Thursday, February 21, 2008

Lisa Black

"Fixed Duckling" by Lisa Black

My Dad just sent this over- the steampunk-ian taxidermy of Lisa Black. I have to say I have very mixed feelings about taxidermy art. On one hand- I feel a corpse is a corpse, an empty shell, and to make stuff from it is not a bad thing at all. There is a society of "rogue taxidermists" that make fantastical beings from roadkill (and probably other unsavory sources such as previously euthanized shelter animals, dead zoo animals, lab specimens, ect), and I have to hand it to them. There is a preciousness and squeamishness about death that is not healthy for society, and for this group to not only have a laugh about it, but also create some very interesting things from it is fascinating to me.
I also have zero problem with the work of Gunther Von Hagens, who makes art (dressed up as science, but in reality it's pretty freaked out, crazy stuff) from donated cadavers.

On the other hand, I once watched a Joel Peter Witkin documentary where he was searching for props for one of his baroque grotesque photographs. He uses everything from bits of cadavers to people with birth defects or missing limbs as characters in his work, something I found interesting, usually.
However, in the documentary he went into a bird store (I think this was at a market in Mexico if memory serves), picked out a bird, and asked to have it killed so he could just have the wings. My stomach completely flopped over. WRONG. Wrong, wrong, wrong. What a head spinning nightmare, to kill a living creature so you can make "art". Not only that- he asked so cavalierly that it compounded the horror of it for me.

Now- if he had asked for the bird to be killed so he could make a stew, somehow that would seem different, right? Art is not the same as food. Or is it? Is it food of a different kind? The bird doesn't care if it's art or in a stewpot, (it'd rather not be in either place I'm sure) why should I care so much? I guess I feel that art serves as a reminder man can transcend higher than base instinct, that art serves as a foil against the fact we must kill to eat, that there is a transcendent quality to life that rises above the fact we have to behave as murderous thugs to survive. (I'm a vegetarian, but I hold no illusions to the fact my survival depends on millions of teeny deaths in the production of what I eat and how I live.)

I feel I have to explore this question because of my intense reaction, but I'll tell you...frankly to purposely kill an animal to make art is total bullshit to me.
What do you think?

A tamer Joel Peter Witkin image, but I love this one...

A piece from Von Hagen's "Body World" exhibit