Posts Tagged ‘taxidermy

19
Nov
12

Review: ‘Preserved’ by Greg Elms at Edmund Pearce Gallery, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 7th November – 24th November 2012

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This is an excellent exhibition by Greg Elms at Edmund Pearce Gallery, Melbourne. The photographs, made using a film scanner re-purposed into a lens-less camera, have great fidelity. Fidelity refers to the degree to which a model or simulation reproduces the state of a real world object and is therefore a measure of the realism of a model or simulation. These photographs have great overall presence – as the artist himself puts it, “Focus of the subject is likewise abnormal, sharp only where features press against the glass platen screen, dissolving into darkness and blur as they recede, implying a sense of entrapment behind the image surface.” This limited depth of field means that the taxidermies loom out of the intimate darkness into the artificial light, the scanners passing recorded as a crescent moon in the eyes of the preserved, the deceased.

Ashely Crawford, in an excellent piece of writing, notes how Elms captures the notion of the animal as ‘other’ while observing that there is much to say about the permeable membrane between human and non-human in postmodern culture. The press release states that, “Preserved raises allusions to the history of zoological inquiry and highlights the sense of loss intrinsic to mortality. Indeed, the works can be read as a series of ecological memento mori.”

These ideas can be further interrogated. Personally, I think it is more than just a singular, momentary death. There is the original death of the animal, its re/animation through the art of preservation, taxidermy, and then a second little death due to the light of the scanner. These photographic animalia may be a reflection on our ecological relationship to the world, caught in a double time-freeze – a postmodern reflection on our memories, histories and interactions with the animal world that are becoming released from the historical contexts on which they are traditionally based, the referent silently split from its once powerful reality. Much as we humans objectify our death through ritual (the dressing of the body, the viewing of the body, the singing of songs, the saying of validations for a life; the coffin, the priest, the burial, the burning) these photographs objectify a simulation of death as though the death of these animals has been pre-served, like warming up a TV dinner in the microwave and then letting it go cold again. Our relationship to the animals of this world is now mainly about death (live sheep exports, eat your heart out!)

Gothic, nocturnal and now immortal, Elms photographs transcend the animal-human connection and evoke primal emotional responses in the viewer causing us to ask, yet again, what the hell we are doing to this planet.

Dr Marcus Bunyan for the Art Blart blog

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Many thankx to Edmund Pearce Gallery for allowing me to publish the text and the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image. All images © and courtesy of the artist and Edmund Pearce Gallery. Text © Ashely Crawford and Edmund Pearce Gallery.

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Gregory Elms
Spotted Hyaena, Crocuta Crocuta
2010
Archival Inkjet Print

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Gregory Elms
Female Red Kangaroo, Macropus Rufus
2010
Archival Inkjet Print

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“Gregory Elms pursues the rupture of photography’s implicit claim to realism. To this end his current series, Preserved, investigates the staged realism of taxidermy. Both zoological document and faux wildlife imagery, the work oscillates between life and death, veracity and fiction, the horrific and the sublime. It documents the lifelike lifelessness of taxidermy, presenting a zoological menagerie that is both hyper-real and otherworldly. The work was inspired by childhood memories of taxidermy hunting trophies on the walls of the Sportsmans Bar, at his father’s suburban hotel. But it’s also a gothic investigation of our relationship with animals, influenced by the Romantic movement, the Age of Enlightenment, and the tradition of vanitas painting with it’s metaphorical associations to mortality. According to curator Simon Gregg it “erects an invisible barrier between us and the animals; a physical barrier but in many ways and with more consequence to us, a psychological barrier.”

As the artist observes,

“I grew up in a suburban hotel with a public bar festooned in taxidermy hunting trophies. I’d spend ages gazing at them and have remained enthralled by their life-like lifelessness ever since. For me taxidermy is akin to photography: it too presents a frozen moment as a copy of the real thing. On one level, the work explores our primal emotional responses when in close proximity to animals and insects. But it also explores what truth means in photography – is a contrived photograph still real? And doesn’t photography always render the real as contrived?  I seek to highlight this conundrum with the further contrivance of taxidermy.

Inspired by gothic and nocturnal precursors in art, and the history of zoology, the fauna are recontextualised into a menagerie of lost lives – some of them, presumably, the celebration of a now forgotten hunting spree. Each one echoes the story of their demise and surrender to human intervention, their poses animated by a taxidermist’s skills of presentation and reality re-enactment. To document the series, I have employed the idiosyncratic image making qualities of a film scanner re-purposed into a lens-less camera, its simplicity reminiscent of a camera obscura. Set in an otherwise unlit studio, the resultant image reveals a constructed twilight that fuels a dark narrative. Focus of the subject is likewise abnormal, sharp only where features press against the glass platen screen, dissolving into darkness and blur as they recede, implying a sense of entrapment behind the image surface.”

