"Although I once fell in love with a dove / Stayed out until dawn with a swan / It was only a fling / Now I have the real thing / There'll be no more canaries, bluebirds, blackbirds, red birds, green birds, and such / We're birds of a feather now"
FUOS (2018) for dead/taxidermy magpie: on intimacy, materiality, risk, and space. Performed in an abandoned barn full of pigeons, the human performer whistles and sings to the bird after plucking the feathers and appropriating them for adorning her pierced skin. Photography by Graeme Robertson; video shot by Adam Scott.
*Portfolio work as part of PhD thesis on Bodies and Boundaries in Performing Taxidermy; Critical reflection excerpts below.
"None of this is without some ambivalence or contradiction: while I consider ethics in what animal bodies I use and how I obtain them, the issue of 'use' of roadkill is an ethically contentious one. It is inescapable that, despite some shared vulnerabilities and qualities, I am in the role of the human-taxidermist-manipulator. As I have said elsewhere, my work is not interested in a moralising political message of animal activism, but rather in dealing with the complexities, precarities, and ambivalence of our relationships to other bodies, in particular dead animal bodies in the current geological and political era. While identity is not a primary focus of my work or of FUOS, as a white cis-woman, American via descendance from Western European colonising nations, my identity is one tied to histories as both the recipient and perpetrator of violence and trauma. On a more personal level, as I move through the world every day, I confront the fear that globally my existence will be more destructive than constructive to the earth. Yet locally, ‘performed taxidermy’ may still create moments that complicate these ontological and physical boundaries exactly through embracing these kinds of contradictions, including working at the intersection of taxidermy, a craft working toward preservation, and performance, an art form that – in Peggy Phelan’s words – only has ‘value in its disappearance.’[i]...."
[i] Phelan, P. (1993), Unmarked: The Politics of Performance. London: Routledge, p. 148.
"There is no intimacy without risk, and in FUOS, intimacy is dependent on the material vulnerabilities of my body and animal body. Going all the way back to Mary Douglas’s seminal 1966 work Purity and Danger, she argues that taboos around cleanliness and danger were constructs in the establishment of social and cultural values, including the demarcations of home and domestic spaces and human/animal relations. ‘Dirt’ was dangerous not only because of bodily risk but also social order.[i] If we consider this alongside John Berger’s assertions about animal disappearance, then the risk involved in FUOS becomes necessary to the work as a renegotiation of human-animal boundaries and intimacies. In other words, in order for animals to ‘re-appear’ (to use Berger’s terms) we may need to risk – to make ourselves vulnerable to – a disruption of normative social order through an opening of our bodies to the site and bodies of the other-than-human. The risks involved in FUOS are not only in the wounds in my skin: the piece was performed in an abandoned barn in which the smell of dried bird faeces is palpable, and breathing in this matter can result in a deadly fungal infection[ii] - the fungus being yet another player in this complex multispecies interaction. The human audience was exposed to this same risk, though dust masks were offered and recommended. This negotiation between risk, vulnerability, intimacy, and materiality may provide moments of the ‘shared vulnerability’ Aloi proposes. There are, of course, looming risks and dangers of climate change in the Anthropocene, and live art is a medium in which risk in human/animal relations may be conceived of in a more localized, embodied way. In the same way that ‘wildlife’ is often treated as separate from humans, as a distant ‘over-there’ that, as Berger has noted, exists primarily as a value concept, so the larger, global, distant repercussions of human life on earth feel abstract and untouchable. Donna Haraway’s phrase ‘staying with the trouble’ implies a present (both in time and space) engagement with the vulnerabilities and anxieties of humanity’s – and other species’ – futures. Live art with taxidermy – ‘performing taxidermy’ as I have proposed calling it – provides a material presence for these human/animal vulnerable interactions...."
[i] Douglas, M (1984), Purity and Danger. London: Ark.
[ii] See here an article on recent deaths in Glasgow due to fungal infection: https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2019/jan/19/two-dead-after-pigeon-droppings-infection-at-glasgow-hospital