Saturday, 7 April 2012

Stuff and nonsense

I'm always a bit disconcerted by stuffed animals. Why would someone want a dead animal in their home, a constant reminder that this poor creature was once living and breathing and is now just a bit of skin? Wouldn't a picture of the animal be enough?

As for dead animals being seen as works of art - like Damien Hirst's famous creations - that's even more baffling. What exactly is artistic about an embalmed animal?

I know the dead animal is unaware of its bizarre fate, a decorative ornament to be casually appraised by curious visitors, but even so, such contrived immortality seems either tasteless, pointless or absurd.

I had a girlfriend once whose ex-husband was a taxidermist. She did find his occupation rather odd, but what split them up in the end wasn't his work but his insistence that she dressed like a Barbie doll.

I suppose there's a case for stuffed animals in a museum, so you get a better idea of how they actually look, but any other use seems a bit peculiar.

Stuffed animals can also be terrifying if you don't expect them. Try walking into a dimly-lit room and coming face-to-face with a giant bear. It would be enough to give you a heart attack.

Apparently there's now a trend towards "catch and release" taxidermy, where photos and measurements of the animal (or fish) are taken, the animal is released and a resin or fibreglass replica is made. Is that still taxidermy though, or is it more like sculpture?

But what are we to make of those grief-stricken pet-owners who ask taxidermists to stuff their deceased poodle or tabby, so their beloved companion can still be stroked and fondled? How very sad. And desperate. And crazy.

26 comments:

Scarlet Blue said...

It'd be even weirder if we stuffed people and put them on display.
No, I don't understand this stuffing business either.
Sx

Nick said...

Scarlet - That reminds me of waxworks. They're even weirder. Why would you want to pay good money to look at a feeble look-alike when you can see the real thing?

Grannymar said...

Nowadays I don't even stuff a chicken! I would hate a houseful of stuffed animals, I'll talk to myself any day!

Bijoux said...

It's all a bit grotesque to me. I've been in places where they have a huge buck's head on the wall and it's creepy how their huge eyeballs are just staring out at you!

Nick said...

Grannymar - One stuffed animal would be bad enough, a houseful would be horrifying!

Bijoux - I know what you mean, I've been in places with heads all round the walls. It's really eerie.

JohnD said...

Stuffing a Barbie Doll - how weird - no wonder she left him LOL!

Grannymar - chickens cook better without stuffing - just place a small bundle of fresh garden herbs in the cavity. I use tarragon, oregano, garlic chives, thyme and rosemary and tie them into a bundle with some chive lengths. Oh! and throw in a few peeled garlic cloves.

Stuffing and mounting animals came into its own during the reign of the British Empire and was a way for many a 'Young Turk' son of a rich man to demonstrate that they had accomplished their 'rite of passage'.

I think it was a logical successor to "The Grande Tour".

Wisewebwoman said...

On the same theme Nick do you remember this exhibit of freeze dried human remains?

http://sites.google.com/site/stopbodyworlds/media-coverage/gutsy-exhibit

I think what makes both animals and humans glorious is the life spark within them. Taking the shell and stuffing it is so totally sad and outside the realm of my understanding.

XO
WWW

Nick said...

John - A rite of passage, huh? A lot of very peculiar things are done in the name of "rites of passage".

www - I see there was some controversy about exhibiting "muscles, nerves and organs". I don't think I could give an opinion on that unless I'd seen it. It could be quite educational, I guess.

Indeed, it's the life spark that makes an animal interesting, not the lifeless remains.

Suburbia said...

Small Sprog used to plead to go and see the 'stuffed up animals' (as he used to call them) in the museum when he was little.

Then once, in a pub in Exmoor - walls covered in stag and fox heads- Tall Girl exclaimed in a loud voice how awful it was to hunt animals. We were almost thrown out!

Nick said...

Suburbia - I wonder what he found so fascinating about them?

