Part of: Death

LiveStudio: Rose Robson

published on 2 August 2012

Watch taxidermy artist Rose Robson's two-day live-streamed residency at SHOWstudio.

Watch taxidermy artist Rose Robson's two-day live-streamed residency at SHOWstudio.

112 Q&A Posts

2 AUG 2012. 17:51

Q. What advice would you give to new or want to be artists?
A. Just stick with what you want to do and if your passionate enough about it then just keep doing it. When I first started doing taxidermy, my tutor didn't like it and tried to push me in another direction. But I stuck to it and it turned out alright! I'd say don't listen too much to your tutors!

2 AUG 2012. 17:48

Q. If you had to choose another medium for your art, what would it be?
A. I'd probably go back to drawing. I might use latex or cast sculpture. Latex is quite skin-like so it's difficult to say what kind of form this might take. How different it might be.

2 AUG 2012. 17:48

Q. Are you happy with what you have created? Do you often have an idea of how the final outcome will look, or plan the way it will look? Or is it down to improvisation?
A. Yes, I'm quite happy! Its a combination of both. It's always different in your head. You have ideas for ages and I think it will be fantastic but might not turn out how I imagined.

2 AUG 2012. 17:38

Q. Why don't you use glue or some other type of adhesive to stick the feathers on? Why does it have to be stitched?
A. Yes, really they do, stitching is the most secure. A glue or adhesive might harm the feathers.

2 AUG 2012. 17:19

Q. Who is your ideal customer/client?
A. Anyone whose interested and gets the work. I really don't mind too much.

2 AUG 2012. 17:15

Q. Your piece has a true feeling of motion and life. In what other ways would you separate your process to that of a taxidermist in the most traditional sense?
A. Mainly the simple thing of not using the full bird body, I don't animate them in the traditional way. I just use certain skins, and certain parts of wings to produce new bodies and new forms.
And also, I suppose the conceptual aspect of it.

2 AUG 2012. 17:09

Q. The title of this project 'Murder of Crows' has dark connotations implied to the process. Yet you have said the birds used are simply a byproduct of everyday life. What does the title mean to you? Does it represent anything?
A. It was in a description when I was reading about birds in flight. It is such a strong image. 'Murder' is the collective noun for crows - flock or brace mean the same thing, but I wanted a dramatic title, and one that suits the project. I was looking at different descriptions of swarms and this seemed most relevant.

2 AUG 2012. 16:59

Q. Do you try to make your pieces "vegan", as in using already dead birds?
A. Yes, its funny to think of taxidermy as vegan. But yes, I use already dead birds.

2 AUG 2012. 16:58

Q. You've mentioned some photographers. Who would you say is your favourite, or most closely relates to your aesthetic? Have you ever collaborated with photographers?
A. I collaborated with a friend called Alex Murray and she always photographs quite dark subjects. She photographed me and the process. It was obviously quite a different experience from photographing it myself. That was when I realised how important the process is. And, how the photographs could be works in themselves.
I love Ann Hardy, she's inspired by sci fi novels and makes imaginary installations and sets everything up like a stage- then photographs it. I love her work.

2 AUG 2012. 16:54

Q. How do you find it to share your process with the world?
Bizarre! I think when I watch it back I'll probably cringe- but I haven't been nervous. It really pushes me to make decisions, I normally change my mind all the time.
A. It's quite nice to share the method. A lot of the time people can't understand how the pieces are made. They think that I'm stuffing something! So its good to be able to reveal it.

2 AUG 2012. 16:53

Q. How many sculptures do you try to make within a month? Do you feel as if you have to make a certain number, to sell a certain amount in order to sustain yourself as an artist?
A. It's good working to deadlines. And if I don't have shows then I will set my own deadlines. You can carry on these things for ages- so i's good to leave them some time.

I never revisit a sculpture, once they are done they are done. As soon as I've finished making one, I know what I'm going to make next.

2 AUG 2012. 16:47

Q. If you moved/lived in a different country how do you think this would effect your selection of birds?
A. I suppose the choice of birds is site specific - it would be amazing to go to South Africa and see what there was there. If I was somewhere like that, perhaps I wouldn't only use birds.

2 AUG 2012. 16:29

Q. Have you had any failed projects? Or things that didn't quite work out?
A. I'm still learning a lot, and I learn something from every piece I make. There have been plenty of failed projects, particularly in the beginning. I got some chicks when I was first starting, and they did not work out! They're so small. 

2 AUG 2012. 16:06

Q. If you were a bird what kind of bird would you be?
A. That's lovely. One that flies around a lot. Game birds don't actually fly that much. They are quite clumsy.

2 AUG 2012. 15:57

Q. Is there any particular gallery you would like to show your work at? Also why?
A. I haven't thought too much about it. The exhibition coming up will be great because there is loads of natural light. That's really important to my work.

