Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Friday, August 28, 2009

All installed

Everything in place in the gallery.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Sunday, August 9, 2009


I need to consider the ethical implications....if there are any...... of my decision to use animal remains......(basically bones, feathers and skins) ....... to produce art.

I suppose initially what matters is how these remains were sourced........ the large bones were purchased at £1.00 per bag from Edge and Sons organic butchers New Ferry (the calf's head cost a fiver and was unexpected and offered by the butcher himself ......they want photos.......I wonder what they're expecting!!!)

If the bones had not come to me and were left at the end of the day they would have been collected by "the bone man." Because of the risk of infection from animal and fish by-products they have to be rendered or incinerated.

The chicken bones that make up the chandelier have been collected from family meals during the year. My dad bought the chickens. It is his ritualistic offering every Saturday, along with some ginger beer and chocolate biscuits.
The routine of work now replaced at 83 with new routines that give the week meaning. Shopping with Donna to buy the chicken on Friday, offered to Dawn on Saturday and eaten for tea on Monday ( a bonus if either or both of the grandaughters are there to share the meal, and enliven the evening with their young wine-fuelled conversation.)

The skins.......some were bought...... some were found.
Professional Taxidermists have to follow strict codes. Certain birds and animals have to have special licences and all should be traced to a time and place. Those small exotic birds that I have bought from ebay are Victorian and pre-date legislation.

Those that are found comprise a series of small deaths that have come my way.......beginning with a dead squirrel in the park, a blackbird outside school, a bluetit brought by our one-eyed cat who rarely hunts these days (but did steal one of my stuffed mice!), a mole brought by my brother (he suspects either the cats or dogs......but it looked undamaged )....... A friend phoned up to ask if I was interested in a dead thrush and if not could I remove it anyway! And finally my husband arrived with a magpie in a plastic bag spotted while out driving. My specimens would have been rejected by any half serious professional because of the damage done to them......but my focus is remains and this is what remained!

The mice were bought frozen from . This firm specialises in food for is only insects that are sold live....... the mice were certainly deceased and not an I've titled them only sleeping.

There appears to be nothing illegal in what I am doing..... but no doubt to some people it is distasteful...... certainly friends and relatives find it all pretty odd...... and even my girls who are relatively broad minded (and neither vegan nor vegetarian) wonder when I will move on from the dead stuff.

There seems little doubt that had I been using human remains, issues of respect, and proper treatment would have been raised. (Although Haitian artist Jean Herard Celeur seems to get away with it... constructing his sculptures from diverse waste materials including human skulls and car windscreen wipers salvaged from rubbish dumps and cemeteries respectively.)

I seem to have raised two separate issues here :- one concerning the differing status of human and animal remains and perhaps inherent in that, a differing status with regards to human and animal life.
And secondly in what way are the physical remains after death deserving of respect and proper be continued.........
The Hunt in the Forest by John Burnside

How children think of death is how the shadows
gather between the trees:a hiding place
for everything the grown ups cannot name.
Nevertheless, they hurry to keep their appointment
far in the woods, at the meeting of parallel lines,
where everything is altered by its own
momentum - altered, though we say transformed -
greyhound to roebuck, laughter to skin and bone;

and no one survives the hunt: though the men return
in threes and fours, their faces blank with cold,
they never quite arrive at what they seem,
leaving a turn of phrase or a song from childhood
deep in the forest, bent to the juddering kill
and waiting, while their knives slip through the blood
like butter, or silk, until the heart is still

The beginnings of the end

a little death

only sleeping

the visitation

pretty in pink?

midas touch


mummified squirrel

montague and capulet

these fragments I have shored against my ruin

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

And so it continues......

These fragments I have shored against my ruin....
T.S.Eliot The Wasteland

To live is to leave traces....
Walter Benjamin

3 weeks to much to do.....

10 mice, I magpie and a thrush .........then taxidermy over....well for now.........(the cat stole one of my stuffed mice!)

Need to finish putting 22ct moongold leaf (a mixture of gold, palladium and silver)on calf's head....(only wish it would stop's been boiled, soaked in ammonia, dried, soaked in petrol, dried .....and still it smells..... just hope it wears off before exhibition)

About a quarter of the way through making a chicken bone chandelier

Not sure what to do with the pigeon wings?! or dried roses....

And need to start working on display.....(although John will help with that thank goodness) I want plinths and display cases so as to make a visual and theoretical link with both the museum and the church (i.e vitrine/reliquary)

Monday, July 13, 2009

a golden calf

Well Mr Edge the organic butcher who has been supplying me with all my bones for £1.00 a bag has done me proud. A calf's head for a fiver.........He is not allowed to deal with cow's heads ....I'm assuming due to BSE risks.... but a calf is ok.....

So difficult to prepare......eyes, nose, lips, hair on top of head..... all still in place and requiring removal......

I felt more repulsion than ambivalence towards the prospect of this.....Surprisingly it wasn't the eyes that caused me most problems ....they proved incredibly robust and tough to remove and resulted in a straight physical battle between me and the calf. It was the lips......they were soft and vulnerable........

Someone must be doing this all the time!

Tuesday, May 19, 2009


The beginning of some ideas. I've been collecting remains and now an attempt to transform them into something strange and interesting. Just today my pigeon wings and things arrived beautifully prepared by Steve.

Just a few of the things I have begun working on....

not dead...but sleeping

pretty in pink?

....just the beginnings of an idea......(the threads will go)

the visitation

montague and capulet

Wednesday, April 8, 2009


Where would we be without the World Wide Web?......

