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Stuffed Animals & Pickled Heads: The Culture and Evolution of Natural History Museums (2001) Stephen T. Asma [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]
The art or operation of preparing, stuffing, and mounting the skins of dead animals for exhibition in a lifelike state.--American Heritage Dictionary
Taxidermy (Greek for "the arrangement of the skin") is the art of mounting or reproducing animals for display (e.g. as hunting trophies) or study. This is a practice generally done with vertebrates, but occasionally with invertebrate animals such as insects. The methods that taxidermists practice have been improved over the last century, heightening taxidermic quality.
Taxidermists may practice professionally, for museums, or as amateurs, such as hobbyists, hunters, and fishermen. To practice taxidermy, one must be extremely familiar with anatomy, dissection, sculpture, and painting, as well as tanning.
Taxidermy should not be confused with taxonomy, which is the study of scientific classification. --
Why then does taxidermy become such a specious activity not only in Psycho but also in horror filmsThe Horror of Everyday Life: Taxidermy, Aesthetics, and Consumption in Horror Films, 1994
When Norman Bates tells an unsuspecting Marion that taxidermy is a "hobby" of his in Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho, he uses an appropriate term to describe an activity which he considers commonplace. Hobbies are usually regarded as innocent activities of casual interest, designed to help pass the time. And indeed, "stuffing things," as Norman refers to taxidermy, has been a dominant part of American culture since the turn-of-the-century when world exhibitions and the construction of museums necessitated the need for dioramas and displays. The trophies on the wall behind Norman are really not so horrific. They can be found in the room of any American "sportsman" or in the display windows of any department store. Why then does taxidermy become such a specious activity not only in Psycho but also in horror films such as Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2 and The Silence of Lambs?--Jeffrey Niesel [...]
In their unassuming ubiquity, stuffed animals have proliferated in our everyday, postindustrial livesIn their unassuming ubiquity, stuffed animals have proliferated in our everyday, postindustrial lives. But their ascent to this status depended largely on the processes of industrialisation, urbanisation and commodification. They embody important aspects of the colonial and post-colonial encounter in their material, psychological and geo-political roles. Ideologically, stuffed animals defy historicization: While they, as a commodity form, have a discernable history, which Walter Putnam imparts in the following, individually, stuffed animals are inscribed with meaning by their owners and in their act of acquisition. They are, Putnam argues, a fetish of our own making, and a fixation that provides no easy solutions. --Walter Putnam [...]
Taxidermy in art
Preservation techniques such as mummification and <>taxidermy ensure that we can be surrounded by death for as long as we wish. The British Museum in London displays Egyptian mummies, including that of Cleopatra, and more recently mummified corpses line the walls of an underground Italian tomb in Palermo. Saints' body-parts are venerated as holy relics and the mummified bodies of Lenin and Jeremy Bentham are on permanent display, Bentham's being preserved as an 'Auto-Icon' at his own request.
Taxidermy has been part and parcel of both domestic decoration and commercial art for many years. The subversive, witty artist Maurizio Cattelan has exhibited a wide variety of stuffed animals, his most curious exhibit being a squirrel sat slumped at a doll's-house table with a tiny plastic gun at its side, posed as if it had committed suicide. In what can only be described as a gesture typical of the artist, this deliberately twee yet disturbing tableau was given the title Bidibidobidiboo (1996). Damien Hirst prefers to preserve his dead animals in formaldehyde, the most famous examples being a fearsome shark (The Physical Impossibility Of Death In The Mind Of Someone Living, 1991), a solitary lamb (Away From The Flock, 1994), and a cow and calf bisected (Mother & Child Divided, 1993). Hirst's animals in vitrines have been endlessly criticised, seen as the epitomy of the 'shocking' and 'meaningless' nature of modern British art, though they are in fact incredibly moving and even profound.
No-one has done more to confront society's death taboo than Gunther VonHagens, the pioneer of 'plastination', a chemical process enabling corpses to be preserved without their skins. These plastinated corpses, with their internal organs fully visible, were displayed in VonHagens's touring exhibition Korperwelten in 1997. VonHagens's stated aim was to educate the public about human anatomy, though his showmanship cast aspersions on the purity of his motives. He disputed that his work was art, though his exhibition was held in art galleries and his corpses were posed with props. When Korperwelten reached Britain, VonHagens, ever the sensationalist, even performed a public autopsy for visitors to the exhibition, which was televised by Channel 4. --Matthew Hunt
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