The following is a short conversation I had with Antennae: The Journal of Nature in Visual Culture, repeated here because my comments have now been removed from their facebook page. It starts with my response to Giovanni Aloi’s review of ‘the Nature of the Beast’ The New Art Gallery Walsall, 26 April – 30 June 2013.

Peter Walsh What? Yet more of the taxidermy we see everywhere, reinforcing the human status of ownership over animals in order to raise questions about our relationship with animals again?

 Antennae: The Journal of Nature in Visual Culture taxidermy is not simply a means of reinforcing the human status of ownership over animals…

PW That’s the dominant message. If male artists kept making images of dead, stuffed, chopped up women we would question it as sexist, even if they said they were making work about what it means to be male.

Most of the taxidermy in the show is actually roadkill and there is much more than taxidermy in this show…

PW Roadkill or not, when we present another species in this derogatory way; ‘butterflies and moths horribly crushed and disfigured’… ‘an opening on the stomach of a dead stag is revealed to house a seemingly never-ending dark cave filled with resting bats’, we are primarily exercising and condoning our power of ownership over other species. The review fails to address this aspect of taxidermy and that is why I am focusing on that part of the show.

Yours is an interesting point, one that I have come across other times. You clearly are looking at the matter from one specific perspective. Art is never about totalization of meaning. Do you also care for art in which dead animals are featured in the substances used by artists, like all classical paintings from 1200 to 1950s or do you just find the visibility of dead animals a problem? There are more dead animals on Mona Lisa than there are in this show in Walsall…

PW The point I am making is that animal abuse in art is still animal abuse, the artwork may have other meanings but they do not undo the abuse and speciesism. Moreover, a review of a show that contains speciesist work should mention this fact because it is not a grey area.

As you point out, cruel animal based ingredients were used in the past and it is important that we are aware of this because they are still used today. It’s not a case of ‘do I care for such art’, but rather, it is speciesist.

A I have actually written about speciesism in art/media myself and am a vocal campaigner against the general discrimination against insects and invertebrates which leads to abominable TV programs such as I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here. I don’t feel any of the works presented in the show remotely nears the mass killing and general sense of disgust for animals which such TV shows watched by millions instill. Taxidermy proposes a difficult to negotiate question between beauty and horror which lies underneath everything we do. I don’t condone the killing of animals for the purpose of making taxidermy but there is a lot of love in finding road kill and wanting to preserve the animal body. Nothing is black and white and nothing is just speciesistic, as nothing is just sexist. Ultimately, I am afraid that your piece is not a review of the show but an account of what you have seen. It is not art reviewing or art criticism by any stretch of the imagination. It’s a short text by someone who has specific ideas on what animal cruelty is.

Thank you for the interesting exchange. I’m afraid, no. This exchange should remain here, on Antennae’s page. Thanks.