Sunday, 16 January 2011

Get Stuffed

Taxidermy - an introduction into an animalistic love affair, oyster cards and ostrich feathers(ish).

If you were anything like me, your first encounter with creatures of the static stance would have been as a child. Not in a grand country pile, or colonial hunting lodge; the trophies of the celestial hunts, wall mounts and umbrella stands proof of mans conquering of the untameable beasts. No. It was in the name of science, and one of my original true loves, natural history. We have inherited a lot from our pious, sex obsessed and macabre Victorian’s. Their love of bringing the outside world in, in particular taxidermy has created a national treasure trove of natures wildest, weirdest and most beautiful.
The Natural History Museum was like entering a Darwinian scene of biblical proportions and still excites me. I had the lucky luxury of our local museum having an impressive collection of this sawdust stuffed Victoriana. The darkened corridors of Norwich’s Castle Museum were bursting with seal hunting polar bears, magnificent eagles and roaring tiger you’d dare each other to inch towards in genuine fear it might blink.
An aunt even worked in Cromer Museum, a picturesque Victorian crabbing village on the wild North Norfolk coast and would sneak me in, in my Paddington style wet weather gear to marvel at the animals crammed into the converted cottage. The real wild life outside didn’t interest me half as much.
Sadly adolescence settled in. All this museum visiting and stuffed things was no longer in vogue. Fashion, rebellion and being, ‘like totally over what you just said like five minutes ago’ was now cool. Boy bands, girl bands and angsty emo music was in and American teen culture took over the western world. It was the birds and bees we were after, and not the dead lifeless kind.
I’d forgotten about my childhood love of taxidermy till I became friends with my soon to be boss, who himself had what was bordering on an unhealthy relationship with dusty entombed wildlife. It was part and parcel of his general eccentricities - a Willy Wonka of on trend must haves. Needless to say we new what would become of his Italian Greyhound when she popped clogs. Returning from a long weekend I found on my desk a large cage containing a stuffed austere looking parrot and an animal print safari jacket to match. A gift (!) from his own collection to help me start my own. It was like I’d come of age.
I was over whelmed, elated, complete? But it quickly struck me, I had to get this magnificent beast home…on public transport. Full of bravado I donning the Haversack safari jacket and made my way, bobbing cumbersome parrot and cage in hand. Now how to look inconspicuous. I thought ‘act like this is normal. You always take a (dead) parrot with you to and from work, dressed like something out of Jamanji. Who doesn’t? If you act blasé they won’t even notice!’…much.
It was rush hour, and the tube was packed with angry commuters and raucous school children. The irony was, to begin with I was terrified I’d be mobbed by paint throwing activists, but instead the scene was of slowly mounting amusement and intrigue. If anything the kids were the excited one, like I would have been!
I got my confidence back. I’d been let out of the loony bin for the day, offering light entertainment for their journey home. I gave them a moment of jolly after the drudgery of work and before a dull evening of complaining spouses and TV dinners.
It actually became fun and I began to relish it. I felt like the charming, coy, but seamlessly sophisticated and confident Hitchcock heroin from the film The Birds Melanie Daniels. Whether city sidewalk, elevator or the dusty town of Bodega Bay she carried her self with a certain nonchalance and entitlement when it came to those caged love birds.
Of course there were some differences between Miss Daniels and I. Our gender, location, and her goddess New Look beauty to start (not to say my re-cut Band of Outsiders blazer, Mad Men style glasses and crochet tie wasn’t of similar ilk) and Josephine (yes she has a name) was dead.
Taxidermy with its eccentricities and glamour is becoming increasingly fashionable, though there are some unspoken rules. Vintage is much more expectable for example – no fresh kills! Tom Ford used ravens in his AW10 eyewear ad campaign, and the art world has been captivated by Thomas Grunfeld’s hybrid splicing. We should further embrace this macabre art, not to the point of becoming another Norman Bates and mummifying our mothers but to just bring nature that little bit closer. Drag it kicking, screaming and preferably stuffed into our homes.