Accepted Paper:

Replicating life: taxidermy and the natural body's artifice  

Author:

Petra Tjitske Kalshoven (University of Manchester)

Paper short abstract:

Drawing on fieldwork and hands-on experience among taxidermists in the UK and the Netherlands, I will discuss a skilled practice concerned with exploring the boundaries between life and death and between human and non-human animals, predicated on an ambivalent desire to replicate the living body.

Paper long abstract:

Practitioners of taxidermy, the art of arranging skin, claim that their goal in mounting an animal is to make it look natural. Taxidermists are in the business of replicating nature. In order to regain a natural appearance, the dead animal undergoes a process of dismantling at the hands of the expert taxidermist, who removes its flaccid body and replaces it with a form or manikin sculpted from foam or crafted in wood wool. Reference materials are said to be vital during the process of rearranging the skin: these include measurements of the animal's body, photographs of the relevant species, and clues on posture and behaviour from field observation. Moreover, to complement such information, taxidermists take their own body as point of reference, mimicking the magpie's or the squirrel's posture both to get their anatomical bearings and to imagine how the skin would sit if it were animated by a breathing, fleshed-out torso such as their own. Replicating nature, then, entails modelling after life, both non-human and human animal life.

Drawing on fieldwork and hands-on experience among taxidermists in the UK and the Netherlands, I will discuss a skilled practice concerned with exploring the boundaries between life and death and between human and non-human animals, predicated on an ambivalent desire to replicate nature; for in a bid to complicate 'nature', we will consider the nature of the 'natural' model when Artis zoo animals, after a life in captivity, become subject to taxidermy.

Panel P07
'Natura artis magistra': nature is the teacher of artful skill