Intersections: Animal Death is the working title of a current, ongoing project with Emry Fairgrieve. As a part of my practice-based research, it will ultimately take the form of a mobile app that will be both a creative project within itself and a tool for my taxidermy-centric arts practice. At its most basic function, the app allows people to report sightings of dead animal bodies alongside a geo-tagged photo. These documents both allow me the potential for sourcing dead animals for my project, but also serve as an archive of individual’s interactions with animal dead in daily life. Currently, while the app is in-progress, the functions and data will appear here in blog form.
There are existing apps for reporting ‘roadkill,’ such as ‘Roadkills,’ an app for reporting road or railway-side animal deaths in India with the expressed goal of identifying and altering roadways that prove particularly dangerous for wildlife. There is also the more euphemistically-named ‘Wildlife Vehicle Collision Report,’ designed by a team of scientists at Utah State University with similar intentions. Though the ‘Roadkills’ app is intended to be used in India, I noticed while using the app myself that there were individuals reporting roadkill all over Europe, and even one solo individual reporting roadkill sightings on one of the motorways here in the Central Belt of Scotland. The ‘Wildlife Vehicle Collision Report’ (which is not available in the Android market here in the UK) is restricted to Utah state employees. These apps show great potential and value in considering human impact on non-human lives and preventing both human and animal deaths due to man-made infrastructure, and exist firmly in a scientific field focused on raw data collection.
Intersections: Animal Death will differ from these apps in its intent, and thus, its interface and kind of data or information it collects. Inspired by Donna Haraway’s questions and provocations regarding how we ‘stay with the trouble’ and demonstrate ‘response-ability’ in multi-species relationships that are ‘as much about dying as living’ (Staying with the Trouble, 2016), this app will center its dead animal sightings not on prevention or scientific research, but on an individual’s documentation of human/dead animal encounter, speculation on how this encounter came to be, and, finally, imagination of what may constitute a death ritual for a fallen companion species. Ideally, in some cases, I may be able to collect the animal body, and allow the responses from app users to influence how I incorporate a particular animal’s body into a performative taxidermy art practice.
The mobile app’s interface will try to incorporate less typically scientific language and more introspective and open-ended language for human/dead animal interaction. There will be a quick section to simply send me, the artist/designer, a geo-tagged photograph of the animal or location alongside very basic information about the animal. There will be a second (optional but encouraged) section that reflects on the encounter and speculates both on the animal’s life prior to death and on what the user imagines happens, should happen, or does happen to the animal’s body after death, particularly with the knowledge that the animal’s body has the potential to be recreated into some kind of taxidermic form. The user will also be able to access an archive of their own past encounters. Ultimately, the goal of Intersections: Animal Death will be to not only give a public forum to the section of my research that questions the relationship between taxidermy and death rituals during a time of changing human/animal relations, but also to encourage users to adopt a heightened awareness to the intersections of human life and animal life and death on a day-to-day scale, focused on both individual human and individual animal. It seeks to characterize this experience outside a structure of scientific research that sees a dead animal body not merely as data for future prevention, but in a sensory, individual presence of bodily encounters.