2 AUG 2012. 15:52

Q. Are you arranging the feathers randomly or is there some sort of systematic way of doing it?
A. It's very systematic. Basically I've stitched the skin on and now I'm selecting wings and putting them in place now.

2 AUG 2012. 15:52

Q. What kind of shape or form do you think your sculpture aspires to? Do you think that this sculpture is a sort of idealisation of something more personal and psychological? A representation of something about yourself perhaps...
A. The form was created without any real direction. I think most art takes on something about yourself and that feeds in without you realising it.

2 AUG 2012. 15:51

Q. You mentioned you identify with young female taxidermists - do gender politics inform in your work at all?
A. They have done in the past. And I have previously read feminist theory. But I don't purposefully think about it in my work. There's a part that must feed into it though.

2 AUG 2012. 15:50

Q. You mentioned Tessa Farmer. Would you ever create a series of birds as a collection, in a way how she showcases her work, so the taxidermy sculptures you create tell a story?
A. At the moment there is never really a narrative in what I am doing. I suppose this one has a slight narrative, in that I'm inspired by a swarm of birds. I like people to have their own experience. If I do make a series of these smaller pieces, they will inevitably speak to one another. And there will be a relationship between them. But I don't see myself as a storyteller as such.

2 AUG 2012. 15:48

Q. Do you feel there is a bit of irony in the fact you're dealing with a creature that is usually in flight in the sky, that is now still and on the ground?
A. I don't think of it as irony. But maybe it could be seen like that. I reference the flight and the collective nature of the swarm. Flight is an important aspect of the work and why I work with birds. I like the otherness of it.

2 AUG 2012. 15:42

Q. Do you think you would ever work with smaller animals down to something as intricate as insect wings and outer bodies?
A. I don't think so. I know there are artists doing this like Tessa Farmer and the like. I don't know if we can relate to insects as fully as birds and mammals. I like the forms to look really quite bodily so with things like insects its hard to do that.

2 AUG 2012. 15:41

Q. As a young artist, do you feel part of a generation?
A. I feel very close to the people I was at art school with and we all affected each other's work and it was interesting to see the end of year show. There was a lot of quite 'fun' work. And big! I don't think my work really fitted into it. But it was interesting to see a trend.

I do see the movement of young female taxidermists as something I can relate to and understand.

2 AUG 2012. 15:32

Q. Do you buy taxidermy to have as artwork in your house?
A. No I have quite a few of my own, my red partridge and some of my other pieces. I have some rat skins- the fur is surprisingly luxurious! If I wasn't practicing it myself I would probably want some.

2 AUG 2012. 15:31

Q. One of the things that strikes me about your work is the tactile quality of the skins, if you did create something more fashion based like a hat would you consider using materials such as latex or leather?
A. I would yes. When you asked me about fashion designers I thought immediately of someone whose done something in bondage or leather. I think working with skins has made me aware of the ubiquity of skins in our culture- leather sofas, shoes, coats, they're everywhere.

2 AUG 2012. 15:28

Q. Do you have any unrealised ambitions/projects you'd like to do but haven't yet?
I would like to work with crows because I am limited at the moment having just game birds. I think the work will change and develop depending on the bird. I use these forms because they suit the shape of the pheasant, but other birds might not be like that.
A. The colours of the pheasant can be really quite seductive. At the moment I make forms that enhance the beauty of them. Big work really does excite me. In the future it would be great to do something on a really large scale.

2 AUG 2012. 15:04

Q. Why does the idea of mixing organic with industrial, man-made objects interest you, aside from being visually beautiful?
A. It's interesting to step away from Victoriana and juxtapose something so hard with something very vulnerable. I think it draws attention to the softness of the feathers. The brutality of having a metal presence makes you think about the brutal process of taxidermy- the bones and skin sticking out. When I first started I often left wire or thread as a reminder that it's not real, and I'm not trying to make it look real.

2 AUG 2012. 14:52

Q. Some collage artists have a bank of images which will pick and choose from when appropriate, is this similar to the way you work or do you choose specific birds and skin them with a certain combination in mind?
A. The second I think. It always depends on whats available and what season it is. It's nice to think of an artwork being seasonal. And then I do have a freezer for storing birds.

I do still look through newspapers and see if there are any images that would inspire me. Images are important but they aren't my main source of inspiration.

This combination here was purely based on aesthetics. I like that the magpie wings are dominant and dramatic in comparison to this multicoloured pattern, like that of the pheasant. I thought firstly about just using birds that are black. But unfortunately I couldn't get any crows.

2 AUG 2012. 14:49

Q. Do you see your art work maybe in the future collaborated with a fashion designer? If so who would you like to collaborate with?
A. Someone whose clothes are quite gothic. I know a taxidermist who worked with Pam Hogg. That would be pretty amazing.

