When I was working with Matthew Moore on his Muybridge’s Horse post, he mentioned to me the work of Constance Thalken. Upon looking at the photographs in Thalken’s series Eyes Open Slowly, I found myself drawn to the pictures’ dark earth tones, stark lighting and atmosphere, and mystery or sense of foreboding. Taxidermy is something I always return to as a subject both of my thoughts and in my photographs; I’ll never tire of seeing it through the eyes of other artists and thinkers. What I appreciate about Thalken’s work is the way the animals pictured are in an in-between state. They are hanging or draped in limbo, waiting to transition from a living animal to an everlasting representation of one.
From the artist’s statement: Animals have a natural magnetism and taxidermy perpetuates the illusion of animal presence, providing an intimate experience that is impossible in real life. Yet the animal/object dichotomy of taxidermy can be unsettling and disorienting. We are in awe of what appears to be animal, yet the actual animal is gone. Death is inherent to taxidermy and so a sense of loss or grief is part of each encounter.
“Eyes Open Slowly” is an evolving body of work derived from my time in a taxidermy shop owned by an 85-year old expert taxidermist who has kept his shop in continuous operation for over 67 years. The shop itself is breathtaking. A massive amalgam of cavernous rooms, each overflow with residue from decades of working with animal skins. High ceilings are littered with hundreds of suspended plastic molds of animal species from around the globe. All hang in anticipation of their moment of animation when fitted with an animal skin. The dedicated work areas denote the stages of fabricating this animal “aliveness” – the skinning corner, the salt tanning floor, the central mounting area, and the finishing room where final touches awaken the uncanny in each mount. The diverse clientele of the shop further reflects our entanglements with animals. Prominent natural history museums, the Federal Fish and Wildlife Service, wealthy game hunters, international franchise steakhouses, and local trophy seekers all procure mounting services from the shop.
I have entered this world to investigate the idea of animal essence and the emotional and psychological complexities that arise from reanimations of that essence. Whether photographing animals in the process of “becoming” or deploying abstraction to confound the reading of surface, the work uncovers our longing to connect to the natural world. At the same time, it questions our urge to possess and immortalize it through the act of killing.
Visit artist's site: constancethalken.com