Preserved raises allusions to the history of zoological inquiry and highlights the sense of loss intrinsic to mortality. Indeed, the works can be read as a series of ecological memento mori.”

Press release from the Edmund Pearce Gallery website.

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Gregory Elms
Sulphur Crested Cockatoo, Cacatua Galerita
2010
Archival Inkjet Print

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Gregory Elms
Red Fox, Vulpes Vulpes
2010
Archival Inkjet Print

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The Art of Preservation

by Ashley Crawford

In the world of Ridley Scott’s 1982 Science fiction classic Blade Runner one of the most prized possessions is a perfectly replicated owl. The film is based on a 1968 Philip K. Dick novel, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep in which social status is most often based on the ‘model’ of animal one can afford – or even better, the ownership of a real animal in a world where most species have been killed by nuclear fallout. This is the background to a more complex story, but it is one that is infused with melancholy and a powerful sense of loss. What is humanity without the context of the animal?

But humanity and the animal and insect kingdoms have long maintained an imbalanced sense of symbiosis. On the one hand we ogle animals in zoos or more regularly via television documentaries. Only the most hardy of tourists today bother venturing into what remains of natural habitats – all too often zones of environmental Armageddon. Very few species are truly ‘domesticated’. Indeed almost all animals remain the ‘other’, psychologically impregnable – some are good for eating, some are pests but they all, in one way or another, remain objects of fascination.

Gregory Elms captures this sense of fascination with unnerving potency. His menagerie of misfits, malcontents and monsters are captured with alluring charm. Elms reveals no prejudice when it comes to selecting his portraits; the pestilent hyena alongside the strangely elegant and impelling Dead Leaf Mantis, the odious Cane Toad against the loyal Jack Russell. Via Elms’ aesthetic each and every one of them carries a peculiar charm, as though they had been groomed for their portraiture session. With his deliberately formalized composition, his animals become indisputably individualistic. They are not generic dogs, toads or birds. They are members of a bestiary noblesse.

Animals have, of course, long been the stuff of artistic inspiration, from Durer’s famous rabbit to Hirst’s infamous shark. In Australia, Elms fits alongside an enduring history of animal as subject, seen contemporaneously in the powerful 2004 exhibition Instinct at the Monash Faculty Gallery, which featured artists as diverse as Emily Floyd, Sharon Goodwin, Irene Hanenbergh, Louise Hearman, Ronnie van Hout, David Noonan and Lisa Roet.

And while Elms may capture the notion of the animal as ‘other’ he also taps into the strange connections we feel toward other species. The animal-human connection is obviously a fertile one. In light of the success of recent works in the firecracker-hot field of comparative ethology, delving into the minds and emotional lives of animals, there is much to say about the permeable membrane between human and non-human in postmodern culture. Animals have also played an intriguing, little-examined role in the emergence of technological modernity, from NASA’s space monkeys to experiments on animal behavior and intelligence.

But Elms work also hints at the pre-history of animal-human interaction. Throughout art history, animals have been utilised by artists to represent human character traits – a man is a ‘snake’ or a ‘dog’ or a ‘pig’ depending on their personality. Animals have also featured in mythology and the supernatural – the werewolf, the vampire. Elms also turns the gallery into the scientific laboratory, the taxidermists studio and, inevitably, the Hunting Lodge.

Yes, often sadly, (the Cane Toad aside), Elms’ subjects are dead. But they live on with a strange majesty via Elms’ lens.

© Ashley Crawford 2012

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Gregory Elms
Thailand tarantula, Haplopelma Albostriatus
2011
Archival Inkjet Print

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Gregory Elms
Cane Toad, Bufo Marinus
2011
Archival Inkjet Print

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Edmund Pearce Gallery
Level 2, Nicholas Building
37 Swanston Street (corner Flinders Lane)
Melbourne Victoria 3000

Opening hours:
Wed – Sat 11 – 5

Edmund Pearce Gallery website

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16
Aug
09

Review: ‘Cineraria’ by Julia deVille at Sophie Gannon Gallery, Richmond, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 28th July  – 22nd August 2009

 

Julia deVille (New Zealand, b. 1982) 'Ruby Heart Starling' 2008

 

Julia deVille (New Zealand, b. 1982)
Ruby Heart Starling
2008
Starling, sterling silver, black rhodium & gold plate, rubies, antique frame
30 x 35 x 18 cm

 

 

This is an itsy-bitsy show by Julia deVille at Sophie Gannon Gallery in Richmond, Melbourne. Offering a menagerie of macabre stuffed animals and conceptual ideas the exhibition fails to coalesce into a satisfying vision. It features many ideas that are not fully investigated and incorporated into the corporeal body of the work.