2 AUG 2012. 14:47

Q. What is the next step for Rose Robson? Where do you see yourself as an artist next year? Or even in 10 years time?
A. Hopefully to make loads more work and to do exhibitions. I would have thought my work will change and be pushed forward in that time. This year, I want to continue with this kind of bird and really explore them. But certainly, I'd like to continue as an artist!

2 AUG 2012. 14:41

Q. What do you think of the other works in the 'Death' exhibition?
A. Amazing, The Gao Brothers' piece still shocks me. And Claire Morgan's piece seems quite quiet and then it's quite amazing when you get up close and realise how complex it is. But maybe anything that is next to 'The Execution of Christ' might seem quiet.

I'm very interested in social history but I'm not sure if my work really engages social themes. Thats what is nice about the LiveStudio, you have to think about what your work really does.

I guess my work is about how humans now are very disconnected with our relationship with meat, and how we have become squeamish. Meat now in supermarkets is so clean and clinical. We're so disconnected.

2 AUG 2012. 14:28

Q. Do you dream in abstract or in hyper realism?
A. Hyper realism probably. I have bizarre dreams when I'm skinning. I have had dreams when I'm scraping my own skin off. It's not nice.

2 AUG 2012. 14:26

Q. Is it heavy?
A. It's actually surprisingly light.

2 AUG 2012. 14:21

Q. Who is your favourite fashion designer?
A. I don't know if I have a favourite. Vivienne Westwood is amazing.

2 AUG 2012. 13:36

Q. What do you desire to say with your work and are there moments when you feel taxidermy is not the perfect medium?
A. I haven't really come to that yet, but if my work took another direction I wouldn't be afraid to use another medium. It's about an experience and human responses to things, like nature and our relationship with nature.
At the moment I'm still very much exploring what it's capable of and pushing it further.

There are so many avenues you can go down with taxidermy.

2 AUG 2012. 13:32

Q. Do you always work on a plinth like this? Is this only to work on or is this also for the display of your work?
A. Yes usually. I find it easier to work at eye level. This has been my making table for a while. But I also use it for display- my end of year piece was on this.

2 AUG 2012. 13:32

Q. What have you read or seen recently that you are fascinated by?
A. 'Crow Country' is a book that really inspired this piece. The author talks about birds in Norfolk where he grew up. He describes the 'murder of crows' when they are swooping and swarming. how it can be quite terrifying.

2 AUG 2012. 13:20

Q. I heard you mention something about this work being in a glass box, are you interested in developing a juxtaposition between your organic sculptures and harder materials like glass or metal?
A. Yes I think so. It would be interesting to see the contrast. These are soft delicate and soft, and to combine that with something industrial would be quite nice.
When I started making the forms, they quickly took a very natural shape. I like the bound wood on its own really. It would be good to explore the possibilities of other mediums.

Even displaying them on something metal or something. I'm really trying to get away from the associations with Victoriana that taxidermy has. This might be one way of doing it.

2 AUG 2012. 13:11

Q. Have you thought a lot about still life and the tradition of still life painting? There are some interesting parallels with your work.
A. Quite recently I've been thinking about still life. I've been looking at Dutch compositions and Vanitas painting. There would often be an accumulation of feathers and game birds. There was also often decay- that grotesque element in them. I only really started looking ta it after I finished my last piece, so it feels as though those elements are going more into this piece- it's even more composed.

2 AUG 2012. 13:01

Q. Have you ever used butterfly wings or would you ever consider using them?
A. They are so fragile, and my work is small, but I don't know if could work that small. But it is a nice idea. It's a similar pattern and detail.

2 AUG 2012. 12:41

Q. Do you only work with birds or do you think that you will use other animals in the future?
A. What interests me is the colours of the feathers and the shapes they make- so at the moment I'm not interested in working with mammals. At the moment I'm focused on the forms the birds can take, and exploring them in light. And in what I'm doing now- making a new form, I think it would be completely different if I used fur.

2 AUG 2012. 12:40

Q. How do the skins smell?
A. They don't smell. As long as they are fresh and the flesh and fat are removed. There is a scent to the preservative that I applied yesterday, but not too much. Game birds are often left to hang for a few days to enhance the taste of the meat, and I have used some of those before. Sometimes, if they've been out too long I have to abandon them because the smell won't come out!

2 AUG 2012. 12:31

Q. What part of the process do you most enjoy and is there any part of the process that you do not enjoy?
A. I enjoy this part most, and the most laborious part is the skinning. But I won't outsource the skinning or buy skins. It makes a big difference to the process and the experience of making the work.

