This paper discusses sculptures that integrate body parts of animals in a way that creates a hybrid unity. I would like to focus only on artworks that exhibit their hybrid state, artworks that declare at first sight that they are not grown but made.
Whereas a taxidermist struggles to achieve the most authentic results and any exaggeration or abnormality is frowned upon, artists today no longer aim at imitation or reproduction of a given natural form. Traditional taxidermy makes an individual specimen a mere exemplar of its species while the artworks I want to discuss create unique items. They do so by presenting the scandal of bodily hybridity.
For more then ten years now Berlin based sculptor Iris Schieferstein has been creating chimaera-like artefacts out of the bodies of animals, precisely in order to demonstrate that what is not, nonetheless may be. After early work consisting predominently of individual animal hybrids which she assembled out of the bodily fragments of representatives of various species into a new and fantastical totality, there followed lettered images in which the physical bearing of her fabulous beings indicated letters which, when read in succession, formed words or entire sentences. These animal-chimaeras thereby raise the insistent question as to the degree to which something that is fundamentally natural must be manipulated in order for it to generate something artifical. Iris Schieferstein subordinates the individual animal bodies to bizarre composition, imposing her will upon the natural material. Her sculptures and installations make reference in this way to the creative potential of art and not to the natural state in which they previously existed and which itself is basically a construction.
Iris Schieferstein combines traditional artisanal illusionism, extravagant stylisation and humorous subversiveness with the voyeuristic aesthetic of a Frankenstein narration in which dismemeberment is the source of synthetic monstrosity. The omnipotent fantasies of a godlike creator and a lively interest in anatomy are paired with delight in the grotesque and a rich knowledge of cultural-historical resonances. Thus she revives with her corporeal narrations and situations the primal chimaeras from the intermediate realm of earth, heaven and hell. Approximately five thousand years ago, mixed beings had already emerged in ancient Eastern cultures in Mesopotamia, Egypt and India. All major world religions are familiar with hybrids, which are laden with allegorical meanings and function as part of mythological and cosmological explanation of the world. In the ancient classical world as well, and later in the Germanic cultures, chimaeras are present as representatives of ancient concepts of nature. An attempt was made by means of the myths of mixed beings to provide an explanation for the origin and purpose of the world or to make manifest repressed fantasies and fears. Chimaeras appear in the ancient ‘Physiologus’ and in medieval travel reports, but also in pseudo-scientific books concerning – in a double sense – the end of the world. Their appearance is often interpreted as a marvellous sign, mostly in relation to a menacing danger such as the plague, for example. The violation of norms represented at the same time an existential threat. For this reason hybrids frequently arise in cultural history during periods of turmoil and transition, and they impart visual form to fears of the demise of the existant social order. It is no wonder, at the millenial shift between the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, that Iris Schieferstein turns to the motif of the chimaera, transforms it and legitimises it in new and current matter.