As a species we aren’t particularly proud of our animal status and human animal hybrids have always inhabited the murkier regions of the human mind; whether that was the gods and spirits of the animistic religions or the werewolves and similar creatures that lurked in the darkness in later periods. Of course, in these enlightened times we have both intellectual and industrial walls separating us from the animal kingdom. We’re different; we’re civilized; we’re above the animals. Kate Clark’s work takes these notions down a dark alley and gives them a sound kicking.
Kate Clark is a New York based sculptor and taxidermist whose work combines human and animal elements. While there is a common perception that taxidermy is all about stuffing animal skins, they are actually mounted over an armature which allow the taxidermist to create poses for either naturalistic or artistic purposes. Clark takes this posing a step further by sculpting a human face onto her armatures and then shaving and shaping the mounted skin to produce a coherent and realistic whole. By working from models for the faces, Clark imbues her work with a sense of identity, which perhaps would not be the case if she used a more generic approach.
While there is some naturalism about the poses of Clark’s creations, they do retain a thread of obvious artifice. Where the skin is cut and shaped to fit over the sculpted face, it is held in place by pins that are left exposed. This creates an almost surgical track through the piece, which immediately brings to mind a cinematic Frankenstein’s monster, though perhaps a more appropriate gothic science meddler would be Dr Moreau. Superficially, the Hammer horror vibe may be immediately apparent but there are stronger echoes of the artisans who created chimeras for early museums, such as the infamous Feejee Mermaid and the hybrids that populated the pages of the bestiaries of the middle ages.
The artist herself states that her work is an investigation into both what separates and unifies the human and animal kingdoms. She does not set out to create monstrous creatures, but instead to add expressiveness as a way of bridging the intellectual and emotional divide between human and animal. How far this works is, of course, questionable as it has to battle against the heavily ingrained human plus animal equals monster equation. On first viewing, my immediate response is one of monster but on further viewings, I get under that rather superficial response and find the pieces have so much more to say. This art demands repeated viewing to really, and I apologize for the figure of speech, get under its skin.
Clark’s work is most commonly found in the United States, where it has been both collected and commissioned, but can also be found in other parts of the world including London and Paris.