We have, variously, The Funerary Urn/Cinerarium, The Ossuary, Skeletons, Black, Victorian Funerary Customs, Feathers, Taxidermy, Time, Eggs and Religion. We also have stuffed animals, cigar boxes, lace and silver, pelts and columns, jet necklaces and Victorian glass domes, glass eyes and ruby hearts to name but a few. The viewer is overwhelmed by ideas and materials.

When individual pieces excel the work is magical: the delicate and disturbing Stillborn Angel (2009, below) curled in a foetal position with appended sparrows wings is a knockout. The large suspended raven of Night’s Plutonian Shore (2009, above) effectively evinces the feeling of the shores of the underworld that the title, taken from an Edgar Allan Poe poem, reflects on.

Other pieces only half succeed. Piglet (2009, below) is a nice idea with its lace snout and beaded wings sitting on a bed of feathers awaiting judgement but somehow the elements don’t click into place. Further work are just one shot ideas that really lead nowhere. For example Cat Rug (2008, below) features black crystals in the mouth of a taxidermied cat that lies splayed on a plinth on the gallery floor. And, so … Silver Rook (2008, below) is a rook whose bones have been cast in silver, with another ruby heart, suspended in mid-air in the gallery space. Again an interesting idea that really doesn’t translate into any dialogue that is substantial or interesting.

Another problem with the work is the technical proficiency of some of the pieces. The cast silver front legs and ribs of The Anatomy of a Rabbit (2008, below) are of poor quality and detract from what should have been the delicacy of the skeletal bones of the work. The bronze lion cartouche on the egg shaped Lion Urn (2009) fails to fit the curved shape of the egg – it is just attached at the top most point and sits proud of the egg shape beneath. Surely someone with an eye for detail and a sense of context, perfection and pride in the work they make would know that the cartouche should have been made to fit the shape underneath.

Despite its fashionable position hovering between craft, jewellery and installation this is ‘art’ in need of a good reappraisal. My suggestion would be to take one idea, only one, and investigate it fully in a range of work that is thematically linked and beautifully made. Instead of multiplying the ideas and materials that are used, simplify the conceptual theme and at the same time layer the work so it has more complexity, so that it reveals itself over time. You only have to look at the work of Mari Funaki in the previous post or the simple but conceptually complex photographs of Matthias Koch in the German photography review to understand that LESS IS MORE!

There are positive signs here and I look forward to seeing the development of the artist over the next few years.

Dr Marcus Bunyan for the Art Blart blog

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Many thankx to Sophie Gannon Gallery for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

Julia deVille (New Zealand, b. 1982) 'Night's Plutonian Shore' 2009

 

Julia deVille (New Zealand, b. 1982)
Night’s Plutonian Shore
2009
Tasmanian Forest Raven, black garnets, cotton, sterling silver, amethyst

 

Julia deVille (New Zealand, b. 1982) 'L'enfant (Infant Funerary Urn)' 2009

 

Julia deVille (New Zealand, b. 1982)
L’enfant (Infant Funerary Urn)
2009
Ostrich egg, sterling silver, ostrich plumes and black garnet
35 x 12 x 12 cm

 

Julia de Ville 'Cineraria' installation view at Sophie Gannon Gallery, Melbourne

Julia de Ville 'Cineraria' installation view at Sophie Gannon Gallery, Melbourne

 

Julia deVille Cineraria installation views at Sophie Gannon Gallery, Melbourne

 

Julia de Ville. 'Piglet' 2009

 

Julia deVille (New Zealand, b. 1982)
Piglet
2009
Piglet, antique lace, pins and feathers
25 x 23 x 13 cm

 

Julia de Ville. 'Cat Rug' 2008

 

Julia deVille (New Zealand, b. 1982)
Cat Rug
2008
Cat, glitter and fibreglass
100 x 60 x 8 cm

 

Julia de Ville. 'Sympathy' 2008

 

Julia deVille (New Zealand, b. 1982)
Sympathy
2008

 

Julia de Ville. 'Silver Rook' 2008

 

Julia deVille (New Zealand, b. 1982)
Silver Rook
2008
Sterling silver, rubies
30 x 25 x 35 cm

 

 

Cinerarium

n. pl. Cineraria
A place for keeping the ashes of a cremated body.

Cineraria
n. any of several horticultural varieties of a composite plant, Senecio hybridus, of the Canary Islands, having clusters of flowers with
white, blue, purple, red, or variegated rays.

Origin: 1590-1600; < NL, fem. of cinerarius ashen, equiv. to L ciner- (s. of cinis ashes) + -rius -ary; so named from ash-coloured down on leaves.

