Academic journal article Gender Forum

Animal Magic: Sculpting Queer Encounters through Rogue Taxidermy Art

Academic journal article Gender Forum

Animal Magic: Sculpting Queer Encounters through Rogue Taxidermy Art

Article excerpt

1Taxidermy is produced in many forms, most notably in the context of sport hunting, where animal bodies are acquired for the purposes of creating trophies for display, which are meant to replicate the 'authentic' and 'natural' pose of the respective animal prior to death. As a complex set of practices historically founded on and rooted in colonial and imperial projects, the traditional profession of taxidermy is not devoid of criticisms that these scientifically and aesthetically produced 'objects' serve to perpetuate the domination and destruction of animals. This method of body preservation, however, is socially and culturally relative, often ambivalent in its ethics and politics and thus in need of a closer intersectional analysis. A number of scholars have addressed the thorny relationship the practice of taxidermy and the display of taxidermied animals have with cultural or racial(ized) (mis)representations of different marginalized groups and bodies (Haraway; Wakeham; Desmond; Tobing-Rony). In addition to the various scholarly responses to this peculiar and arguably violent cultural phenomenon, the contemporary pop-surrealist art movement known as rogue taxidermy has blossomed throughout North American urban spaces. Rogue taxidermy artists produce environmentally conscious and ethically sustainable art, while simultaneously counteracting or subverting the dominant narratives and traditions of western science and philosophy, which have historically produced and perpetuated a distorted image of animal/human difference.

2The North American branch of rogue taxidermy art first manifested itself in Minneapolis, when artists Sarina Brewer, Scott Bibus and Robert Marbury founded the Minnesota Association of Rogue Taxidermy (MART), coining the name rogue taxidermy in 2004 (Brewer, "Introduction"; Marbury 7). Brewer, Bibus and Marbury collectively founded this association after realizing the many interconnections between their art practices and politics. Rogue taxidermy, as a pop-surrealist art movement, fuses elements of traditional taxidermy with mixed media design. What differentiates rogue taxidermy from more traditional approaches are the ways in which these artists produce nonrealist and unconventional representations, while also following an ethical mandate to never kill animals for the purposes of art. According to MART, rogue taxidermists should partake in art that uses animal bodies only if these bodies are acquired through ethical means, and so their animal art mostly relies on "roadkill, discarded livestock remnants, casualties of the pet trade, animals that die of natural causes, and destroyed nuisance animals that are donated to them" (Minnesota Association of Rogue Taxidermy, "Primary Directive of MART"). Employing a surrealist technique, these artists create fantastical, monstrous, and abstract figures fusing together multiple animal body parts and popularly recognizable (often kitsch) objects, in order to produce curiously innovative and atypical sculptures. This alternative art movement is, however, not simply an offshoot of traditional or realist taxidermy, as it both transforms and transgresses these practices by re-creating sculptures through alternative materials, objects, and dyes.

3Outlining a survey of the rogue taxidermy movement is no easy feat, given that rogue taxidermy sculptures encompass a diverse and broad set of aesthetic media and styles, spread across a number of geographical and cultural borders. Each rogue taxidermy artist employs a unique, idiosyncratic technique when adapting this method into her or his practice. This remodeled art movement also moves taxidermy away from a solely masculine endeavor and is spearheaded by, and prevalently practiced among, female artists. In what follows my paper focuses primarily on artist and MART co-founder Sarina Brewer and the way her peculiar art style unconventionally recreates taxidermy by mixing fantastical and mythological creatures with historical freak show abnormalities. …

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