2012 art explained
My art delves into the curious, fascinatingly odd and morbidly beautiful. The idea of intriguing the viewers and pulling them in to my world with strange objects and morbid curios to manipulate peoples emotions on the subject of death.
The main thing that inspires my art is my fear of death, all of my work is about helping me overcome my fear by accepting death as a thing of beauty and using taxidermy to show myself that if I can stop decay then I can have some sort of control over death.
The idea of death & mortality means a lot to me and has always fascinated me due to my death during birth, and my fear that it will try and take me again. A lot of things went wrong during my birth and I was born dead and due to other complications was left with Erbs Palsy (the partial paralysis and stunted growth of my right arm). So I have always had a fascination with the morbid and abnormal.
This year I started my practice by doing foetal studies from medical collections, museums full of thousands of human cadaver specimens. Whilst I am intrigued by all the morbid aspects of these places it is the deceased foetal sections that have always struck me the most. The idea that I could have been – and for 2 minutes was - one of those lives that never started and yet ended always strikes a cord with me.
The fragility and angelic quality of the foetus’s makes them fascinating to draw, and I was particularly interested in the more abnormal and deformed specimens. Most people who view the specimens are too taken back by the shock value of the them and are pushed away. I wanted to make these drawings to lesson that factor that pushes people away. When people are presented with drawings of the specimens instead of the real thing they put up less of a fight to be interested in them. I wanted others to see the fascination that they stir in me.
After working with this for a while I wanted to show people other things around the museums that I didn’t think were appreciated the way that they should be.
These museums hold collections of thousands of human cadaver sections and specimens that are used for scientific research and study. They are looked at every day to learn from but in their dull and dirty containers surrounded by thousands of others they lose a huge part of their charm and people are so focused on what they are that they don’t notice how amazingly beautiful they are. So I wanted to take away the scientific surroundings, the educational environment, the dust and the grime and the information text books to leave behind just these absolutely striking objects.
I photographed a selection of the specimens that I fell in love with the most, focusing on the patterns and colours in the tissues instead of what each specimen really was. I showed them to people without telling them what they are or where they were from and it worked. People appreciated the beauty behind them. Those outside of the medical profession weren’t pushed away due to their normal mind set of ‘its part of a dead person so its disgusting’ and those in the medical profession finally saw the beauty that they had ignored that had been staring them in the face the whole time.
People were amazed to see that death could be such a beautiful thing and were curious to find out more about the images and kept asking to see more and more of these captivating objects. I even had people telling me that I had helped them overcome a death of a loved one by showing them the amazing aspects that can be left behind.
I did receive some other opinions about the controversial sides of my work though. People saying that yes they are fascinated by my photography but from a scientific point of view and not an artistic one, and discussing with me the line between art and science that I seemed to be balancing on. My aim was to draw people in to these photographs and whether this is due to scientific or artistic interest I do not mind as I have still achieved my goal, but the line between art and science is a topic I think about a lot with my work. When it is matters of anatomy and mortality that you are trying to put across as an artist there are always going to be scientific undertones that emerge. And I don’t believe the line has to be so set.
One of the artists that I am most inspired by in my work does not even describe himself as an artist but mostly refers to himself as a scientist.
Gunther Von Hagens is a controversial German anatomist who invented the technique for preserving dead biologicial specimens called plastination. But as well as his scientific research and achievements one of his main focus’s are his exhibitions of beautiful and artistically posed preserved human and animal bodies.
Though he himself describes him as ‘not an artist’ a lot of critics and fan’s have decided otherwise. Though his work did at first start out to help the scientific community and pass on knowledge, this does not appear to be his motive any more. He has invented his preservation method and spread his teachings, he has shown people the human anatomy, and though he is no longer teaching people anything they don’t already know he continues with his work. Displaying his plastinated bodies as shocking sculptures around the world. And his most recent piece in particular seems to have no scientific value at all, but was created for aesthetic and emotional reasons. Creating a plastinated body on a crucifix to present to the pope.
On further research I found that he too had a brush with death in his early years and struggles with the barriers his body puts up due to his parkinson’s disease, and this is why he focuses his life on preserving the dead body and showing the beauty and fascination behind anatomy. And he has achieved his goals, he has shown the world how amazing anatomy can be and this has helped him with his emotional struggles over disability and mortality. So what does it matter what side of the art & science line we lie on.
Damien Hirst is a great example of someone who does a very similar thing. He makes statements about life and death by preserving deceased animals, and yet his work is seen as art mainly just because he shows his work in galleries such as his latest exhibit I saw at the Tate Modern compared to Gunther Von Hagens latest exhibit that I saw at The Natural History Museum. It is like what I achieved with my photography. Take something from a museum and put it in a place outside of scientific context and it becomes art.
After seeing these two exhibitions of preserved animals I wanted to go back to the work I had started exploring last year and progress it. Due to always being fascinated by death I had started to collect objects of death; morbid documents and momento’s, beautiful skulls and preserved animals. I had started to use these objects as inspiration for my art by displaying my collections as museums -taken to galleries so to be seen as art- , and then drawing the objects and painting physically on to them. This year I also started to draw the deceased animals that I found.
I chose to illustrate the gore sections in a kind of minimalistic way to take away those disgusted reactions from viewers that I am trying to decrease, and though making it obvious that the animals are dead I aimed to mainly focusing on the peaceful aura that this seems to give them.
This year I also wanted to become more personally involved in the process so I started to do the preservations myself. Instead of purchasing taxidermy pieces, I found dead animals and worked through the process with my own hands. This more involved method helps me to feel more connected to the animal and to death itself.
As I work on my taxidermy I feel as though I’m taking control of death. If I didn’t let death take me the first time during my birth then maybe I can show it that I am still in control and it won’t get me again until I let it. Also taking a dark subject and adding a certain wit and humour to lighten darkness. Preserving these animals is a way of challenging the idea that the cycle of death is completely out of our control. We die, we decay, we are forgotten. I confront this by holding these creatures at the ‘death stage’ and stopping them ever reaching decay. Aiming to turn these morbid objects into ones that will forever live in art; therefore stopping them from being forgotten. This also links to being an artist, which for me is a way of living on and never reaching the ‘forgotten stage’ after you die.
Each taxidermy piece also has a hidden personal meaning. The process itself can be very tricky and messy but that is one of the main parts of it for me. I use it as an outlet, a sort of catharsis to let out any negative emotions or stresses in my life at that time. And what it is that I am dealing with when going through the taxidermy process of each animal comes out in the final creation. The title of each piece is also a very key aspect here as they are my way of communicating slightly more with the viewer about that each piece means to me.
Throughout all of my practice it is my taxidermy that is the work that means the most to me. Every piece is extremely personal and unique due to every animal being one of a kind. Each piece is made from chance and fate. It is whatever deceased animal I happen to find while I’m out doing whatever I happen to be doing, and then the process of preserving that animal helps me overcome something that I am thinking about at that point and this meaning shows in the final outcome. It is all little fragile pieces of a puzzle that could end up entirely differently if just one thing had changed.
For example, if I had decided not to walk a certain way to work one day I would of never had the piece ‘Hold On To Your Heart’- a taxidermy rat clutching its preserved heart. I love that aspect with the taxidermy. The way that the medium itself takes some sort of control, and that it’s the flow of the universe and what happens in my everyday life that decides what piece I shall create next. The butterfly affect plays a great role in this work.