Montse Morcate is an artist, researcher and photography professor at University of Barcelona. Her research and art projects deal with photographic representations of death, illness and grief, as well as their connection with science and medical humanities. Recently, she has been a Visiting Scholar at Columbia University, the Morbid Anatomy Museum in New York, and at the Department of History of Science in CSIC in Madrid. She is also the co-founder of the research project “Sharing pain and grief online: the self-referential digital image of illness and death as a means of destigmatization, connection, visibilization and copresence” and has been awarded a research grant on digital humanities by the BBVA Foundation. She has exhibited her work in Spain, EEUU, Puerto Rico, Mexico and Colombia.
Death, preservation and the uncanny are key elements to understanding and addressing both the appeal and/or disgust which many feel towards taxidermy.
This essay, based on academic research on the representation of death, grief and science, deals with the new resurgence of taxidermy in New York City, where a new generation of artists and artisans explore the aesthetic and ethical limits of this practice. As taxidermy deals with lifeless bodies of animals it becomes a delicate issue for many, in which the central element of debate would be around the legitimacy of using the corpse of an animal and the need for preserving or exhibiting it. Different perspectives of this practice are analysed by means of classical taxidermy, the anthropomorphic style or contemporary art based on taxidermy practises, in order to address questions such as: Is ethical taxidermy possible? Is commemorative taxidermy of a beloved pet acceptable? Why does taxidermy appeal or disgust? Is taxidermy controversial just because it questions the limits of life, death and decay? What is the contribution of the new generation of taxidermists?