MANIFESTO

What in hell is an Exquisite Corpse?

Exquisite CorpseExquisite Corpse
Nude. Yves Tanguy, Joan Miró, Max Morise, Man Ray. 1927.
  (Cadavre Exquis) was a Victorian parlor game favored by the avant-garde Surreal artistsSurreal artists
Surrealist chessboard. Man Ray. From top left: André Breton, Max Ernst, Salvador Dalí, Jean Arp, Yves Tanguy, René Char, René Crevel, Eluard, De Chirico, Giacometti, Tristan Tzara, Pablo Picasso, Jean Magritte, Brauner, Peret, Rosey, Jean Miró, Mesens, Hugnet, Man Ray.
in early 20th century France. It began as a game of poetry where a player wrote a word or phrase on a piece of paper, covered his entry by folding the paper, and passed it on to the next player who did the same. This resulted in bizarre phrases or poems such as, “Le cadaver exquis boira le vin nouveau” (“The exquisite corpse shall drink the new wine,” after which the game was named). The SurrealistsSurrealists
Parisian Surrealists. Anna Riwkin. 1933.Pairs. Tristan Tzara, Paul Eluard, André Breton, Hans Arp, Salvador Dali, Yves Tanguy, Max Ernst, René Crevel, Man Ray.
were drawn to it for visual artVisual Art
Exquisite Corpse No. 10. Yves Tanguy, Man Ray, Max Morise and André Breton. 1928. Art Institute of Chicago.
as well: as the black sheep of the art world of the day, they liked it because it reflected their infatuation with the spontaneous, the erotic, the Freudian (just becoming popular at the time) and the…well…bizarre. And really, who doesn’t love erotic, Freudian black sheep?

My son and I enjoyed this game when he was young and I was repeatedly hospitalized. As I was frequently in bed recovering, it was one of the creative games we could play together. With a sense of excitement, anticipation and abandonment of rules, we’d unfold the finished productCollection of M. Field. 2015.
  Exquisite Corpse. Collection of M. Field. 2015.
to see what obscure imageCollection of M. Field. 2015.
  Exquisite Corpse. Collection of M. Field. 2015.
we’d created. It also worked well to prove that narcotic painkillersnarcotic painkillers
  Oxycodone.
do, indeed, increase one’s creative juices.

I suppose my work is an attempt to emulate this bohemian, playful and daring art form both literally and figuratively, bringing life back to discarded carcasses in an inventive, surreal and, hopefully, exquisite manner.

 

Please, tell us more about the Surrealists.

As a lifelong art history buff (and student), the Surrealists, especially Man RayMan Ray
    Man Ray.  
and Marcel DuchampMarcel Duchamp
    Marcel Duchamp.  
were some of the first artists to thrill my personal Fuck It! Code, and answer my yelp for freedom (probably from FreudianSigmund Freud
    Sigmund Freud.  
, childhood restraints).

Man RayMan Ray Violin
    Le Violon D’Ingres. Man Ray. 1924.
was exposed to the European avant-garde artists at 291, the gallery at 291 Fifth Avenue in New York City opened in 1905 by another modern art trailblazer, Alfred StieglitzAlfred Stieglitz
    Alfred Stieglitz. Self portrait (photograph). 1890.
. Stieglitz pioneered the movement to elevate photography’s status to that of “fine artAlfred Stieglitz
    The Steerage. Alfed Stieglitz. 1907. Aboard The SS Kaiser Wilhelm II.
” when, at the time, it was not considered equal to painting and sculpture, and he was also a pioneering promoter of modern art in the United States. Beginning in 1908, he used his space at 291 to introduce America to the most avant-garde European artists of the time in groundbreaking exhibits. These were the biggies, including Henri Matisse, Auguste Rodin, Pablo Picasso, Francis Picabia, Édouard Manet and Marcel DuChampMarcel Duchamp
    L.H.O.O.Q. Marcel DuChamp. 1919. In French, the title pronounced out loud sounds like “Elle a chaud au cul.” “She has a hot ass” or “She is hot in the ass” meaning the woman pretty much can’t get enough.
.