2 AUG 2012. 12:29

Q. The work has both abstract and representational qualities to it. What do you focus on when you're composing the form?
A. Abstract. But I'm aware of the elements of representation in the work. It's very composed and I have a vision of what it should be like, but it is mainly abstract forms. It's what comes most naturally when working with the birds. That's the next step, to manipulate what I have and the skins. Observing the poses that birds make and the forms they make allows me to explore what possibilities there are- what shape their neck can take, how high the wings can stretch. It's really an exploration of form.

2 AUG 2012. 12:19

Q. Do you usually work this quickly? How long does it normally take you to make one of your sculptures?
A. I've always been working to deadlines, since art school. If the materials are ready, then I can work quicker. Smaller sculptures obviously don't take as long. Having a tight deadline forces you to make decisions and get on with it! The time consuming part is getting all of the composite parts ready. I prefer the composing of the work. There's more fo a rhythm to it.

2 AUG 2012. 11:50

Q. Will you cover the parts which the viewer won't see with skins?
A. That is something I'm in the middle of playing with. If the skins are underneath they get flattened. It depends on how the work is sitting so I'll see how I get along.

The work is very tactile, most artworks you can't touch at all, but this kind of encourages it. I don't mind if people do at all. It's another dimension to the work.

2 AUG 2012. 11:48

Q. How important would you say it is to set aside a specific space to make art, like a studio? Or do you find that you end up making work at the kitchen table? How would you go about finding such a space in London? Love from George and Alice from CSM
A. I end up making it in my room a lot of the time and working late and still being in my pyjamas and making work. It's hard to switch off but you do get a lot done. But then, you're not surrounded by creative people, you can become introverted. Things can change a bit more quickly, you get advice. Its important to have people around who know your work and so you can have an ongoing dialogue.

I've done a collaboration with my friend Alex who I was on foundation with. She's a photographer and a ceramicist. We're both very interested in each other's practice. So far it's mainly been her coming photographing my pieces and the process- even the freezer and things like that. I'd like to do collaborations in the future. You bounce off ideas from one another and come to conclusions you not otherwise have done.

2 AUG 2012. 11:37

Q. What do you do with the left over meat? Eat it?
A. I often cook it. At the end of January I had to stock pile a load of pheasants before the shooting season was over. We spent the evening skinning and then made stews and pies. Its a good way to use all the parts of the birds. I'd like to learn how to make a pate or something! That I could store for longer!

2 AUG 2012. 11:29

Q. What are you sewing together there?
A.This is a section of the pheasant skin similar to the ones already on the form. I'm trying to stitch it in a way that it takes a similar form to that- so its not flat, and takes up a similar curve.

2 AUG 2012. 11:23

Q. In your opinion, what do you think is the most important thing to do to transform your art from being grotesque and/or gruesome to actually being a work of art?
A. I think it does it itself. And a lot of it is to do with the form itself. The grotesqueness is in it, but the skins are really beautiful. The form helps- its sculptural and cocoon like. Its very composed. Its not a mass of skins and feet but very much thought through. It should reference the grotesque. Its part of it.

Some people wouldn't see this as beautiful. They can be so shocked by the taxidermy process that it doesn't appeal to them at all.
But the work does allow access to the birds, you can inspect them, and really grasp their beauty.

2 AUG 2012. 11:15

Q. Will you stay in London?
A. London is the most inspirational place for me. I love going to the countryside and Scotland, but for work London is my home. For art, its good to be in any big city.

2 AUG 2012. 11:14

Q. Whats next for you?
A. Continuing making work, I have an exhibition in September at the Mile End Art Pavilion. It came about from just chatting with people really. My neighbours are graduates too and they are putting the show on. Its a really nice space near the canal- a big glass house.

I think this piece will probably turn into a series. My previous works were smaller pieces like this that I then attached together. It's easier to work on smaller pieces because you can focus on the form.

2 AUG 2012. 11:12

Q. Do you normally choose the birds by looking at their feathers? What's your criteria for choosing the birds you use for your art piece?
A. It's definitely the feathers. I started by using whatever I could get my hands on. And time went on and I got my hands on feathers. I realised the different qualities of feathers. My favourite at the moment are magpies and pheasants. It's their colours. The blue and the green, it looks almost glossy. And in sunlight you get an entirely different effect. In sunlight you have a kind of halo around it. For my degree show my piece was under a sky light, and it really lit up when the sun came up. Its hard to explain. I like the different experiences you can have from the piece.

2 AUG 2012. 11:09

Q. Would you ever consider embalming humans as an art project? Perhaps someone you didn't know?
A. So many people have asked me that. No, I wouldn't! I'm not really interested in that. And also on a practical level, you'd just be stitching skin, and theres no fur or feathers to hide it.

2 AUG 2012. 11:09

Q. How do you feel when you sell your work and you have to set it free?
A. Because I worked on it for so long, and its such an emotional time, at the end I was fine with letting it go. I felt quite detached from it. I still like to know where its going. But its pushed me on. And I learned a lot. Originally it was on this wooden plinth. Its now going to go in a perspex box. So that was quite a shock. But I'd be interested to see it like that.