CINERARIA is a study of the ritual and sentiment behind funerary customs from various cultures and eras.

 

Notes on inspirations

The Funerary Urn/Cinerarium: Funerary Urns have been used since the times of the ancient Greeks and are still used today. After death, the body is cremated and the ashes are collected in the urn.

The Ossuary: An ossuary is a chest, building, well, or site made to serve as the final resting place of human skeletal remains. They are frequently used where burial space is scarce. A body is first buried in a temporary grave, then after some years the skeletal remains are removed and placed in an ossuary. The greatly reduced space taken up by an ossuary means that it is possible to store the remains of many more people in a single tomb than if the original coffins were left as is. This was a common practice in post plague Europe in the 14th-16th Centuries.

Skeletons: Human skeletons and sometimes non-human animal skeletons and skulls are often used as blunt images of death. The skull and crossbones (Death’s Head) motif has been used among Europeans as a symbol of piracy, poison and most commonly, human mortality.

Black: In the West, the colour used for death and mourning is black. Black is associated with the underworld and evil. Kali, the Hindu god of destruction, is depicted as black.

Victorian Funerary Customs:

  • A wreath of laurel, yew or boxwood tied with crape or black ribbons would be hung on the front door to alert passers by that a death had occurred
  • The use of flowers and candles helped to mask unpleasant odours in the room before embalming became common
  • White was a popular colour for the funeral of a child. White gloves, ostrich plumes and a white coffin were the standard

Feathers: In Egyptian culture a recently deceased persons soul had to be as light as a feather to pass the judgment of Ma’at. Ma’at (Maet, Mayet) is the Egyptian goddess of truth, justice and the underworld. She is often portrayed as wearing a feather, a symbol of truth, on her head. She passed judgment over the souls of the dead in the Judgment Hall of Osiris. She also weighted up the soul against a feather. The “Law of Ma’at” was the basis of civil laws in ancient Egypt. If it failed, the soul was sent into the underworld. Ma’at’s symbol, an ostrich feather, stands for order and truth.

Taxidermy: Taxidermy to me is a modern form of preservation, a way for life to continue on after death, in a symbolic visual form.

The Raven: In many cultures for thousands of years, the Raven has been seen symbol of death. This is largely due to the Raven feeding on carrion. Edgar Allan Poe has used this symbolism in his poem, “The Raven”.

Time: Less blunt symbols of death frequently allude to the passage of time and the fragility of life. Clocks, hourglasses, sundials, and other timepieces call to mind that time is passing. Similarly, a candle both marks the passage of time, and bears witness that it will eventually burn itself out. These sorts of symbols were often incorporated into vanitas paintings, a variety of early still life.

Eggs: The egg has been a symbol of the start of new life for over 2,500 years, dating back to the ancient Persians. I have chosen egg shapes and even one Ostrich egg to represent the cycle of life, the beginning and the end.

Religion: Religion has played a large part in many funerary customs and beliefs. I am particularly interested in the Memento Mori period of the 16th-18th centuries. In a Calvinistic Europe, when the plague was a not too distant memory, a constant preoccupation with death became a fashionable devotional trend.

Julia deVille

 

Julia de Ville. 'Stillborn Angel' 2009

 

Julia deVille (New Zealand, b. 1982)
Stillborn Angel
2009
Stillborn puppy, sparrow wings and sterling silver
13 x 10 x 5 cm

 

Julia de Ville. 'The Anatomy of a Rabbit' 2008

 

Julia deVille (New Zealand, b. 1982)
The Anatomy of a Rabbit
2008
Rabbit, sterling silver, rubies, glitter and mahogany
30 x 30 x 30 cm

 

Julia de Ville 'Cineraria' installation views at Sophie Gannon Gallery, Melbourne

 

Julia deVille Cineraria installation view at Sophie Gannon Gallery, Melbourne

 

 

Sophie Gannon Gallery
2, Albert Street, Richmond, Melbourne

Opening hours:
Tuesday – Saturday 11 – 5pm

Sophie Gannon Gallery website

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His art work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes Art Blart, a photographic archive and form of cultural memory, which posts mainly photography exhibitions from around the world. He holds a Dr of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne, a Master of Arts (Fine Art Photography) from RMIT University, and a Master of Art Curatorship from the University of Melbourne.

Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: ‘Sleep/Wound’ 1995-96


Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: 'Sleep/Wound' 1995-96 *PLEASE NOTE THIS POSTING CONTAINS PHOTOGRAPHS OF MALE NUDITY - IF YOU DO NOT LIKE PLEASE DO NOT LOOK, FAIR WARNING HAS BEEN GIVEN*

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