. We still feel fear when we see a lion form, regardless of whether it is alive or taxidermed.

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