Aside from their wild and unbridled disregard for the rules, the SurrealistsSurrealists
    Artists in Exile. 1942. Peggy Guggenheim’s apartment, New York. Front row: Stanley William Hayter, Leonara Carrington, Frederick Kiesler, Kurt Seligmann. Second Row: Max Ernst, Amedee Ozenfant, Andre Breton, Fernand Leger, Berenice Abbott. Third Row: Jimmy Ernst, Peggy Guggenheim, John Ferren, Marcel Duchamp, Piet Mondrian.
(specifically Duchamp) established the idea of calling regular, everyday junk, “Art”. These plain, cheap and ordinary objects, or Readymades (a term borrowed from the Jewish garment industry in New York), were the beginning of what we know and love today as “Found Object” Art. An ordinary item, most famously, a urinalSurrealists
    Fountain. Marcel Duchamp. Photographed by Alfred Stieglitz. 1917. 291 (Art Gallery), Society of Independent Artists Exhibit. The entry tag is clearly visible.
, was stuck in a gallery as Art, simply because the artist designated it as such. The Surrealists were the Shock Radio hosts of their day, and naturally, as a black sheep myself, their work and ideas allure me.

 

OK, but where does the taxidermy fit in?

Love him or hate him, speaking of shock artists…
While Damien HirstDamien Hirst
    The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living. Damien Hirst. 1991.
may be considered a modern day Surrealist with his insect electrocutor (bug zapper), maggots and flies, floating shark, and rotting cow and bullDamien Hirst
    Two Fucking, Two Watching. Damien Hirst. 1995. Rotting cow and bull. They are, well, doing it, by means of an hydraulic device. Banned by New York public health officials for fear of the stench causing “vomiting among visitors.”
, but it is his extraordinary partner in production, the British taxidermist, Emily MayerEmily Mayer
    Emily Mayer.
, who gives his work its…ummm…life. With her novel techniques, edgy and macabre unconventionality, and penchant for the gross, it was her decomposing models that helped launch the Hirst Dynasty. She is one of very few taxidermists who might first be considered, artists first — master craftsmen who do not mount traditional hunting trophies, instead employing their precision, obscure creativity and cast-iron stomachs to create art that is more abstract and funkyAbstract Art
    Final Voyage, Precious Cargo. Emily Mayer.
.

Another Surrealist (and model for Man Ray), Meret OppenheimMeret Oppenheim
    Erotique Voilée (Veiled Erotic). Man Ray. 1933.
, combined female eroticism with taxidermy by covering a teacup, saucer and spoon in Chinese gazelle furChinese gazelle fur
    Object (Le Déjeuner en Fourrure). Meret Oppenheim. 1936. Museum of Modern Art.
. Not only was it a bizarre Readymade or Found Object placed in a museum as art, but it was disturbingly suggestive and erotic at the time. How was one to use these traditionally feminine items without caressing the fur with one’s lips? And how could you not love Oppenheim’s Cannibal FeastCannibal Feast
    Le Festin or Cannibal Feast. Meret Oppenheim. 1959. Photo: William Klein for Vogue Magazine, 1959. Oppen heim uses a female nude as the base for an erotic and carnal feast for E.R.O.S. (Exposition inteRnatiOnal du Surrealisme), 1959-1960. People cited, Andre Breton, Elléouët Aube, Radovan Ivsic, Jean Schuster, Robert Benayoun, Jean-Louis Bedouin, Joyce Mansour, Mimi Parent, André Pieyre Mandiargues.
(Le Festin), where banquet attendees are “invited” to fondle and feast on the dismembered female nude cadaver?

The Surrealists used obscure photographic techniques like extreme close-ups, solarization, and double exposure to create a whacky, dream-like reality. In her close-up photograph of a baby armadilloDora Maar
    Portrait of Ubu. Dora Maar. 1936.
suspended in formaldehyde, Dora Maar makes an ugly, even repulsive subject, bizarrely appealing. (in a creepy sort of way).

