Gestures of taxidermy

Morphological approximation as interspecies affinity

by PETRA TJITSKE KALSHOVEN

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Anthropologists have recently begun to highlight human relatedness with other animal species, arguing for a more inclusive posthumanism in which boundaries between different categories of “life” become blurred. Taxidermy in Britain and western Europe both troubles and supports assumptions about interspecies entanglements. In taxidermy, living humans meet dead animals in ways that suggest kinship relations beyond death, expressed in morphological analogies. Lifelike animation occurs both discursively and plastically, and the recent influx of artists into taxidermy has given it particular prominence. A specific ethics of the body emerges, one that makes a professed environmental affinity among artist-taxidermists pale in comparison with the “morphological approximation” performed by professional taxidermists in relation to the animals whose lives they claim to prolong.

Maurice Bouten sculpting ears on a roebuck trophy during a demonstration at the annual conference of the UK Guild of Taxidermists, held in Derbyshire, March 2011.
Maurice Bouten sculpting ears on a roebuck trophy during a demonstration at the annual conference of the UK Guild of Taxidermists, held in Derbyshire, March 2011. (Petra Tjitske Kalshoven)