Birds of Paradise Close Up

Specimen Artefact as Object-Based Archive

Caitlin DeSilvey has observed that the ‘the disarticulation of a cultural artefact [can] lead to the articulation of other histories and geographies’ in the present (2006: 329) and, similarly, Tim Edensor argues that the physical destruction of objects ‘reveals the artifice through which they are structured to withstand ambiguity’ (Edensor 2005: 320).

In my PhD thesis – Putting Animals on Display: Geographies of Taxidermy Practice – I followed these observations, developing a methodology which incorporated specimen-aretfacts as object-based archives.

Taxidermy skills were crucial to the colonial trafficking that made dead animals mobile and ensured their long-term preservation in entirely alien environments. The UACTC Birds of Paradise skins, being trophies of colonial enterprise, therefore present themselves as a ‘case-study’ for recovering the tangle of beings, practices and places involved in the making and mobilising of colonial taxidermy specimens.

As such it is productive to think about the birds of paradise skins as being comprised from an assemblage of movements, in the past and the present. Following the anthropologist Tim Ingold (2007), I consider the specimens as active assemblages of movements, materials and practices which brought them into existence (see also Patchett 2008; Patchett and Foster 2008).

Paying attention to the deteriorating materials of such taxidermy specimens not only reveals something of the secrets of their assembly, but exposes the clever artifices and ambiguities of representation. Thus as substances and specimens start to unravel, so do the biogeographical stories of their making…

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Patchett, M. (2010) Putting Animals on Display: Geographies of Taxidermy Practice, University of Glasgow: Enlighten.

Patchett, M. (2008) ‘Tracking Tigers: Recovering the Embodied Practices of Taxidermy‘, Historical Geography36, 17-39. (Invited paper forming part of special issue ‘Historical Geographies of Embodied Practice)

Patchett, M. and Foster, K. (2008) ‘Repair Work: Surfacing the Geographies of Dead Animals‘, Museum and Society 6(2), 98-122. (Invited paper forming part of special issue ‘Constructing Nature Behind Glass’)

Patchett, M. (2007) ‘Animal as Object: Taxidermy and the Charting of Afterlives‘ – web-essay accompanying the Blue Antelope exhibit and website,

One Response to “Birds of Paradise Close Up”
  1. Dr. med. Friedhelm Bruckermann says:

    I collect birds of paradise. Do you sell them?

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