...There is something sufficiently peculiar (read unexpected, off-putting, or downright disturbing) about the lively posturing of animal skins that suggests only an aficionada could possibly write a book on the subject. If I had written a history of slavery, no one would assume any such thing. I don't love taxidermy. I don't collect taxidermy. But for six years of my life, I found it irresistible.
My taxidermy years didn't grow from love, but they did begin with an unsettling sort of fascination. Like a moth irresistibly drawn towards a bare bulb, I have been all-consumed. Some might say obsessed. I've visited natural history museums and private collections across the western world. I've written about taxidermy, curated exhibits about taxidermy, photographed, blogged and talked about taxidermy. I've seen the beautiful, the devastating and the repugnant from haunting works of contemporary art to ancient animal remains lost in almost-forgotten museums. Through my website Ravishing Beasts, I've corresponded with lovers, haters, activists, and kooks (one reader let me know he had smoked the ashes of his dead cat), all because of the unnerving charisma of long dead animals. For me, obsession and fascination don't equate with love and adoration, and a thing can only fascinate for as long as it retains its inexplicable magnetism.
I'm sure you've all had an encounter with taxidermy, whether it was with a museum specimen, a hunting trophy, or a piece of contemporary art. If you gave the animal more than a passing glance, you know something of taxidermy's uncanny mesmeric presence, the way it draws your eyes and demands attention. You can't ignore a stuffed parrot on the mantelpiece in the way you might overlook a ceramic vase, and my fascination with taxidermy was really an obsessive quest to explain why. Why does the artistic recreation of an animal using the animal's own skin (undeniably a very odd practice) create such eerie animal-things?
--"Obsessed: Taxidermy," Rachel Poliquin, The Huffington PostYou can read the whole article--in today's Huffington Post by Rachel Poliquin, proprieter of the fantastic Ravishing Beasts blog and author of the new book The Breathless Zoo: Taxidermy and the Cultures of Longing--by clicking here. If this is of interest and you are in the New York area, come see Poliquin speak--and purchase signed copies of her brand new book!--at Observatory on Friday, August 17th; more details on that can be found here.
All images are from her book, and found on the Huffington Post Slideshow; you can find out more about them by clicking here.