Polly Morgan brought her own style of taxidermy to the contemporary art scene during 2004-5, when some of her first artworks caught the attention of Banksy. Her pieces, some having fetched up to £85,000 remain one of the most unique contributions to the modern art scene, her work now branching out in to casting and new territory within the art of taxidermy.
Beautiful Crime caught up with her to find out about her latest show, ‘Endless Plains,’ what she thought of the media’s reactions to her work and we also inquired about her audience’s most bizzarre taxidermy requests.
1. Hi Polly, what have you been working on of late?
My show ‘Endless Plains’ is currently showing at All Visual Arts, Kings Cross.
Making the whole show in under four months was a huge exertion so I’m taking it a little easier now. I’ve been working on more images drawn from the cremated remains of birds since then and tending to all the things I’ve neglected until now.
2. Now you have branched out in to casting, would or have you considered pushing boundaries in terms of size and maybe even other options like colour, or even hybrids of animals?
Nothing is off limits to me. If I feel I have the technical ability to execute an idea well enough then I will do it. I have not always liked hybrid taxidermy as it’s been done very badly in the past but I changed my mind when I saw the work of Thomas Grunfeld, who managed it very artfully.
3. What are some of the strangest requests you’ve had in terms of other people’s dead animals and have you had any weird/funny/memorable comments about past collections or specific pieces?
I do get the occasional offer from someone who’s pet has died, but this is something I don’t take on unless the person is prepared to donate the animal to me and allow me to do whatever I wish with it.
I did have a long, convoluted email from a family once explaining that the grandmother in the family was dying and they were considering having her preserved so she could remain a constant presence in their lives. It was sensitively written but I couldn’t be sure it wasn’t a hoax. I believe you can get a license to ‘taxidermy’ a human being but this isn’t something I can imagine ever being interested in.
4. What do you think about the media’s interpretation/analysis of your work in the past and has any journalist completely misunderstood your work or made assumptions about it that you don’t agree with?
I do get tired of people describing it as morbid or being quizzed about my ‘obsession’ with death. I don’t see my work as being morbid as it is very often addressing the continuation and triumph of life *beyond* death. I see it more as being contemplative as it gives us a chance to reflect on the physicality of life without the subject either running away or decomposing.
I also don’t feel I am at all preoccupied with death. I am not there at the point of death with any of my animals so to me they are only ever raw materials. I love living animals for their character and dead ones for their beauty. I can’t grieve for every animal that comes my way, I am just finding a practical purpose for a body that is no longer in use.
5. How has your art informed your views on death and would say taxidermy-as-art has become a therapeutic occupation?
Cutting into an animal and getting to know the internal workings of a body is definitely a humbling experience, in that you are confronted with your own vulnerability. I am far more aware of how easily I could die at any point and feel I understand the importance of maintenance when it comes to my body. I am coming round to the idea of exercise(!) and am more careful when it comes to my health generally.
I don’t think I’d say that specifically taxidermy-as-art is a therapeutic occupation, I would say more generally that art and any creative job can be therapeutic. I think we are conditioned to want to be productive. In my art, unlike in some jobs, you can see a physical manifestation of your efforts, which is very rewarding. If it was all about concept for me, I wouldn’t feel so confident in my achievements as I would be producing a less tangible product.
6. Lastly, have you ever stuffed an animal that resembled someone you know?
Sometimes my assistant Kim and I laugh at the expressions on the faces of animals as we are sculpting them… they mostly remind me of my dog Tony.
Or to visit Polly Morgan’s website, click here.