While natural history dioramas use the taxidermy of animals, so-called “stuffing”, to allow viewers to appreciate both the animal worlds of far-away lands as well as the domestic fauna, it also remains a means of overcoming grief and maintaining a culture of remembrance in the private sphere: an attempt to artfully fill the void left by the death of cherished house and lap pets.
In the audio-visual installation Der lange Abschied (The Long Goodbye), the two artists Alisa Hecke and Julian Rauter examine the practice of taxidermy. In a former 1950s pavillion in Gelsenkirchen, the duo has worked together with scenographer Franz Thöricht to devise a space of reverence and memory. For their project, they conducted research at concise sites of taxidermy history in the Ruhr Area: The installation interweaves the traditional Bochum restaurant Zur Uhle, once famous for its extensive zoological collection, the vocational college at the Walter-Gropius-Berufskolleg in Bochum and a taxidermy workshop in a narrative and atmospheric way.
Every specimen is inscribed with the changing relationship between humans and that animal as well as with the manner in which it is to be remembered. The taxidermy of pets consists in particular of the challenge of preserving the animal companion in as familiar a posture as possible, without this beloved creature turning into a frightening domestic nightmare with glass eyes. In an age when species are increasingly becoming extinct, taxidermy not only represents the loss of an individual animal, but often that of an entire species. Scientists have calculated that one in every four types of mammal could soon vanish from the Earth. In addition to exploitation by humans and the destruction of their natural habitats by and for agriculture, climate change is the third leading cause of the extinction of species.
The installation Der lange Abschied was developed as part of the exhibition Ruhr Ding: Klima and was on display from May 26—June 27, 2021 in Gelsenkirchen.