last week i walked past a car. a bmw, it's engine running, a man behind its wheel, head tilted back, eyes closed, mouth ajar. i peered through the window and saw the gentle rising and falling of his chest; alive.
since 2004 i have tried to spend a bit of time in new york every year. and every year i try to visit the american museum of natural history there. although the entire museum is full of delectations the akeley hall of african mammals is part of what draws me. the diorama's are startling; they make it that much easier to agree to pretend the animals in them are somehow alive in death. mr akeley did his best.
half a floor up however just behind the mezzanine overlooking mr akeley's work there is a small corner dedicated to american or maybe new york state mammals and birds. suddenly gone are the beautifully painted backgrounds, no more skins stretched over anatomical casts shaped just so you're not quite sure what stage of life or death you're looking at.
nowhere has the term 'stuffed animal' been more thoroughly done justice. the birds in this forgotten corner of the museum look as if modelled on those in anders nilsen's 'big questions'. however nilsen animates birds, these animals are dead, and they will not pretend otherwise. and you are alive and looking at them. somehow the matter of fact manner of their display makes them look all the more vulnerable. there is an exhibit simply titled 'carnivores', but these beasts harbour no blood-thirst. they're tired and are waiting to catch their breath. i made a drawing of them for a comic.
whilst working for an artist i did some taxidermy on insects. relaxing their limbs and then pinning them into positions they normally would only ever have held for a fraction of a second. if a leg snapped off it could be superglued into place.
the amnh research library has put their photography collection online. the exhibition preparation is a particular treat, no superglueing there. and no need for further elaborations, just look.
although better in print, you can find some of hiroshi sugimoto's interpretations of the amnh dioramas here.
and if what people do to dead animals still interests you after all of the above here's a great article my friends mary and kramer wrote and photographed for last exit magazine.