In a previous entry, David made a very interesting and thorough discussion of Rossendale’s Tiger and Boa. He explained how the boa of the display was actually made from composite materials and more than one reptile. It is also observable at Rossendale, Blackburn and other museums that older examples of taxidermy display the animals in unrealistic postures. This is an image of Ken Walker’s Thing Thing, Best of Show Recreations from the World Taxidermy Championships, 2003.
We see a panda happily and meditatively munching at a bamboo leaf, blissful and at peace with its world. It, like Balasana is a remarkable work of illusion, made from bear skins into the likeness of a panda. There is no part of this work that came from an actual panda. Yet it has the feel of authenticity; or does it?
What is it that the viewer is seeing? Is this any more ‘real’ than Rossendale’s Tiger and Boa? The above uses fur from an animal, but not the animal it represents. The Rossendale boa used reptile parts but not all from the same reptile. What if I make an exceptionally realistic interpretation of an animal but use nothing but synthetic materials to create it; is it still taxidermy?
A display that has nothing of the bone and skin of the animal it is supposedly representing isn’t as useful from a zoological research standpoint, as is a display that is formed of the skin and bone of the animal represented. If ‘pure’ research is the priority then a fabricated panda or boa won’t do.
Research is not the only purpose for displays however and hopefully one would be hard-pressed to find a naturalist that would support killing an endangered species for the purpose of conserving it!
Ideally, displays which are meant for didactic use, to raise social awareness of environmental concerns, or support a mental shift away from anthropocentrism toward ecocentrism, should accurately convey the habits of the animal represented. If for example, a child walks away from a display thinking that the standard posture of a wolf (for example) is to be aggressive and bare its teeth, then the museum becomes accomplice to misinterpretation of wolves, no matter how much of the bone and skin of the wolf is ‘real’.
Authorial proviso: if this sounds/reads a little non sequitur to recent discussions, it’s because this was meant to be posted about three weeks ago as followup to ‘Balasana’ and as such, doesn’t reflect the extremely engaging contributions currently being made to weblog discussion under other entries. Please accept my apologies for the delay, and thank you.