2 AUG 2012. 10:59

Q. If you could have any artwork in the world in your house, what would it be?
A. That's a hard question! I don't know if it would be taxidermy- let me think about it. I think it would be something sculptural- you'd need a lot of space for that. I love Hans Bellmer and Egon Schiele. So maybe one of their drawings. A lot of Hans Bellmer's drawings are in pencil on a square of paper. They are very real.

1 AUG 2012. 16:23

Q. Are you binding it until you can't see any wool?
A. You can have it so you can see some, but you kind of go on feel. you have to stitch the skins through. You also use the thread to stitch the feathers through. It needs to be really solid.

1 AUG 2012. 16:12

Q. Would you ever go on a shoot yourself?
A. I find it hard getting my head around the job that the game keepers do. I use the birds that would have been shot anyway. I don't think I would go on a shoot myself.

1 AUG 2012. 16:08

Q. Have you ever considered yourself as being Lana Del Rey's lookalike?
A. No, I haven't - but thanks!

1 AUG 2012. 16:02

Q. You face death daily in your work. Has your attitude to it changed in any way since you began?
A. It's funny to think of freezing time. Dealing with death every day has taken a while to get used to. The process takes a lot of time and I have to skin and skin and skin and you become numb to it. You forget it is grotesque to other people. But I'm not completely numb to it yet.

1 AUG 2012. 16:00

Q. What taxidermy blogs do you look at? Where do you do most of your research?
A. There are, one is called 'Taxidermy in Art' and also an online journal about animals in visual culture. Its called 'Antennae' They've both been very useful.

1 AUG 2012. 15:59

Q. Did you ever have a role model as a child and growing up?
A. My mum, a bit of a typical answer, but yes, she's a strong woman, very influential. She's a painter. She gives me crits and I give her crits. We have a studio in the basement of their house - she has one room and I have one room. I try to get her to take on some darker subjects!

1 AUG 2012. 15:59

Q. If you weren't an artist, what would you be?
A. I don't know, honestly. When I was younger I wanted to be fashion designers, and I was always interested in drama so maybe one of those? But always something creative. Maybe an illustrator, I think there is a difference.
There's something quite theatrical about these pieces. They are quite macabre.

1 AUG 2012. 15:47

Q. Have you ever thought about creating wearable items?
A. No I haven't but people have started to say 'oh I'd love to wear that as a hat'! But I'd consider it- any opportunities that sound interesting then I certainly would. They could work as some kind of headdress.

1 AUG 2012. 15:08

Q. Do you title your works?
A. I titled my degree show piece 'Ring-necked', which was the type of pheasant I used in the show. Typically I title things after the birds that make up the piece.

1 AUG 2012. 15:08

Q. What does the combination of the abstract form and that of a bird represent together, for you?
A. I mean, the forms I make, they mirror the forms of the birds themselves. I echo the curve of a neck, and the arch of the body in the work, so it's not that far from the natural form of the bird.

1 AUG 2012. 15:07

Q. What are your major art influences?
A. I look at a lot of taxidermy artists, but more and more I have stopped looking at others.  I am inspired Kate Maguire.  I worked with her a bit and that really informed my work.

1 AUG 2012. 14:51

Q. You alter the form of the bird, would you ever alter the colour of it?
A. I don't think so.  I wouldn't want to mess around too much because I'd end up with a brown mess. Some people have thought I did amp up the colour on my last piece, but I didn't.  You can't get much better than nature.

1 AUG 2012. 14:44

Q. Do you enjoy photography? Taxidermy is almost a metaphor for "capturing a moment".
A. I do. It's a new thing. Documenting the process, and photographing the installation is really important. 

1 AUG 2012. 14:32

Q. What would be the most challenging subject to work on for you? Do you have a favourite animal to work with?
A. I think it would be hard to do an animal that you've known, a friend's dead bird or something like that. I bought my boyfriend a bird and it died.  He then put it in the freezer for me and I cannot touch it.

1 AUG 2012. 14:06

Q. What's the biggest sculpture you've ever made?
A. The last one I made, which was for my degree show, and about 20 inches. 

1 AUG 2012. 14:05

Q. Do you always work alone?
A. I would like to bring in assistants. It takes a whole day to de-skin one bird so with more help I could get far more done. But I am not at a place where I can have assistants yet.

1 AUG 2012. 14:05

Q. How do you feel about social media?
A. I think it's great. I've started using Twitter, but I am more of a Facebook person. I use it more and more to talk about what I am doing work-wise and less to tell the world what I did last night. It's great to promote things - like this.

1 AUG 2012. 13:46

Q. What do you think makes dead birds so poetic?
A. I think it's all of the poems about birds. They are beautiful. They can fly. There are so many superstitions about birds.  They are just very layered in meaning.

