Johnston Foster’s near life-size safety-barrel tiger, discarded-wood moose, and a zebra head assembled from a stripped leather couch and a broom brush; Yong-Ho Ji’s twin-headed tire ram; a rhino head of gold-tipped matches by David Mach: the realism of today’s “trophy heads” resides in materiality. Rather than celebrate the power of humans over animals, these sculptures attest to the proliferation of commercial and industrial products, recycled and transformed. These artists appropriate both everyday and fine art materials to create simultaneously familiar and fantastical species, referencing a range of environmental and social issues, and demonstrating the adaptive reuse of material, myth, and metaphor in works addressing the current human condition.
Using textiles to push the boundaries of painting, Anastasia Schipani labors for countless hours layering images, textures, tassels, sequins, and found objects to create works that are expansive in scale and rich in detail. Schipani is inspired by the possibility of creating a more beautiful reality and notes, “In my art I see the ruins of the arenas of the world overgrown with nature, transformed by time.” Here, images of animals in nature, branches made of fabric extending out into three-dimensional space, pools of blue water, and shimmering sequined rivers fill the tapestry, narrating the artist’s relationship to the natural and built environment, and her vision of a new home emerging from the ruins of human destruction. Within the calm of the technicolor blue lake, the artist has inscribed the title Nature Revives Itself After Man.
Merging the facial features of an adult female human with an antelope’s hide and antlers, Kate Clark’s bust offers a fantasy of interspecies hybridity both alluring and alarming. Life-size eyes return the viewer’s gaze; carefully crafted, made-up, and horned, her affect invokes both fierce power and strange beauty. As science and art explore new frontiers of genetic experimentation, The Answer to Your Prayers may allow a transcendence of human limitations, or deliver the unexpected and uncanny.
Mascarade 3 deconstructs the body of a chicken by removing its plumage, but in return enhances its configuration by “clothing” it in a rabbit’s skin; the new outer layer provides the subject with thermal capabilities its original covering did not offer. Sarah Garzoni anthropomorphizes the chicken by projecting a familiar human need, yet the hybrid creature, with its turned head and foot raised mid-stride, belongs to an alien, animal kingdom. Critic Michael Rattray observes that taxidermy like Garzoni’s signals entry into a new, surreal frontier: “the object posed frozen as if it were still living may give pause in its stasis. The aesthetic moment thereby enters the unreal universe of altered time, altered space.”
During the 2012 Biennale, Julian Charrière and Julius von Bismarck caught, painted, photographed, and released 35 pigeons into the city of Venice, Italy. The birds were allegedly lured into the “Pigeon Apparatus,” moved along a conveyor belt-like mechanism within it, and sprayed with an assortment of non-harmful dyes. Once painted and photographed, the birds were released back into their urban habitat as multi-colored hybrids of art and nature. The title, Some Pigeons Are More Equal Than Others, is a riff on one of the most poignant lines in George Orwell’s 1945 dystopian allegory, Animal Farm. In the novel, the once egalitarian society of the farm has deteriorated due to the corruption and systematic abuses of logic and language to control other members of society. The pigs take control by ousting opposition, making the absurd declaration that “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.” Charrière and von Bismarck’s project adopts this self-flattery as part of their own tongue-in-cheek practice, suggesting that their actions have altered the value and status of these common, scavenging city birds into works of art.
Canvasing highway medians, dumpsters, and urban alleyways, Johnston Foster crafts his sculptures from discarded, cast-off objects. “I use materials that are easily manipulated, like plastics,” says the artist. “I have access to more synthetic materials; it’s as if my environment is providing for me.” Transformation is both Foster’s practice and the subject of his artworks, which explore the conflict of adaptation—of animals to changing environments and to each other, as in the infestation of wasps harassing The Keeper.
