The question of authenticity in taxidermy and display is reoccurring. In the process of reviewing how the manner in which taxidermy displays are postured/presented is reflective of the social beliefs, values and norms of the time period during which they are made, as well as how such displays are participatory to understanding of relationship to the natural world, I happened across the recent work of Patricia Piccinini. This sculpture is entitled Balasana:
Balasana is composed of a taxidermy albino wallaby, one of Piccinini’s extremely realistic figures (made of silicone and human hair), and a Turkish carpet. ‘The Balasana’ is a yoga posture commonly known as ‘The Child’s Pose’ and can be used in partnered yoga, with another person arching over; it is a balancing posture.Here, the artist seeks to express a ‘balanced’ relationship between humanity, nature (and perhaps too, artifice). Most overtly by choice of this posture, placement and context, the artist expresses friendly reciprocity: a beautiful wallaby and child, safe and happy in their shared repose.
How different the posturing of a contemporary artist to ‘natural’ displays from the time of the Victorians! Consider Rossendale: a hawk with slain rabbit in talon, foxes and polar bears with teeth bared and certainly the Tiger and Boa locked in mortal combat!
The presentation of animals expresses at the least several things (doubtless the reader can think of more):
1. the knowledge of the taxidermist regards the natural habits of the animal represented,
2. what is either perceived to be or is, the desire/understanding of the eventual recipient of the display,
3. the general purpose and intended placement of the display,
4. social attitudes, conceptions (or misconceptions) regarding the natural world and the animal being represented.
These factors are all closely related. In observing taxidermy displays from the nineteenth and early twentieth century, attribution of motivation is debatable. Misleading posturing perhaps shows a lack of understanding for the animal’s natural behaviour, it could reveal a desire to convey social values (such as humanity’s mastery over savage nature) or could simply be a way to make money and garnering return visitation of a sensation-seeking general public.