1 AUG 2012. 13:17

Q. Would you ever want to see your creatures in motion?
A. No, definitely not. They are very much objects!

1 AUG 2012. 13:08

Q. What's next? How do you see the development of your work progressing?
A. This piece I'm making I can see as part of a series of smaller pieces, manipulating forms and seeing what works. What sort of forms and shapes can be made with different skins.
At the moment I'm enjoying making small pieces, because for my degree I made a really large piece, and because there is so much going on it can look like an accumulation of feather. In a smaller format is easier to figure out what forms I like.

1 AUG 2012. 13:02

Q. Does your work have a story to tell?
A. Not really. I like it to be an experience for people. People have very varied reactions to the work. I'm aware some people wouldn't like it or find it upsetting. But just as many get a lot out of it. Encountering reassembled forms changes people's perceptions.

1 AUG 2012. 13:01

Q. What ideas do you decide to base your work around?
A. Observing birds. Sitting on a bus and seeing pigeons sleeping or moving, and all the nuances of their natural life is what really inspires me. For instance, when birds sleep they put their heads under their wings. That's fascinating and inspiring.

1 AUG 2012. 13:00

Q. Do you listen to any music while working?
A. Yes, I like having the radio on.

1 AUG 2012. 13:00

Q. Is there a particular path you want to go down in the future?
A. I just want to carry on doing what I am doing. The more pieces I make the more stuff I learn. Over time I think it will get more organised, and have more purpose.

1 AUG 2012. 12:59

Q. What inspirations and incentives led you to aspire to create “the impossible form”?
A. It all stems from my drawing. I started drawing birds with human heads, because I wanted to create an "other" without being grotesque and then the sculptures happened.  I wanted to create an imagined creature.

1 AUG 2012. 12:59

Q. How long has this project been going on for?
A. I've done a few preparations for the day. I skinned four birds last week, and did a few other bits and bobs.

1 AUG 2012. 12:56

Q. How do you go about connecting the skins of the carcasses to create the “impossible form”?
A. I physically stitch them into the wood wool forms that I create.

1 AUG 2012. 12:56

Q. Has it been a long journey that delivered you to were you are today?
A. Definitely, for three years its been such a long journey. And now finally, in my final year its started to make sense. There were a lot of drawings. I did some bronze casts of bronze birds. I began actually by stuffing my drawings with cotton wool. Its been a funny turnaround. I was in a 3D pathway at art school so I always felt the need to make something!

1 AUG 2012. 12:55

Q. The coming together of the “impossible form” seems like such a complicated process, are there any particular tools to aid in the construction of your work?
The 'impossible form' is the way I choose to describe the work. Its unfamiliar and other.
A. The tools are standard- scalpel, tweezers. All the tools that have been traditionally used in this kind of craft. I have a work space at home - I'm still finding my feet really. But all I really need are a desk and a freezer!

1 AUG 2012. 12:54

Q. Why did you decide to use traditional game birds over other birds, was this to aid in a particular movement?
A. No. It's just what was available to me. At first it was all game birds, now I make an aesthetic choice based on their feathers. I go for pheasant because I love their features.  But no, it's not about the movement. The shape and movement of the sculpture comes from these forms.

1 AUG 2012. 12:50

Q. Can you tell us about the skins in the background?
A. These are skins from my room. They are rugs, one is a springbok my boyfriend's brother brought back from South Africa and the other is from Brick Lane.

1 AUG 2012. 12:47

Q. How long have you been involved in taxidermy?
A. Two years. I haven't really thought about collaboration but I think if I were to collaborate with someone it wouldn't be someone who does taxidermy.  It'd be more about installation. 

1 AUG 2012. 12:46

Q. How long do these taxidermy sculptures last for? Will they eventually decay?
They are preserved with the tanning solution and if they are taxidermied properly the feathers won't fall out. They will last forever.
A. For a while I was worried that the feathers would fall out of the piece that I first made. At the butchers the bird was hung for days, whereas a taxidermist should put them straight in the freezer. Luckily they didn't!

1 AUG 2012. 12:40

Q. Do you intend to sell these works? If so, how much do you intend to sell them for?
A. Yes, I do. This piece will be available on SHOWstudio for £1,200. Email if you are interested in acquiring the work.

1 AUG 2012. 12:36

Q. Are you painting the feathers with something there, or is that the cleaning process?
A. I'm dusting with potato flour. Its like talc. It fluffs up the wings and then I blow dry them quickly after.

1 AUG 2012. 12:29

Q. What do you think to the works of artists such as Mark Dion which perhaps resemble the museum exhibition closer than it resembles the art exhibition?
A. I like Mark Dion's work, and what he is talking about in Natural History museums and display.  The process part of my work doesn't belong in a Natural History museum, because it's more ornamental. 

