2011, May 12th to 14th, Natural History Museum, London
A workshop of the AHRC Research Network Cultures of Preservation in collaboration with the Natural History Museum, London,
The network is a collaboration between the UCL Department of History of Art, UCL collections, in particular the Grant Museum of Zoology, the Hunterian Museum, London and the Natural History Museum, London.
This first workshop, conceptualised by Petra Lange-Berndt and carried out in collaboration with Bergit Arends (Curator Contemporary Art, NHM), focused on power relations inherent in taxidermy, the preservation of animal hides. The precondition of the seeming lifelikeness of mounted specimens is the attempt to hide the work of the taxidermist and thus to preclude the fact that we are actually dealing with a dead animal. But more importantly this event investigated how the artful arrangement of skin is linked to narratives of imperialism and colonial supremacy, to notions of 'exploration', 'discovery', and 'classification'. We discussed the many processes of making taxidermy and its intermediality as well as its institutional display or the impact of emerging ecological theories. Special attention was paid to the role artists have been playing since the beginning of the twentieth century in calling attention to the aesthetics and politics of natural history collections. Therefore, contemporary strategies that question histories and formulate alternatives to practices associated with them-such as vegan taxidermy-as well as issues of zoological curation, display and conservation were considered. Areas for further discussion are clearly the missing social history of the taxidermist, to counter a European and North-American perspective by considering a broader range of institutions around the world, the management of decay within collections, ways of making uncomfortable objects public, and the unease encountered by considering the use of taxidermy and other animal remains in applied arts such as trophy furniture.
Participants: Sam Alberti (Director, Hunterian Museum, London), Bergit Arends (Curator Contemporary Art, The Natural History Museum, London), Mark Dion (Visual Artist, USA), Tessa Farmer (Artist, London), Derek Frampton (Taxidermist, Tring), Sebastian Hackenschmidt (Curator and Custodian for Wood and Furniture, Museum of Applied Arts / Contemporary Art, Vienna), Petra Lange-Berndt (Lecturer, Department of History of Art, UCL), Richard Sabin (Senior Curator, Department of Zoology, The Natural History Museum, London), Hanna Rose Shell (Filmmaker, Historian and Media Scholar, MIT, Harvard University), Robert Williams (Artist, Lancaster), Bryndis Snæbjörnsdóttir / Mark Wilson (Artists, Bewcastle)