Botched Taxidermy: New Animal Bodies in Contemporary Art

Aloi, Giovanni. 2015. Botched Taxidermy: New Animal Bodies in Contemporary Art. Doctoral thesis, Goldsmiths, University of London [Thesis]

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Abstract or Description

The past fifteen years have seen an unexpected resurgence of taxidermy in popular culture — from hip restaurants and bars to interior design and movies. However this phenomenon has been counterposed by the simultaneous dismantling of dioramas in natural history museums in light of a postcolonial critical reappraisal of the practice, predominantly contextualizing taxidermy as the negative by-product of Victorian-era colonization. It is clear that utopian positivistic visions of that time and the imperialist economies of power, subjugation, and wealth indeed contributed to the emergence of taxidermy. However, between this negative positioning of its historical past and the renewed ‘hype’ it has found in popular culture, lies the emergence of taxidermy in the contemporary exhibition space.

This thesis focuses on the latter phenomenon, questioning the problematic and uncomfortable encounters with manipulated animal bodies that seemingly return, along with our shared histories, to haunt us. Taking Steve Baker’s landmark theorization of the postmodern animal as a starting point, and more specifically concentrating on the ‘botched taxidermy’ strand of his thought, this thesis focuses on a selection of works by contemporary artists Gerard Richter, Roni Horn, Jordan Baseman, and Steve Bishop. Situated across the disciplines of animal studies, Foucault studies, and visual cultures, this inquiry focuses on how the differential specificities of mediums such as photography, painting, and sculpture in some instances provide a productive opportunity to rethink human/animal relations through art.

To support this analysis, and departing from the frame offered by Baker, this thesis also provides a new critique of Foucault’s fragmentary work on painting and photography. It thus expands his unfinished project to adapt genealogical and biopolitical frameworks to visual analysis. More broadly, this thesis grounds current posthumanist debates in the definitive movements of contemporary art.

Item Type:

Thesis (Doctoral)

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Taxidermy, Animal Studies, Posthumanism, Natural History, Foucault, Contemporary Art

Departments, Centres and Research Units:

Visual Cultures


28 February 2015

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Date Deposited:

04 Mar 2015 10:45

Last Modified:

08 Sep 2022 09:08


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