1 AUG 2012. 12:25

Q. What are you making with the skin Rose? Do you know yet?
A. I've made some of the form I am going to use which has an organic shape to it. But I'm going to add to it and make it more abstract, and then see how I go. I have some other wings and skins already prepared. I've already chosen what I'm using. It will feature the skin of pheasant, some grouse wings and these magpie wings. It will be quite small but theres a lot going on.

1 AUG 2012. 12:24

Q. The exhibition at SHOWstudio is about death. How do you feel this relates to your work?
A. With taxidermy it's so relevant, its so there that it forces you to think about it. Our relationship with animals. The subjugation of humans and animals. You're confronted by it. It pushes you even more. Because you're coming to terms with what you're dealing with. Which is a good thing.
It actually makes me think about waste and what we call waste. Throwing meat out. It makes you think about your own mortality too. Its been a big realisation. Its even made me feel anxious. Its an intense visceral feeling and has taken a while to come to terms with it. It makes you feel really human, really alive- because you are dealing with death. I'm more distanced from it now. Its more my material. I think its good to go there but not to dwell on it.

1 AUG 2012. 11:48

Q. What do you do with the birds bones?
A. The bones are kept in the wings- they are wired up. The wire runs alongside the bone so it can be shaped.

1 AUG 2012. 11:40

Q. I know only female taxidermists (artists) - have you noticed this?
A. Traditionally women would do the taxidermy! And I guess its similar to cooking- plucking and preparing birds, it could also be said to be female. There are a lot of male traditional taxidermists, but there is certainly a trend happening now.

1 AUG 2012. 11:38

Q. Do the animals die naturally?
A. The magpie has, the game birds are are shot for their meat and I use the by-products that are usually considered waste. Shooting season is only from October to February, so then I have to stock up my freezer. Some birds are obviously protected, like blackbirds and swans, but I haven't used anything like that.

1 AUG 2012. 11:32

Q. What is that red substance that you are pulling out of that bird?
A. It's the meat, all the flesh. It comes out whole, but there are some stringy bits. You have to remove all of it, then you wash the skin. I often document the process. So thats where its performative. I generally photograph it. The photographs are also works in themselves. At first I just wanted to capture the process because it is such an intense reality, but then I realised they are really works in their own right.

1 AUG 2012. 11:27

Q. If you could choose any bird to work with what would it be? Regardless of finding it.
A. I like black birds. Not blackbirds, but the colour - like rooks or crows. Its the feathers, they look iridescent. Pheasants are beautiful. They can look like they have a halo. You don't always notice. I'm not so interested in exotic species.
Most of the birds are notoriously British, mainly just because they're more available. I mainly get them from Borough Market

1 AUG 2012. 11:26

Q. Films like The Birds present the swarming of birds as an apocalyptic event. Do you see your work as engaging with apocalyptic themes?
A. I think so, its something I haven't thought of too much, but subconsciously I imagine what could happen.. Creatures swarming together. Its definitely something that inspires my work. There's something quite terrifying about that.

1 AUG 2012. 11:19

Q. Where did you grow up?
A. I was born in Yorkshire, and then moved to Liverpool with my family, and when I was about 10 we moved to Brighton. And I've been in London about 5 years.
London has been the biggest influence really, being at art school and being around creative people. I studied at CSM, I did Fine Art and specialised in sculpture. For a while I just drew, but then moved to sculpture.

1 AUG 2012. 11:14

Q. Would you describe what you do more as an art or a craft?
A. I'd describe it as an art. But I'm aware it is a craft to perform taxidermy. But I'm not a traditional taxidermist. I couldn't do pets or such like. There's an element of craft, but when I'm working with the skins, it turns into something else. It's like you use the skins like a fabric or textile. Its a raw material for me. It's just a skin, like leather or something like that.

1 AUG 2012. 11:14

Q. Are you a vegetarian?
A. No. I've used game birds, and then cooked the meat so that it doesn't go to waste

1 AUG 2012. 11:04

Q. What are you doing right now?
A. Opening up the skin on one side of the bird, and removing the body so you have the skin to work with after. It's a magpie me and my boyfriend found in the country in Shropshire. I'd only used game birds and saw this magpie on the side of the road and we picked it up. Its been in my freezer ever since.

I wouldn't call myself a taxidermist because I don't re create the birds as they were when they were alive, but I've learnt enough to subvert it and do what I want with it.

1 AUG 2012. 10:51

Q. In your previous work you've used feathers and birds mostly, is there a reason why? Are there any animals you would like to use in the future?
A. Its always been a fascination. Since I was 18 and went to art school. Birds with human heads, they were always other. Birds are unobtainable. You can never get close to them and inspect them, they can fly off. Its the wings and their otherness. On an aesthetic level, they are beautiful and the forms the skins can take are amazing. I'm not really interested in working with any other animal.