I applaud Tall Girl's courage. What a frightful bounder, querying a grand old rural tradition!

Macy said...

Tried, and failed to find a link to another modern artist who makes displays of dead animals, Beatrix Potter style, dressed up and in anthropomorphic scenes.

I'm with John, in that the whole stuffed animals thing was previously a mark of status, or Hemmngway style, an indicator of virility.

If nothing else, you neded a big enough house to keep them in....

nursemyra said...

The apartment I stayed in in New York last year had a stuffed puffin near the bed. I grew very attached to "Pippin" and was sorry when I had to leave. The owner has promised to leave him to me in her will though I might have trouble getting him through Sydney Customs.

I love Victorian taxidermy. Have you seen Walter Potter's kitten teaparty?

Scarlet Blue said...

I visited the Potter museum when it was at Bodmin [about 1988/9], Ms Nurse, it was really worth seeing - crammed full of tableux of all sorts of wild animals.
The museum was sold off and I believe Damien Hirst bought some of it... but it really was worth seeing as a complete collection - took me several hours to get round the whole museum, to give you some sense of the scale of it!
Sx

Nick said...

Macy - I guess those houses with animals' heads all round the walls can only be a virility statement! I can't think which artist that is either.

Myra - Australian Customs seem to be pretty strict. You might well have a problem with Pippin! I'd never heard of the Walter Potter Museum. Apparently the contents have now been dispersed.

Scarlet - Damien Hirst tried to buy the whole collection for £1 million but for some reason the offer was refused. Goodness knows where the exhibits went in the end.

Rummuser said...

I find it difficult to believe that grief-stricken pet-owners can ask taxidermists to stuff their deceased poodle or tabby, so their beloved companion can still be stroked and fondled. Does this really happen?

Scarlet Blue said...

I am phone bound so can't hunt for the YouTube.... but the stuffed cat on That's Life springs to mind.
Sx

Nick said...

Ramana - If you google "stuffed pets", you'll find quite a few references. Apparently they were very popular in the 19th century.

Scarlet - You can google the stuffed cat on That's Life as well. It seems the cat's owner was amused at what a bad job the taxidermist had done....

Pearl said...

I used to date a trapper who became a taxidermist. I shudder to think of what his living room looks like...

Pearl

Secret Agent Woman said...

My kids once went to one of their daycare teacher's homes for babysitting, and were frightened by her husband's many stuffed deer heads on the walls. I find it a grotesque custom. I'm especially disturbed by big game "trophies" which seems like a sign of ignorant cruelty.

(Now bones, on the other hand, intrigue me. But only found ones. I have several I've brought back from various places, including a wallaby skull I found in Tasmania and smuggled home.)

Nick said...

Pearl - The mind boggles. Maybe he has a stuffed-tiger coffee table?

Agent - I think a room full of stuffed deer heads would make me feel quite ill. What possesses people to do something so macabre? Can't say I've ever been fascinated by bones....

kylie said...

in reference to suburbia and small sprog, i used to love the stuffed animals too and it was simply because out of all the things in a museum, they were the only ones i could relate to.
i understood that i would have loved the living animal represented by the display but i didnt love other things in museums: old anchors or leg irons or what-have-you. it's a case of the best of a bad lot

Nick said...

Kylie - Yes, I can understand that. I don't remember seeing stuffed animals in museums, but they would certainly be more interesting than old anchors.

blackwatertown said...

Taxidermy and its afficionados always brings to mind a creepy Roald Dahl story. Yuk.

Nick said...

Blackwater - I've never read any Roald Dahl so I don't know which story that is. But stories can have very powerful emotional effects.

blackwatertown said...

I think there was one about a young man, new to town, one the eve of beginning a new job, who fell victim to what seemed like a cosy rosy grandmotherly landlady with a house full of once-were-pets.

Nick said...

Blackwater - A house full of once-were-pets? That sounds pretty creepy.