Frozen in time, foxes, owls and other creatures inhabit geometric grids in Claire Morgan’s haunting installations.
Born in Belfast, Northern Ireland, Claire Morgan studied sculpture at Northumbria University in Newcastle. Using natural elements in her work – including dead animals – led her to study the craft of taxidermy. Today she creates large-scale installations in which animals and birds, seemingly in a state of suspended animation, navigate dense geometric grids of threads, dotted with seeds, insects and other materials.
Why did you start using taxidermy in your works?
CLAIRE MORGAN: About ten years ago I was working with changeable materials, like ice, rotting fruit and dead animals. As my work became more subtle, I wanted to have full control over how the animals are positioned and how they look, so I came to taxidermy as a means of achieving that.
How did you learn the technique?
I taught myself for a year or two before attending annual conferences hosted by the UK Guild of Taxidermists, where there are demonstrations and talks. I had a couple of days’ tuition from Derek Frampton and Mike Gadd, who are both great taxidermists.
How did you arrive at the bird- or animal-and-grid format? What are you trying to communicate?
I was asked a similar question recently and eventually came to the conclusion that it’s about the way I see the world. It has to do with the connectedness of everything, the relationships between things – individuals and other humans, other animals, the environments we live in, life and death. Both positive and negative relationships. And how all these things are subtly woven together in our consciousness.
How do you go about making your installations?
I always start by making sketches, usually rough combinations of simple shapes, colours, materials, maybe animals or plants, words and phrases. I play with these until they start to fit together. Once I’ve reached a point where I find something I want to pursue, I make a sketch and then plan the work on layers of tracing paper. When everything is planned, I can start work on the taxidermy and on the suspended elements. The process of preparing all the threads is very long and drawn out.
How do people react to your works?
Usually positively. Sometimes people are not sure how they feel about the animals, especially viewers who are not ‘art people’, because they are hoping to look at something nice. But obviously that is not necessarily what I am aiming for. Quite the opposite, really. I’m always working around the fact that people have an instinctive response to beauty and that they’re fascinated by very laborious and fragile things. I’m trying to use that to my advantage – to sort of catch people out, I suppose.
Where do the creatures in your works come from?
They come from various places: roadkill, birds that have flown into windows, pets, small birds and rodents that were caught by cats. Occasionally they’re animals classed as pests that have sadly been killed by pest control and will be otherwise incinerated.
Taxidermy has recently been called a ‘new hipster hobby’ . . .
A particular type of taxidermy has become trendy. It seems to entail using lab mice or similar creatures, spending a few minutes on processes that should take much longer, roughly stuffing a poorly prepared skin with cotton wool, and attaching a hat or a walking stick. I hope it stops being fashionable. It cheapens the craft of taxidermy and the life of the unfortunate animal, too.
How do you think 21st-century people relate to nature?
Nature is an integral part of the modern world. We will become extinct without land, rain, trees, clean air and water, insects and other animals. The danger lies in our unwillingness to see ourselves as part of the larger organism that is the earth. And also our unwillingness to reflect on our own mortality. That is a fundamental part of what drives me.
Portraits Andrew Meredith
This article debuted in Frame #107 alongside many other inspirational interviews and projects. Find your copy in the online Frame store.
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