all things orderly and disorderly in the natural world
EXHIBITION: THE BEATY MUSEUM
Curator of permanent vertebrate exhibits
UBC's rich biological collections are housed in the Beaty Biodiversity Museum, a new public museum opened in the fall of 2010.
The museum is unusual in that it both houses the UBC's research collections while also opening those same collections up to the public. Visitors have the opportunity to look into actual storage units and meander through the maze of cabinets housing 500,000 specimens of plants, algae, and fungi, 600,000 specimens of bugs, beetles, and butterflies, more shells that you could count, 40,000 specimens of land vertebrates, 800,000 fish specimens, and over 20,000 fossils from around the world.
I was in charge of the vertebrate exhibits. My responsibilities included researching, writing, and designing over 200 exhibits exploring all aspects of life with a backbone.
From sixteenth-century cabinets of wonders to contemporary animal art, The Breathless Zoo: Taxidermy and the Culture of Longing examines the cultural and poetic history of taxidermy.
Preserving dead animals in lively postures is a strange and unusual human act. Why would anyone desire to do such a thing? The Breathless Zoo suggests taxidermy is entwined with the enduring human longing to find meaning within the natural world. From the longing to preserve nature's wonders to the burning desire to immortalize a kill, taxidermy is always a haunted storyteller that always reflects what we desire the most.
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"It comes as no wonder that The New York Times included Rachel Poliquin’s The Breathless Zoo among its best coffee table books of 2012, calling it one among a privileged selection of titles that “make an impression.” And in the case of Poliquin’s book, this is an understatement. Along with a rigorously researched and written text, The Breathless Zoo offers up an aesthetically enviable book design, which includes a collection of sumptuously colored images that often amaze, as frequently unnerve, but always leave the curious mind wanting more. The only thing truly bad about The Breathless Zoo, in my humble estimation, is that I didn’t write it. —Alissa A. Walls, Humanimalia
“I have long been a fan of Rachel Poliquin’s otherworldly online museum, www.ravishingbeasts.com, but after reading The Breathless Zoo I know just what she means when she says that all taxidermy, like storytelling, is ‘deeply marked by human longing.’ I am already longing to read The Breathless Zoo again.” —Jay Kirk, author of Kingdom Under Glass
“With The Breathless Zoo, Rachel Poliquin has made a major contribution to the blossoming field of animal studies. This book is the new benchmark on the place of taxidermy in the social history of art, science, and popular culture. Marvelous, rigorous, and extensively well researched, the work is also refreshingly pleasurable to read. Throughout, Poliquin explores the complex questions around the rich cultural texture of taxidermy. And unlike other works on the topic, The Breathless Zoo examines not only what taxidermy is but also what it means. For those of us engaged in thinking about animals, this is the book on the culture of taxidermy we have long awaited—a book of great innovation that slices through the history of science, blood sports, and art.” —Mark Dion
“The Breathless Zoo is the book that the subject of taxidermy has long deserved. Full of provocative opinions, beautifully expressed, it is a subtle and thoroughly engaging exploration of the difficult question posed by all present-day encounters with taxidermy: ‘What is this animal-thing now?’” —Steve Baker, author of The Postmodern Animal
The Breathless Zoo: Taxidermy and the Cultures of Longing
The Strangely Alluring World of Taxidermy October 21, 2009 - February 28, 2010
Curator: RACHEL POLIQUIN Exhibition Designer: KEVIN McALLISTER
Displaying over a hundred animals from the Museum of Vancouver’s collection of taxidermy for the first time in decades, Ravishing Beasts: The Strangely Alluring World of Taxidermy investigates the ravishingly provocative world of taxidermy.
With a few additions, the animals in Ravishing Beasts are from the Museum of Vancouver’s own natural history collection. Almost no information is known about them except that they were donated by Vancouver residents. Most were on public display until the Museum moved from the top floor of the Carnegie Library at Main and Hastings to its current location in 1968. In part due to space constraints, in part due to a diminishing appreciation for taxidermy, the animals were put into storage and have lingered under plastic for the last half century.
This weird lurking in the basement provides a fascinating opportunity to question taxidermy's the legacy, current value, and future relevance both within and beyond museum culture. Whether a hoarding of exotic curiosities, a scientific archive, a hunting trophy, or a stuffed pet, taxidermy always exposes longings to capture animals and tell stories about their significance within human lives.
Taxidermy allows viewers to get closer to animals than they ever could in life or on television. The exhibition draws on this visual and visceral intimacy and invites visitors to examine taxidermy’s scientific history, its ethics and aesthetics, its contemporary revival in art and design, and its use as an educational tool.
The exhibit includes a small display of contemporary artists who use taxidermy in the art. On display is are pieces by the Dutch duo known as Idiots, French artist Pascal Bernier, Vancouver artist George Vergette, and a video by John Bland of Iris Schieferstein's work that combines animal parts to create hybrid creatures. Also on display is a video from the Field Museum of Natural History from the 1950s documenting the making of a habitat diorama, a film by Michael Mills documenting the museum's conservationists cleaning and repairing all the animals for display, and an installation by Shirley Wiebe highlighting the beauty of fluid preserved specimens.
Do you already known about Reaktion Books' Animal Series? If not, you should. With over seventy-five books each dedicated to a particular animal, the series examines the rich and expansive history of animals' journey within human cultures.
I have taken on BEAVER and explore the misrepresentations, facts, and fables of the hydro-engineering rodent from Aesop's fable of self-castrating beavers to the plague of beavers in Tierra del Fuego, from the fur trade to beaver-flavoured ice cream. And yes, I even get to the beaver down below.