Animal Inventory Blog

Keeping track of animals in popular culture.

Archive for September, 2007

Stuft Acquaintances Part II

Posted by lisagbrown on September 25, 2007

“Save an animal, go plush!”

Stuft Acquaintances is the creation of “T&A”, Los Angeles-based artists Tanya and Amy. The twenty-something women are becoming well-known not only for their animal art, but also for “other kooky things we make like sushi, donuts, fortune cookies, steaks,” according to Tanya.

Their Stuft Acquaintances line was born when Tanya was about to have a baby and she couldn’t find any stuffed animals that she liked. When she and Amy brain-stormed they came up with the idea of mounting stuffed animals on wood like wild game. However, as Tanya explains, “because T&A truly love animals we wanted to make it cute and not at all creepy like real taxidermy. We really love animals and because we donate a portion to animal charity we came up with the slogan ‘save an animal, go plush!'”

The duo have a gallery show in LA at the Munky King gallery in the beginning of November. Remember to check out their wares by clicking here.

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Stuft Acquaintances

Posted by lisagbrown on September 19, 2007


During a recent excursion to Los Angeles, I discovered a line of art called Stuft Acquaintances. Each piece is a plush, synthetic stuffed animal mounted on a wall plaque like a hunting trophy. Each is made from patterned fabric that clearly distinguishes it from real animals. Each one is named, and comes with a unique personal history. But the pieces are more than just cute accoutrements for your living room wall. These charming and affordable works of art provide commentary on trophy hunting. In order to fully understand the discourse embedded in Stuft Acquaintances, it is useful to explore real life preservation of the dead.

J. Desmond (2002) is an animal theorist who writes about animal bodies (living and dead) that are viewed and recreated by humans through taxidermy. In her essay, “Displaying Death, Animating Life: Changing Fictions of “Liveness” from Taxidermy to Animatronics” Desmond explains that beheaded and mounted animal heads are trophies that celebrate the animal’s absence of life. Simultaneously, the ultimate goal is one of realism and liveness in death.

Taxidermy is historically limited to animals (aside from funereal embalming and mummification), and the display of human dead is rarely undertaken. Yet there are some striking exceptions, and we can possibly learn more from these unique human exceptions than from mounted animals. One hundred years ago, the Parisian morgue had an open door policy that thrived on the spectacle of anonymous bodies. Native American skeletons in the US were collected and sometimes displayed in museums before the twentieth century. Desmond explains that such examples demonstrate a reclassification of ‘other’ in the bodies of unidentifiable humans, or people who are not white. Anonymity and non-whiteness were used as rationale to treat these humans as things – or, more specifically, as animals.

In the contemporary work of Dr. Gunter von Hagens, “Body Worlds” is the display of dead human bodies, manipulated into active poses with skin removed to expose the inner-workings of muscles, tendons and bones. Desmond explains that the explosive response to von Hagens work is in stark contrast to lackluster response to contemporary exhibits of animal taxidermy. Human understanding of the human body is uniquely tied to the body’s representation of an individual person. This means that the viewer will identify with the body as a fellow individual. By contrast, the animal body represents a species, group or category, not the individual who “‘inhabited’ the living body (p 169).”

Desmond argues that human bodies that are displayed are stripped of their humanity. They are anonymous, poor or are designated as different and less-than because of race. The derogatory status of these bodies puts them on the same level as animals who can be displayed and used. She charges that this removes not only humanity but also individuality. If an animal merely represents one of an entire species then so, too, do these degraded humans. In both instances, the personality, life history and individual significance of the being are ignored and erased. Instead, the beings become specimen. Rather than representing themselves, they represent a category. In so doing, they become irrelevant as individuals. Acknowledging the role of dead humans in taxidermy is important because it demonstrates how people draw the fine, malleable line between human and less-than-human. In large part, degrading the history and individuality from a body does this. Then the living cannot (or will not) personally identify with the dead.

The creators of Stuft Acquaintances have turned traditional taxidermy on its head by utilizing whimsical imagery and individualized personas in their mounted creations. The cute, offbeat charm of these animals beckons the viewer to fall in love with them. The pieces borrow from cartoony representations of animals and encourage memories of particular stuffed friends from childhood 1 . In direct contrast to the anonymity that Desmond describes in traditional taxidermy, these artworks highlight the individuality of each animal. They force the viewer to identify with the creature. In doing so, the artist draws the viewer into a discussion about real mounted trophies. The artist seems to be stating: If a fake, pretend animal deserves individuality and personality, history and identity, surely a real one does. If you can fall in love with a fabricated animal, how could you deny those feelings for a real animal? Stuft Acquaintances breaks down the walls of anonymity and reminds the viewers that we decide how we see animals, living and dead, real and fake. If we choose to ascribe living qualities to a manufactured creation, we can choose how we see the real animals (as individuals, or as anonymous representations of a category), as well.