I haven't studied anatomy in particular, but you learn as you go. Its interesting when you open up and see their not so different from us.
Its not so much the symbolism of birds I'm interested in. Its more the real world. In flight, swooping, their relationship with each other as well as us. I suppose its partly because I use game birds. If I had a raven or a dove, then perhaps I would start to think about their meaning and their connotations.

1 AUG 2012. 10:50

Q. What sorts of natural history books are you drawing inspiration upon?
A. Books like 'Crow Country' which is kind of a novel, but is about natural history. I get inspiration from the descriptions. He describes the landscape in Yorkshire and the birds that surround him. Its in a positive light, the beauty of it and how we take it for granted. I'm more drawn to non fiction normally.

1 AUG 2012. 10:45

Q. Do you go by the traditional victorian belief that taxidermy is a way of exerting control over animals? How would you describe your approach to the art?
A. It's not about exerting control for me. This is the only bird I have that is found. The birds I use are sold for their meat. What I do is a by product of that. When they're bought for meat the feathers are plucked and wasted. I use both.
Where my parents live in Brighton there's a natural history museum, they had an exhibition of Walter Potter who used to anthropomorphise cats and rabbits. I used to go there a lot at school and college. At the beginning natural history museums were a great source of inspiration. Now I look at documentaries, read, more that kind of thing. David Attenborough is a huge source of information! It's really the human interaction that interests me. I'm interested in environmental issues, but my work doesn't necessarily deal with that. In my room I have an image of an albatross that swallowed loads of plastic - so it comes into it, but is not my main source of inspiration.

1 AUG 2012. 10:34

Q. What was the first taxidermy piece you ever created, and when?
A. It was the red legged partridge in Scotland a year ago. I help Polly Morgan with a winged piece that was shown at the Haunch of Venison. It was an abstract form with crow and pigeon wings. I helped her with that.

1 AUG 2012. 10:29

Q. You seem to place a lot of emphasis on process, is performance something that you feel is important to your work?
A. I think process is really important for me because it is an intense experience. Getting it from the butcher, freezing it, making. Then the finished thing is important too. The process is a big part of it.

1 AUG 2012. 10:17

Q. Are you represented by a gallery?
A. No, I just graduated last week. For my end of year show I made a huge 'thing' made of pheasants and wings and presented on a big wooden plinth, it was great, I loved it.

1 AUG 2012. 10:17

Q. What artists do you think you reference most in your work?
A. The female artists I've worked for - Polly Morgan at the beginning and Kate MccGwire- she makes sculptures made out of feathers that are kind of serpent like. It changes all the time. I'm reading a lot of history books that look at birds in flight. I'm also interested in animals relationship with humans.

I'm not so much making a hybrid. I've used several bird skins, but never any heads, or top or bottom. Some people are creating made up creatures, which can look quite perverse. It can make a mockery of the animal if you mess around with it too much. I guess I'm trying to make people aware of what is in front of you- you don't get close up to birds like I am. I want to make people think about our relationship with the animals and think about our existence. It's bizarre- because its gross and beautiful, its hard to know what you feel when you look at it.

1 AUG 2012. 10:16

Q. What do you think about the trend of young female artists employing taxidermy in their practice. Hope Atherton was probably the first, some ten years ago but now, just in London you've got Polly Morgan, Claire Morgan (no relation) and you. What do you think the trend is about? Do you even think it's a trend?
A. It is definitely a trend I've noticed. I've worked with Polly Morgan for a few years and its really inspiring that so many young women are taking up a traditionally male medium and subverting it. It's a very gruesome thing and it turns into something beautiful. Women have patience, and from experience there's never many male interns or artists. Whether its because it's small and detailed I'm not sure

1 AUG 2012. 10:12

Q. What is the grossest things you've ever had to taxidermy?
A. A mallard- because I primarily work with game birds I get from Borough Market, I bought all the birds he had. It had so much fat on it. You have to remove the skin so with a big layer of fat you have to laboriously take the whole lot off. It's hard work.

Editorial Direction:
Film Edit:
Technical Supervision and Imagery:
Camera Assistance:
Gallery Assistance:



Interview: Tim A Shaw on Hospital Rooms

25 April 2018
Artist and co-founder of Hospital Rooms Tim A Shaw talks about the influence of the project on his work and collaborative practice.

Interview: Jake & Dinos Chapman on Melting Heads

09 February 2001
Marcus Field speaks with artists Jake and Dinos Chapman on Melting Heads – their film directed exclusively for SHOWstudio – and their ever-provocative art output to date.

Interview: Lucy Orta

24 June 2004
Curator Christabel Stewart interviews artist Lucy Orta about 'Transgressing Fashion', her political performance piece at the V&A.
Back to top