NYC Artist Uses Dead Animals in Art
Feb 2, 12:15 PM (ET)
By CRISTIAN SALAZAR
NEW YORK - In front of a shuttered Chinatown store, artist Nate Hill rummaged through a pile of trash, fishing for the tools of his craft in someone else's garbage.
"Oh, look, a flounder!" he said, as he dug in one bin wearing blue surgical gloves and drew out a quivering white slip of fish. "Does anyone want some? I think there's more."
There were no immediate takers among the half dozen or so people who had followed Hill on a drizzly night for a tour of his favorite spots for digging through Chinatown garbage.
The goal: Find interesting dead animals to make into art.
The 30-year-old artist has been using animal carcasses to craft his "animal kingdom," as he refers to it, since 1999. The results are grotesque or sculptural, depending on your point of view. In Hill's hands, a puppy's head just as easily goes with a turkey neck and fish bladder as armadillo fingernails and birds' legs make abstract art-in-a-jar.
The monthly Chinatown tour, which sometimes draws dozens of people for a sojourn rife with the stink of rotting fish, is billed as educational, but it's mostly performance: The artist often shows up in costume, most recently as an army parachutist.
"I'm totally self-taught," he said. "To put it simply, what I do is cut up the animals, I sew them together in a different way, and then I submerge them in rubbing alcohol to preserve them."
He considers himself a member of a loosely defined group of "rogue taxidermists" who sidestep the traditional craft of taxidermy that aims to make lifelike replicas by preserving and stuffing animal skins. Along with the garbage cans of Chinatown, he said gets most of his animals from hunters, roadkill and taxidermists.
At the same time Hill's artwork attracts a following of hipsters, it raises questions from traditional taxidermists and even his fellow artists, including one of his collaborators.
"I'm a vegetarian," said comedian and musician Jessica Delfino, who has been a narrator on two episodes of "Chop Chop," a video series Hill produces that is posted on YouTube. "I do have mixed feelings. I do think art is important. And I think animals are sacred."
She said she was not so sure she could narrate another episode of Hill's videos.
One episode has Hill sewing together parts of a rabbit, a duck and a chicken. That video was taken down from YouTube following complaints.
Asked about the ethics of his art, Hill responds: "I eat meat. I feel like we can use animals to enrich us ... physically as well as mentally."
John Janelli, a board member of the National Taxidermy Association and a working taxidermist in New Jersey, said there's no comparison between what he does and Hill's methods.
"That's not taxidermy," Janelli said. "That's a concoction."
Janelli, a historian of sorts on the subject, said such "novelty taxidermy" is not new, and has in the past included the piecing together of different animals to create creatures that don't exist in nature. But he said that to qualify as taxidermy, traditional techniques must be used.
A few years ago, a group of artists formed the Minnesota Association of Rogue Taxidermists. Robert Marbury, an artist and founding member of the group, said that much of the works produced by its members evoke themes of reuse and recycling in a time of heightened environmental concern.
"Traditional taxidermists would not think twice that this is in the same realm," he said.
Hill said he felt more like a "folk" artist, given his lack of formal training in the arts. His intent, he said, is similar to "the guy who sits in his basement and has his train set, and he has all the people and he makes mountains ... that's the kind of thing that I want, but I want to make it with real flesh."
On the Net:
Minnesota Rogue Taxidermists: http://www.roguetaxidermy.com/