Taxidermy usually conjures up images of animals caught in awkward stances, their fur mothy and dusty, their eyes glazed over. This, however, is not the approach preferred by Polly Morgan, a British taxidermist and artist. Her latest work, unveiled in early April at Other Criteria, Damien Hirst’s shop in London, is “Still Birth”. For this collection, Morgan has delicately suspended 30 taxidermy chicks, each in its own bell jar, by a little, coloured balloon. The result is rather beguiling. The limp chicks look serene and peaceful, paused mid-float. Each jar captures a moment suspended between death and decay.
A fascination with mortality and a love of animals drew Morgan to taxidermy, first as a hobby and then as an artist. Unlike many taxidermists, she has never been concerned with recreating a sense of an animal's natural habitat. Instead she prefers to use animals as objects in a still life. Her results often challenge viewers’ expectations. “Dead Ringer”, one of her more famous pieces, features a magpie lying feet up on the cradle of an old-fashioned telephone, mimicking the receiver in its morbid pose.
Hugely successful, and popular with the likes of Kate Moss and Banksy, her work has done much to invigorate the odd and occasionally controversial craft of taxidermy (a subject addressed in Melissa Milgrom's recent book "Still Life: Adventures in Taxidermy"). Lest anyone misinterpret her macabre work for something more sinister, Morgan insists that her animals are all either road casualties or donated after natural or unpreventable deaths (an assertion she also makes on her website).
The bell jars are flying off the shelves of Other Criteria, where they are now on view. Given this demand, the price for chicks dangling from either blue or red balloons recently went up to £3,250 ($5,015), while the green remains at £2,750.
“Still Birth” by Polly Morgan is at Other Criteria in London; this work will be on view at the Hong Kong Art Fair from May 27th