Elle Kaye, Her Mice Bouquet and the Contemporary Art

Stuffed mice are not the kind of art we have learned in school about. When did you begin seeing stuffed mice as kind of art? Where the idea came from?

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Elle Kaye with her mice bouquet

Taxidermy is so stigmatised. It has an archaic belonging to museum dioramas and Victorian curiosity cabinets. For me, animals are beautiful, in life as well as in death. Using taxidermy as a medium for art is just another way of translating beauty through object, and by doing so, it propels taxidermy into the contemporary art scene and it adopts a new aesthetic.

The idea for the ‘mouse bouquet’ evolved through a social survey I conducted privately. I used squirrel pelts, rolled up into neat balls and tucked into an ice cream glass. I left them on my studio workbench. Initially, colleagues were attracted to the elegant, modest quality of the piece, before they realised what they were. It was then that a reaction occurred. People became so transfixed on the unusualness of themedium, that it overwrote their initial attraction for the piece. This sense of the uncanny, where spectators were attracted yet repulsed by my work, inspired the bouquet. This was an attempt to redefine taxidermy.

Don’t you think this is a little bit terrifying?

0-mice-elle-kaye-01Absolutely not. I think peoples fear often comes from their own lack of knowledge or an untrue pre-conception of the subject. When people get up close with my work, their horror or disgust almost always turns to intrigue and wonder. This is a key element of what my work is about. I want taxidermy to become more commonplace and not provoke such an abrasive reaction.

You are taxidermist and we see that you are really good at your job. When was the first time you realised that this is what you want to do?

0-mice-elle-kaye-02I have always had a great fondness of animals. I am fascinated by the way they move and the textures of their fur, feathers or skin. When I first tried taxidermy, I liked being able to deconstruct and reconstruct the animal successfully; this felt like a huge achievement as a sculptor and artist. It also gave me freedom to rearrange them creatively, and challenge the science of their bodies. Being tactile with the animals allowed me to develop my biological and anatomical understanding of them, which only increased my fascination and still does each time I work on something.

Tell us more about your origins – it is always interesting to know more about a person like you.

0-mice-elle-kaye-03I’ve always enjoyed art, and found it a great escapism. I have a powerful imagination and from a young age I used to draw a lot of mythology and fantasy, always combining animals into my work. As I grew up I wanted to be a vet; my love of animals was a big part of me. But through my studies I got into illustration, and my animal drawings were always likened to those of Beatrix Potter which was a huge compliment. As I refined this skill, I got more serious about pursing art, and I got to an age where I felt like I wanted to challenge myself which I why I took on taxidermy, which immediately I fell in love with.

There are definitely some similarities between your arts and controversial and unique at the same time, Damien Hirst. What it your opinion about his artwork? Do you think scandals around him are just marketing trick or real disgust and indignation?

0-mice-elle-kaye-04 Although Hirst has been subject to a lot of criticism, that is the subjective nature of art and the society that we live in. He has expanded the artistic audience of the country, and of the world, challenging what we see and recognise as art.

Personally I find Hirst very exciting, as an artist and a businessman. He successfully captivates the public’s attention, leaving them questioning right from wrong, and engaging them in the ongoing ‘what is art?’ debate. He also brings new meaning to authenticity and production, and looks at how integral marketing and branding are to businesses. I think practising artists like me can learn a lot from him.

Are there some critics who don’t accept taxidermy as a form of art and even condemn it? Do you think this is the face of modern art and what would you say to your critics?

mice-elle-kaye-01 Yes. Lots of people are quick to judge my work under assumptions they have made about me. This is often because they have not understood why I use taxidermy or read anything about me. They question my ethics, even my sanity, and are not afraid to express their distaste both verbally and physically.

Unfortunately, as aforementioned, art is subjective, and I acknowledge my work may displease people, and not everyone can be expected to like it. This is a risk I am prepared to take to create my pieces.

What is the price of the mice bouquet?

The mice bouquet can be ‘made to order’, so the price depends on the client’s requests for size and colour scheme; however one recently sold at £500.

What is your opinion about “art in frame” or conventional art? Do you think The Other Art Fair shows the future of art? In England, stuffing and placing animals in formalin is a tradition in contemporary art – do you think this kind of art is something that will become part of art history and someday will be placed in museums and thick books of art history?

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Contrary to my practice, I am quite a traditionalist when it comes to art and like conventional art. I have a deep appreciation for craftsmanship and enjoy intricate paintings like those from the Renaissance and Pre-Raphaelite movements. I think there will always be a place for artwork like this. It recognises great talent and has strong aesthetical qualities that notion to religious iconography, history, politics or pure decorative ability.

The Other Art Fair is an integral calendar event, that recognises new artistic generations that will shape and advance the art world. Although the use of taxidermy today has evolved from conservational and scientific purposes of the past, I do think this resurgence will ultimately reconceptualise it. I do hope that it leaves an impression on our timeline of art history, and that it will provide a movement worth teaching.

Definition of art includes photography, painting, sculpture printmaking. Do you think taxidermy can be added to this definition as a kind of art?

Absolutely. It provides aesthetics, can comprise as sculpture, can shock, move or narrate. It has concept, context and theory. It requires craftsmanship, skill, expertise, knowledge and patience. It is subjective; it is everything art commands.

Do you think “beauty” and “art” are synonyms, or things are not just that simple?

To me, they differ. Art can translate beauty, or appear beautiful through aesthetic, but art can also be ugly, dark and deliberately unpleasant.

Which are the most important qualities of modern artist – is painting still so important or as times are changing is painting is no longer the most important quality of an artist?

A modern artist cannot be defined. There is not a criterion they must meet. Through my eyes, I feel that a degree of talent constitutes to being an artist, whether that is a creative or intelligent mind, or a skill like carpentry or metalwork.

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