Peter Friedl: Zoo Story, installation, Kassel 2007

At the 12th documenta taking place in Kassel in 2007 the artist Peter Friedl exhibited Zoo Story, comprising simply a stuffed giraffe called Brownie. Before being stuffed Brownie had been living in Qalkilyah Zoo on the West Bank but died as a consequence of an attack by Israeli troops on a Hamas camp close by. The sounds of gunfire and exploding grenades had caused him to panic and he had galloped headlong into an iron pole. With no professional taxidermist to hand, the zoo veterinarian who presumably had no previous experience in the craft, took it upon himself to skin, prepare and mount the animal as best he could. Setting aside the political implications of the context of the animal’s death the most striking aspect of the exhibit was the conspicuous crudeness of the taxidermy bearing as it did a resemblance closer to a stuffed toy than an animal. What we find most interesting about this representation is that in the roughness and inexpertness of its reconstruction there seems preserved an unselfconscious particularity that alloys unmistakably this ex animal with its own unfortunate demise.

In taxidermy the illusion of arrested animation is paramount and thus the material evidence of remaking from a skin is suppressed, the sewing hidden, the seams made invisible. The unfortunate Brownie re-presented in Zoo Story renders naked and awkward the ambitions of representation by making us aware that no matter how skillfully achieved they may be, the more adept the construct, the further it transports us from the reality it seeks to stand for, ape or supplant. By a strange inversion, triggered perhaps by a manifest indignity we are made more aware of the individual animal that has lived and died. Such observations lead us to take seriously problems inherent in the act of representation itself, those qualities that representation must disallow and the lies therefore that representation must tell – the more polished and ‘believable’ the representation, the better and more deceptive the lie.

Because most representations are constructed to perform some agenda of our own – in the case of animals, to entertain, to inform, to provide food, to remember, to stand for all others of the species, to symbolise human behavioural characteristics, etc. – in this process, the animal itself is occluded. It is eclipsed by its avatar or likeness, which is always a simplification and therefore must accordingly signify a loss. Our work the naming of things (2009) accordingly scrutinises and attempts to reveal the flawed presumptions and pitfalls in the customarily reductive approach of a Western anthropocentric world-view.


Further reading:


Bryndís Snaebjörnsdóttir / Mark Wilson: nanoq: flat out and bluesome, London 2006

Ibid.: Exh.-cat. (a)fly, National Museum of Iceland 2006

Ibid.: Big Mouth, Glasgow 2004


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Brownie had been living in Qalkilyah Zoo on the West Bank but died as a consequence of an attack by Israeli troops on a Hamas camp close by.