The world seems to reliably divide up into two camps where taxidermy is concerned. Camp number one hates the idea of dead animals hanging on their living room walls. Camp number two loves it, can't get enough of it.
Within that second camp, there is a subset of people who not only love dead animals hanging on walls, they love freaky, weirdo fantasy animals hanging on walls.
The taxidermists at La Luz de Jesus gallery last week were definitely of that latter breed. Curator Robert Marbury brought in the members of the Minnesota Association of Rogue Taxidermists to show their work and to do demonstrations. They don't kill the animals to make the work. They use roadkill, or discarded livestock, or casualties from the pet trade (hence the term “rogue”).
The photo above is Jeanie M. demonstrating how to stuff a mouse. You can't beat the dialogue that takes place at a taxidermy demo. “I have a question,” one guy said. “I had to throw out my jackalope because it became infested with vermin. Do you have any suggestions?”
Jeanie M.: “What kind of vermin?”
Guy: “Like, maggots.”
Another guy: “What do you do with the mouse innards?”
Jeanie M.: “I save the skulls.”
That same guy: “What do you do with the skulls?”
Jeanie M.: “I do little mouse Hamlets.”
As she cut through the mouse skin, Jeanie M. said that the difference between mouse skin and squirrel skin, is that mouse skin “is like butter.” “This peels almost like a banana, or corn,” she added.
Scott Bibus, one of the founders of the Minnesota Association of Rogue Taxidermists, demonstrated the proper procedure for skinning a squirrel, which is more difficult than you might imagine. “The skinning process is basically a combination of sharpness and slow steady pressure,” he said.
Bibus speaks so eloquently about taxidermy. He believes that taxidermy is an analog for how we in America deal with death, and how we struggle so violently to avoid it. Yet everything around us is a reminder of death. In the U.S., we either hide death or exaggerate it. Naturally, Bibus's artwork is the grossest and bloodiest:
The people he met in taxidermy school, he says, were invariably “uneducated, bigoted, extremely nice people,” i.e., shit-kicking, fun-loving hillbillies.
Amongst the straightforward, traditional taxidermy enthusiasts (namely, the ones who are interested in producing perfect representations of nature), Bibus became known as the guy who did all the weird crap. For instance he did a beaver with a severed thumb in its mouth. One of the guys in his class took a look at it and said, “Beavers don't eat thumbs.” Which pretty much tells you what the mindset is.
Anyway, here are a few more shots of the exhibit. If you have a chance, check it out. It'll be up at La Luz until May 30. It's lovely, funny, creepy, imaginative stuff. I seriously considered buying the circus mice, but someone else beat me to it.
This piece by Brooke Weston is fantastic. A taxidermied deer with a miniature taxidermied deer inside it's neck? Mesmerizing.