Purchase Stuft Acquaintances at their website http://www.tafriendly.com

Citation:
Desmond, J. (2002). Displaying Death, Animating Life: Changing Fictions of “Liveness” from Taxidermy to Animatronics. In N. Rothfels (Ed.), Representing Animals. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

1 The relationship between animals and children is highly theorized and debated in the fields of human-animal studies and childhood development studies. Often, attachment and interest in animals (with the exception of biological interest) is viewed as a child-like pursuit, one that demonstrates a juvenile emotional state. This is often used to dismiss the legitimate and substantial contributions of animal-studies scholars who see worth in understanding all dimensions of animals in culture. I believe Stuft Acquaintances is an example of how childhood attachment can be used responsibly and intelligently to create contemporary commentary on adult relationships with animals. With sharp wit and thoughtfulness, the artwork contributes to the legitimacy of human-animal studies.

Posted in Art, Identity | 2 Comments »

Verizon — When Pigs Fly?

Posted by lisagbrown on September 4, 2007

You may have seen this new TV commercial: a man and his son are looking wistfully at the window display of a Verizon cellphone store on a busy city street. The son says, “maybe the phones will go on sale soon.” The father replies, “yeah, when pigs fly!” The implication is that the phones will never go on sale, just as pigs will never fly. Suddenly, the face of a smiling salesperson appears in the window, and as she hangs a garish “sale!” sign, a plump pink pig enters the frame next to the father and son. After the two exchange bewildered looks, the commercial ends. As a viewer, I expected to see the pig fly away, or at the very least have cheaply constructed cherub’s wings harnessed to its back. If the phones are on sale, the pigs must fly, right? But this did not happen. This left me, and I suspect many other viewers, vaguely confused.

As I thought about it further, I realized that despite the fact that the expected “surprise” doesn’t happen, an alternate one does. It is completely nonsensical for a pig to wander along a city street. This is almost as shocking as a pig with wings. So, even though the audience does not get the shock we had prepared for, we get an equally compelling one. We fence wildlife out of our cities, we shun the food-making process to remote areas. Our daily contact with wildlife — or animals of any kind for that matter — has dwindled to almost nonexistent. Put in this context, it is hardly surprising that the appearance of a pig in a city is just as fantastical as a pig with wings.

In the essay “… From Wild Technology to Electric Animal,” ( in N. Rothfels (Ed) Representing Animals 2002) A.M. Lippit explores the notion that animal imagery in film, television and photography is an elaborate form of entombment. As humans retreat further from animals, we mourn the loss of them and create what Lippit calls a “technological crypt.” In this sense, we can honor a relationship that no longer exists. Humans capture animals on film to remind ourselves of them, yet the images we create are sterile and artificial. We are so far removed from them that we don’t even have the skills to manufacture a more believable image. Further, even as we mourn them, we still desire control over them. For instance, even when we allow a fictional pig into a fictional city, the animal is the cleanest, most pristine, pinkest, most well-behaved pig ever.

Whatever Verizon’s intention with this commercial was, they unknowingly advertised something far more lasting than a phone that will be obsolete the moment it is sold. Instead, Verizon highlighted the alarming alienation between humans and animals — farm animals in particular. It is not the ‘sale’ sign in the Verizon store window that gives viewers pause, it is the uncomfortable sight of a pig walking on concrete, casually strolling a neighborhood that could easily be the viewer’s own; it is the question of how a pig could end up on a city street, or why the image is so strange. The viewer is left with a lingering sadness and the wish that the pig would just fly away, if for no other reason than to end the discomfiting feeling of incongruity.

Citation:
Lippit, A.M. (2002). …From Wild Techonology to Electric Animal. In N. Rothfels (Ed.) Representing Animals. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Posted in Representations, Television | 2 Comments »

Glossary of Terms

Posted by lisagbrown on September 3, 2007

When we speak about animals, we use a distinct and complicated vocabulary that can become confusing when not properly defined. Some commonly used words may have colloquial meanings that differ slightly from the words used in the field of human-animal studies. Other words are so uncommon that even people within the field have alternative understandings of their definition. What follows is a list of critical concepts and terms that appear in discussions about people, animals and nature. You have the choice of viewing the list by topic or alphabetically. Over time I will develop more comprehensive explanations of these key concepts, but for now, short definitions should suffice. You can use these guides as a reference when reading postings to this site, or any writings about people, animals and nature.

Glossary by Topic

Glossary Alphabetized

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