How to taxidermy a mouse in 27 easy steps!.....
These I hasten to add are mice farmed for the pet industry and more particularly for feeding to reptiles. (They arrived at my door bagged up and in a freezer box).

I could have purchased pinkies, fluffs, small, medium, large and extra large.

These are small and medium, although I'm not sure which is which! For anyone with a yen to stuff their own mouse I wouldn't recommend going much smaller...

Why would you want to stuff a mouse you may wonder...but art takes you to strange places.

It isn't much of a leap from the human remains debate to the more broader consideration of what by-products and remains are acceptable. (Many of us would manage a leather Gucci bag!)

The Victorians, as the Greeks and Romans before them, did not shy away from reminders of their own mortality, memento mori.
....perhaps this was because death was more often amongst them.

For myself, the further removed from the living appearance the remains are, the less any connection is made. Thus scrubbing and bleaching an unidentified cow bone is much easier than peeling the skin from a mouse. Both however unalterably lifeless, yet I feel that at any moment the mouse might squirm beneath my fingers.

I do however have plans for a piece that involves many sleeping mice so the taxidermy must continue. A craft I could never have imagined having need of!
During the nineteenth century, a wall strewn with prepared animals was considered the height of refinement and taxidermy a pleasureable pass time. Indeed Joseph Batty's Practical Taxidermy and Home Decoration (1885) describes "ladies endeavouring to master the art (in which) feminine taste and skill can be brought effectively into play"
see I'm not sick at all........I'm just a lady.......
Views however have changed and the bad ethics now associated with taxidermy are discussed in Bringing Back the Dodo: Lessons in Natural and Unnatural History (2007) where Wayne Grady wonders at the grossness of wild nature defanged and turned into a museum.
I suppose what interests me in the that it takes the remains and attempts to give them the appearance of a mummy.... the decomposition is halted at least for a while and what remains is the appearance of life in death........ a kind of ambivalence. In a sense I am subverting this and making my dead creatures look as though they are dead.......but an ever present death.......

Sunday, March 29, 2009


I went into a local 6th Form college (Art foundation students) to run a workshop.... we looked at my practice so far and responded to it working with chicken bones........

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Monday, March 16, 2009

virtual reincarnation

The Lindow Bog man is on display at Manchester University Museum and connected with this came a debate concerning the proper treatment of human remains.......True, I am only using animal varieties but if we stretch the metaphor....?

Two points of view were posited, ... namely a relationalist view as held by both aboriginal peoples and pagans, that the body is tied to place and should be returned to that place of belonging.

Bio- Ethicist John Harris presented a contrary, rationalist view, that once death has visited, the rights to whatever remains should be predicated on where they would be best served.

Remains less than 100 years old come under the human tissue act (resulting from botch ups at Alder Hey and Bristol) which require consent from next of kin etc.

Harris holds that there should be no preferred interest..... any rights end when life ends....

What do you think?

I always hoped that if a child of mine had died ......and a part of what remained could prolong life in another........ that I would be able to give the relevant consent .......

But would I be able to separate the person I had loved from the body that remained in time ? I'm just not sure.....?

The following link is a transcript of a fascinating debate around this issue that took place in 2003


Fifty million years before the
first woman
took her first steps on the surface of a warm earth the Tree
Squirrel God looked
over Her forest and thought that it was good.

For many millenia
generations of squirrels lived in peace and
harmony heeding the voice of the
wind until the heartbeat of the earth
called them home, to return into the soil
that had sustained them in life.

Their own heartbeat, swift and shallow,
let each squirrel know that
this time on the skin of the warm earth, flying
through the tall trees would
be as swift as a chatter of their teeth.
yellow dwarf that lit their
way and warmed their backs would be a joyous but
brief friend and they must
live quickly.

So they gathered nuts and
seeds, ate some and buried
others for cold winter days.
They found time to
love and raise several
families. And as they leaped through trees they dreamed
of flight and
returning as birds. They changed as the world changed but above
all they

When each heart stopped beating as surely as
it had
begun, the squirrel would fall from the highest branch into the rich
below to be warmly embraced and made its own.

There in that place,
among the living, they must remain, never to be disturbed.
children would scurry across the ground where they lay sleeping.
And in this
death they would sustain them, feeding the seeds and nuts that
became food
....... until in the briefest of time, they too would come and
join the rich
ancestry of the soil and the heartbeat of the earth.

Friday, February 20, 2009

experimenting with materials .......
chicken bones, soil, dried blood and gold leaf

sheep skull,dried blood, gold&silver leaf

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

decomposition and beauty

Beauty in unexpected places.

At the moment in my studio I am trying to turn base metal into gold ....... well that's what it feels like.

I am attempting to transform the undeniable reality of decomposition into a more beautiful created reality.

As part of my M.A Research I am keen to canvas as many views as possible concerning what happens after death.

The following questions are for guidance only, use them if they're useful ...... but otherwise I would really value your personal points of view.
If you would like your contribution to be credited then please do include your name with your comment. Equally if you would rather remain anonymous that's fine. It would be useful to know your age and gender however.

Cheers and many thanks


Do you believe that death is the end?
Does something continue beyond death?
Is there a heaven or hell? Have you a notion of them?
What of those you have loved? Will you be reunited?
Do you believe the dead watch over us?
Do your beliefs make you fear death less?
Are there any religious symbols/keepsakes that are important to you?

To join in - click on the comments button at the bottom of the page

warning this video contains maggots

memory runs backwards