Shrinking and Other Acts of Sabotage
Observatory (543 Union St., Brooklyn)
Taxidermy is quite literally the incarnation of trophy culture; It is no coincidence that the 19th Century craze for taxidermy coincided with the emergence of the biological sciences, which were, themselves, strongly tied to colonial interests of exploration, exploitation, classification, and reorganization of the world.
Today, this violent story — as well as the bulk of 19th Century decorative taxidermy, such as heads on shields, armchairs made out of whole bears, elephant footstools or lamp bases adorned with birds of paradise — are largely absent from public collections and their institutionalized narratives. Also problematic for the serious student of the medium is that, like art conservators or the editors of texts, taxidermists are only successful if there is no visible trace of their work left in the final product.
Tonight’s presentation by Petra Lange-Berndt, author of Animal Art: Specimens in Modern and Contemporary Art Practices, 1850-2000, will chase the stories that are woven into the textures of taxidermy by focusing on the fabrication of the nature/cultures in question, and by asking such questions as what kind of politics are attached to these stilled lifes? And how have the power relations encountered in public natural history collections been challenged by modern and contemporary artists?