Redefining Taxidermy with Alex Randall

Back in July I wrote an article for The National newspaper in Dubai about Artists & Designers whose work incorporates Taxidermy, and in particular the work of the hugely talented Alex Randall.  With a limit of 500 words + 1 image I wasn’t able to include my full interview with Alex or share a broad range of her creations with the newspaper readers.  So I’ve decided to share everything with you in today’s posting:

In truth I’ve always found Taxidermy a bit disconcerting, but a new wave of Artists and Designers is turning my distaste into desire.  This turnaround comes at a time when oversubscribed classes in London and New York are teaching taxidermy techniques to enthusiastic groups from a variety of creative disciplines.  In fact taxidermy has been enjoying an unexpected renaissance over the past few years, transforming it from a craft once associated with hunting trophies and macabre Victorian curios into a cutting-edge form of Art.

Artists (many female) such as Polly Morgan (flickr), Kate ClarkKelly McCallum and Lisa Black are creating incredible works completely altering my preconception of what taxidermy represents.  Their work makes me consider issues associated with life and death and the delicate nature and beauty of animals.  There is a clear focus on storytelling, there are challenging thought-provoking subtexts and a strong desire to honour and celebrate the creatures used, which is far removed from the whimsical dioramas beloved of Victorians. 

Pictured above from left to right: ‘To Every Seed his own Body’ by Polly Morgan, ‘Lit From Within’ by Kate Clark, ‘Gold Maggots’ by Kelly McCallum, ‘Fixed Duckling’ (SteamPunk taxidermy) by Lisa Black.

Although I’m fascinated by the work of these women, my current creative crush is focused on the extraordinary lighting of Alex Randall.  Her work resonates with my love of the theatrical.  Alex kindly took time out of her schedule to discuss her passion for taxidermy with me:

VR: What led you to begin exploring taxidermy in your work back in 2008 and why does it continue to interest you?

AR: I never expected the use of taxidermy to become as ‘in vogue’ as it has. In fact, when I started doing it I had no idea that anyone else was even contemplating the idea, let alone creating art/design works using taxidermy. I came to use taxidermy as I choose any other material, it was an answer to a question, a solution to a problem; this material however had far more connotations and challenges than the usual stuff!

I was creating a light installation for the Ted Baker store on Cheapside to work with their London street-scene theme when I thought very quickly of using pigeons. I did a bit of investigation and discovered that these, among other animals and birds are regularly culled or discarded of after licensed shoots. They are wasted which is such a shame. To me they are beautiful and the reaction that they inspire can be truly magnificent.

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AR: I like to use the animals as a method of transportation for the lights they work with. You will notice that all the animals I use are in motion; none of them are stagnant or sleeping, they are all actively engaged with the lamp.

VR: Your lighting pieces have an intense sense of drama and storytelling … what are your creative intentions and aspirations relating to the impact your works will have on people and interior spaces?

AR: I believe that lighting is the ultimate stage for truly beautiful products. It is something we use every single day, something that we need, and something that we should cherish, not only for its usefulness but also for its inherent beauty.

The method that I take to creating work is more in line with that of an Artist than a Designer. I conceptually create the piece, I think what reaction I want it to inspire and I develop a story to the work. Everything has to make sense; from the finish of the material to the posture of the creatures.

VR: Are you seeking to allow the creatures in your works to have a new life/role after death?

AR: Yes, as I just mentioned, all of the animals I use are in motion. I do not wish to make them appear dead or for any sort of sorrow to be attached. I am a real animal lover and am fascinated by biology and anatomy and so the thought of wasting the body of a beautiful thing like a partridge or a duck is appalling to me.

VR: Can you explain the creative process that took your ‘Pigeon Pendants’ (pictured below) from concept to reality?

AR: These particular pieces were my first ever lighting incorporating taxidermy, and as I mentioned above, initially created for Ted Baker. I have always been ever-so-slightly obsessed by pigeons and they have cropped up again and again in my work (both literary and sculptural). For me, the attraction to them is partly due to the controversial reaction they create in people. City pigeons especially interest me, the way that they have adapted to flourish in our towns.

I love to see wildlife in the most man-made of places; in the airport in Rome last year I noticed a pigeon was living in the terminal, the reaction on people’s faces when they noticed it pecking about at the steel-framed chairs was wonderful. People seem so surprised to find nature creeping in on their controlled environment.

VR: Why do you believe the art of taxidermy has become an inspiring area for new Designers and Artists to express their ideas in recent years?

AR: Artists and Designers are always working to change people’s perception of their current environment and to create something ‘new’. I believe a large part of the reason taxidermy has become so popular is due to the backlash against minimalist interiors. Because of that there is a trend to rebel against flat-pack furniture and white walls and to create something richer and more textural.

VR: Part of my previous reticence about taxidermy related to the mystery surrounding where the animals actually come from and how they came to die.  But I understand there are now strict laws controlling which animals can be used and I know you are passionate about sourcing animals ethically.  So I’m interested to know in what ways you feel modern taxidermy differs from Victorian taxidermy, therefore making it acceptable and appealing to modern consumers?

AR: Today’s taxidermy is not trying to be anything other than what it is, unlike, for example the squirrels in the classroom, the kitten in pyjamas and the trophy heads so popular with the Victorians. Taxidermy is no longer wasteful or about the egotistical status of the hunter, but created out of a desire to not waste.  People are very educated nowadays about conservation and almost always ask me where the animals came from and how they died. If it is done properly then there is absolutely nothing wrong with having and enjoying taxidermy.  As long as these animals are not killed for the purpose of art or for sport, then they can and should be enjoyed as conservation and works of art in their own right.

Many thanks to Alex Randall for taking time out of her schedule to answer my questions so openly.  I continue to be amazed by her imaginative fusion of taxidermy and lighting to create awe-inspiring interior statements. 

I encourage you to take a look around her website to see the full spectrum of her work, including many pieces which don’t incorporate taxidermy (and therefore are not featured in this posting) but are also truly dramatic and daring lighting designs: www.alexrandall.co.uk

I also wanted to mentioned that many of the images featured here are taken from the collection ‘Be-Spoke’ by Alex Randall and photographer Claire Rosen.  Already shortlisted in the 2010 Sony World Photographic Awards and winning Gold at the Prix de la Photographie Paris, they are due to be released in book format next year.  As soon as I know when & where the book can be purchased I’ll tweet a link.

Finally I also wanted to thank Lyndsay from Helen Edwards PR for her support in providing additional info & images for today’s posting 😉

Check back next Monday for Anthony’s next look at another key Autumn/Winter 2011/12 trend.

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