Yong Ho Ji’s Ram Two Heads 2 (from the artist’s Mutant series) also explores the duality of human nature and desire. “‘Mutant’ literally means ‘something unusual and abnormal’,” explains the artist. “In my work, I want to express how a truth or a fact is distorted by the selfishness and desire that are at the root of our being… I created the series of heads hanging on a wall inspired by mounted animal heads hung to decorate houses of the wealthy, partly because they seem to give a sense of invisible power, or intimidation.” While visually alluring, the title and form of this two-headed ram made from repurposed tires belongs to a world gone awry, due to overconsumption of resources and potentially risky scientific experimentation.
Consumption provides the narrative theme in works by Tallur LN, who employs repurposed jute grain sacks in animal sculptures that reference traditional Indian culture. Bon Appetite alludes to both the digestive system—an anthropomorphic metaphor for decay and consumption—and to the souvenir, itself a process of consuming place and culture.
Franco Mondini-Ruiz makes found objects from fine art in his Modern Piñatas series of papier-mâché replicas modeled after works by artists such as Piet Mondrian, Jasper Johns, Andy Warhol, and Jeff Koons. The glossy, smooth surfaces of Koons’s monumental metallic fabrications are deflated in Koons Bunny, which transforms an artistic icon of appropriation (Koons’s inflated balloon and toy sculptures) back into a hand-made, nearly hand-held art object, presented as a party accessory intended to be filled with candy and beaten apart with a stick. Like David Mach’s Golden Rhino made of wooden matches, Mondini-Ruiz’s Modern Piñatas suggest their potential for destruction; Mach’s performances have included the burning of his matchstick sculptures. Vulnerability, not virility, is the message of the 21st-century animal trophy.
These color-saturated prints by renowned British multi-media artist Marc Quinn depict details of the large-scale, hyper realistic paintings the artist made following an installation commissioned by the Prada Foundation in Milan in 2000. That installation, Garden, featured a range of flowering plants from diverse habitats, preserved in full bloom with liquid silicon and exhibited in an industrial-size refrigerator. Suspended in a state of perpetual beauty, the Garden flowers allude to the contemporary fascination with youth, beauty, and the artifice of disguising the natural processes of age and decay. In 2004, Quinn painted these flowers, exaggerating their scale and color into “landscapes” whose intense colors and flattened forms recall the gloss of advertising imagery more than their organic origins as flowers. The title references two traditional art forms (which often idealize sitter or setting), while the subject matter alludes to a third, still life painting—which depicts the simultaneous radiance and decay of “nature”—itself an artificial, aesthetic construct.
Simen Johan’s bison is both massive and meek, filling a space that looks barren and inhospitable, a land ravaged by industry, then abandoned. While Johan’s imagery alludes to the endangerment of species and habitats, his dream-like realms also belong to the Surreal: Until the Kingdom Comes, says the artist, “refers less to the kingdoms of the bible and natural world, and more to the human fantasy that one day, in some way, life will come to a blissful resolution.” Merging traditional photographic techniques with digital methods, Johan creates each of his images from several negatives, having first constructed or discovered each element and photographed it on film. The image of the llama documents a performance the artist staged, while the foxes are a single object of taxidermy, digitally reproduced, and thus both real and virtual, seemingly alive and dead.
In Art in Counting House, recycling is synonymous with reinvention. Decommissioning a commercial product, Duke Riley explores past, present, and future in It Will Warm You Twice. The cigarettes and mini cigars Riley utilized to create this large-scale mosaic reference the ubiquitous role that tobacco has played in the development and history of Durham, North Carolina, as well as the decline of its influence. Early 18th-century explorers to Durham called the area “the flower of the Carolinas;” the English colonists who first settled the area cleared and worked the very fertile land, most notably transforming the territory into the tobacco farms for which Durham became famous. Riley’s piece, created for 21c Durham, is inspired by the evolution of the regional landscape from virgin forest to tobacco farms, and references the current cycle of reinvention, as this former home of the Durham tobacco and banking industry is repurposed into a multi-use cultural center.