Exhibition: Polly Morgan: Endless Plains, All Visual Arts, London, until July 31 2012
Life and death is the theme of Polly Morgan’s largest installation to date at All Visual Arts in London.
As her animal carcasses are recycled materials that have been donated by vets or farmers, so too her artwork highlights the processes of recycling from the dead to the living in nature.
Inspired by her recent visit to the Serengeti, the installation subverts the traditional use of taxidermy to revivify animals for use as trophies or decorations, instead retaining obvious death and decay to examine the cycle of life and depict the interdependence of predator, parasite and prey.
The largest piece in the exhibition is The Fall, where a dead tree truck is zoomorphised to become a source of life to seven piglets, suckling on its sap like a sow. Mushrooms grow out of its trunk, and starlings and other birds feed on the insects living in its bark.
In Hide and Fight, a stag’s carcass becomes a hollow cave inhabited by nesting bats. Morgan was inspired by the way prey are often devoured from the stomach in the wild, leaving an apparently intact corpse hollow in the middle.
Harbour is a kind of artistic surf and turf: a taxidermied fox carcass is entwined by octopus tentacles, which are nibbled on by hovering birds.
The tentacles are wrapped around the fox likes ropes, so that it seems the birds might pick up the fox by these threads.
Piglets are a running theme in the exhibition. Archipelago is a kind of reversal of The Fall; this time, a dead piglet lies like a log, out of which grow clumps of mushrooms.
The piglets are perhaps the most disturbing aspect of the exhibition. While we are used to seeing foxes and stags as roadkill, the piglets’ babiness – particularly, perhaps, their pink likeness to human babies, and the unblemished perfection of their skin - makes their death seem jarring and their bodies both real and unreal. Yet is shouldn’t, as they are the animals that as farm livestock are prey to us humans.
A series of bird’s nest drawings look sweet until you read the text and discover they have been drawn using cremated bird remains, rather than charcoal.
These delicate works each feature a black and white drawing of the nests of common British birds such as robins, chaffinches, swifts and great tits, with the little taxidermied bird sitting on the picture frame – seemingly outside of, yet part of, the artwork.
These pictures bring us back to man’s influence in this feast of nature. The carefully drawn nests are clearly the work of a human hand. The birds are outside of that, displaced from their artist-drawn natural habitat.
Polly Morgan is known for manipulating the possibilities of taxidermy to create a narrative, and this new show succeeds in juxtaposing flora and fauna in a circle of life that tells the story of the delicate balance between predator, prey and the almost unseen hand of man.
- All Visual Arts, Omega Place, London. Open Tuesday-Saturday 10am-6pm. Admission free.