Finally, it’s not taxidermy, but it’s an awful lot like what I do at work: the Surrealist film, Un Chien Andalouun.chien.andalou
    Un Chien Andalou. Luis Buñel. 1929. Movie poster.
, is an erotic, Freudian, dream-like (are you sold already?) series of unrelated scenes that, with a stretch, have some relationship to taxidermy. Along with the dead and rotting donkeys, a severed hand, and a sliced thumb (this is very much what I see at work), one scene famously shows a woman’s eye being sliced open with a razorEyeball Razor
    Un Chien Andalou. Woman’s eye.
. (In the close-up, it’s actually the eyeball of a dead calfCalf Eyeball
    Un Chien Andalou. Luis Buñel and Salvador Dali. The eye of a dead calf with bleached hide to look like human skin.
. So there’s that).

 

So…is taxidermy ART or NATURAL HISTORY? Hey, don’t all those cool CABINETS OF CURIOSITY have taxidermy in them?

Yep. They do, indeed.

The Renaissance (roughly 15th and 16th centuries), and the Age of Enlightenment (roughly 17th and 18th centuries) were no strangers to taxidermy. The vast personal collections of utterly cool stuff were the early ancestors to the modern museum. Remember your grandmother’s curio cabinet overflowing with tacky china, Precious Moments, imitation Lladro and Holly Hobbie figurinesHolly Hobbie
    Tacky curio cabinet.
? She did not invent that idea, though the tacky kitsch-factor certainly belonged to the 1970s. In 16th century Italy, the room was called a studiolo, museo, or galleria. North of the Alps, this precursor to modern museums was Kunst and Wunderkammer, cabinet of art and marvels or room of curiosities or wonders.

The concept of these cabinets or rooms, was to show off the Enlightened collector’s worldly and humanist education and wealth – to amaze and impress – in one place. Not unlike your beer bottle collectionbeer bottle collection
    Beer bottle collection.
. Sometimes the elaborate cabinets themselves were as impressive as the collections, replete with secret drawers and compartments. These displays of art (Kunst) and marvels (Wunder) combined a wildly diverse collection of objects, natural and man-made, that reflected vast and wild Universe just being discovered (and desperately feared and punished by the Inquisition). Taxidermy was used to crudely preserve the acquired animal specimens. The taste was for the abnormal (such as the unusually large or small) and the exotic (often animals), so cabinets and roomsDisplay rooms
Musei Wormiani Historia. The frontis piece from the Museum Wormianum depicting Ole Worm’s Cabinet of Curiosities.
were stuffed to the gills with extravagantly bizarre examples, in stark juxtaposition, from the three most important new discoveries/studies of the time: naturalia (products of nature), artefacta (products of man), and scientifica (scientific instruments proving man’s ability to understand and dominate nature—a concept which never goes out of style).

These private collections were later donated or purchased to create the first natural history museums. In fact, my beloved Field MuseumChicago Field Museum
    The Field Museum of Natural History. Chicago, Illionis.
in Chicago (where I once dreamed of living) was born in a day, when Marshall Field purchased an entire taxidermy display for $100,000 at the 1893 World’s Columbian Expositionbehind the scenes
    The Field Museum of Natural History. World’s Fair. Chicago, Illinios.
in Chicago. Thus was mainstreamed the fascination and popularity of taxidermic critters.

 

So is my own taxidermy Art or Natural History? Hmmm.

Well, the 19th century was the golden age of taxidermy as Victorian hunters and adventurers sought to strut their stuff, so to speak, and with superior scientific methods, taxidermists were newly considered “artists.” Perhaps, as the Surrealists suggested, the artist and the public together decide what Art is. And now with the modern, hipster resurgence of WunderkammerWunderkammer
    Signification (Hope, Immortality and Death in Paris, Now and Then). Damien Hirst. 2014. Damien Hirst and Science Ltd.
and taxidermy in swanky museums and galleriesCai Guo Qiang - The Allegory of 99 Wolves.
    The Allegory of 99 Wolves. Cai Guo-Qiang.
, it would seem the two have decided.

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