Polly Morgan: Psychopomps

The Taxidermist-Artist's Flights of Fancy at Haunch of Venison

Polly Morgan makes her living stuffing animals into bell-jars. Before you call PETA—she’s a trained taxidermist, who creates fantastical, surreal and darkly humorous sculptures out of creatures she finds dead from accidental or natural causes. Though there’s an archly decorative bent to her work, her sculptures make a definitive departure from the staged, pseudo-naturalistic form typical of the art form. Birds sleep beneath tiny chandeliers, rats curl up in champagne flutes and Dalí’s lobster phone is updated via an upside-down pigeon. Any ick factor is balanced by the sheer thrill of Morgan’s ingenuity—who else, after all, could make a pretty vase arrangement of preserved birds on sticks? First spotted by street art prankster Banksy in 2005, Morgan has famous fans in Kate Moss and Courtney Love, but it’s taken until now for her to mount her first solo show at Haunch of Venison, London, entitled Psychopomps and opening July 21. Below, she shares her thoughts on the upcoming exhibition:

“I just chanced upon the word 'psychopomps.' It seemed to encapsulate a lot of what I was doing. I was reading a book called Animals, Men and Myth, which was about how humans had harnessed the power of various animals over the years for their own ends. The first creatures to go in a hot air balloon were a sheep and a duck—that’s what they tested it out on. They sent a monkey into space, didn’t they? I wanted to pay homage to the whims of those crazy inventors. I have one small work in the show that’s a flying machine based on a Victorian illustration—a cross between a plane and a hot air balloon, but harnessing birds to keep it in the air. It’s blackened and burned and all the birds are tiny bright orange finches. Birds are so beautiful and so varied. I’ve been doing this for six years and I still come across birds I’ve never heard of before. There’s so much potential: you can make them fly; you can have them sitting on something; you can have them huddled up. When they’re asleep, they turn their heads to hide under their wings and become a little ball.”

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