Arts

Taxidermy Unexplained – a photo essay by Matthew Sykes

“Reality by proxy”: The Museum of Natural History in Guildford, Western Australia.

The Buzza family converted the building from a long abandoned movie theatre.

Here, Death is ubiquitous, and only the light of a candle could more thoroughly pervade the mise-en-scene of the family home.

Crossing the River Styx.

Order in chaos: A short documentary prepared by Michael acclimatises the captive public. The tone of the piece is sterile and the production is minimal, but his recorded speech is nonetheless engrossing.

A place for children: The area foregrounding the display is filled with stuffed plush toys and twenty-piece picture puzzles. I didn’t then think to check, but it seems inevitable that some pieces would be missing.

Charon: Michael is only ever too happy to answer questions. When I ask him what the significance of the mannequin is, he admits he isn’t too sure.

Janus face: Michael taxidermies upon request, and had only recently “finished” this cat. For a period, I was transfixed; though the two heads pointed in opposite directions, each face was adorned by the same expression.

Yin and Yang: Michael composes his animals so that many of them are locked, eternally, in a moment of expressive violence. Jeffery Niesel calles taxidermy “the most systematic of systems … it uses violence to make life itself into a system.” Scenes like these belie the pedagogic nature of the museum, and I’m becoming less inclined to view Buzza’s craft as purely taxonomic.

The Ambassador: Released into the museum space (a sort of super massive diorama) we wonder about, finding only occasionally an ad hock plaque or snippet of zoological information. Without the usual trappings of a museum to distract them, our eyes seek out any possible semblance of congruity.

Epitaph: At times the phantasmagoria is overwhelming. The stiff forms of the animals turn in and out of each other, begging the viewer to fashion from their torpor new shapes, new monsters.

Glass casket: Initial wonderment dissipates as the eye trains itself on the static object. There is hardly any reason at all to stay and stare, but no reason at all to turn and run. The tiger, once a mess of speed of noise, is now muted by the contextomy of its situation.

Scopophilia: Observing the bear’s odd posture, I am reminded that this red curtain and cream partition once separated the cinema audience from the screen.

Entropic subjects: Demonstrative plastic moulds are set away from the hoards of pristinely manicured models. Here, the pelted flesh of the bear crawls away from the mouth and up toward the eye. Amongst the living dead, any such evidence of decay (no matter how foreboding) is welcomed, even refreshing.

Four steps: Each head represents a different stage in the process of taxidermy.

Receding hyperreality: As Michael reveals to me the nuances of his work the “copy world” of static objects begins to fall away. He is simultaneously a master of inertia and transgressor of the natural order.

The ark: Michael is not, though, a miracle worker. The putrefied corpses in this fridge still reek. The smell was so rancid, so violently strong, that I fear I will never dispense of it. What’s worse, it is an oddly comforting proposition.

Two doors: The Buzza’s have no use for the distinctions I understand as essential to sealing life from work. It is in keeping with the theme, then, that a walk around the Museum of Natural History is an exercise in identifying collapsed binaries.

The still seem forever in motion, Life and Death combine in a thousand different ways.

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