I recently came across this arresting image of a taxidermied seagull with luxurious pearl entrails spilling out of its split carcass. It was re-pinned on a certain nameless photo sharing site with no credit or links to the artist (a real pet peeve of mine), but I found the strange mix of beautiful/disgusting so striking that I decided to search the internet for its maker. Finally, I tracked down the website of British artist Jane Howarth, and found out the work belongs to a series called ‘Bonne Bouche‘, created out of vintage 1930s taxidermied sea birds whose guts have been replaced with lovely pearls, jewels and leather gloves. On their own, the works in the series are arresting and imaginative, and seem to be the fantastic relics of a luxuriously imagined episode, where:
…glamorous ladies discard their fashions and adornments and head for the seduction of the shimmering surf and shingle. Upon their distraction scavenger gulls descend and feast on the picnic of kid leather gloves, pearl necklaces and other delightful items left abandoned on the sand. (Jane Howarth)
Like any good fairy tale, Howarth paints a picture of a whimsical scene where dark elements seductively creep in around the edge in the form of dead seagulls, revealing a morbid collision between human and nature, beauty and death.
As Howarth’s artist statement for Outrails describes:
The works on display are a combination of wanting to create pieces inspired by various articles and a particularly memorable program about how pollution from chemical, radioactive, and nutrient sources, oil spills and marine debris are killing thousands of sea birds. […] The stomachs of the birds on display are full with what one might see as beautiful objects such as pearls and leather gloves, these are also things that humans have taken from nature to enrich their lives but discard at a whim when (perhaps) fashion dictates. Thus trying to make comment on the effect our lifestyle of lustful consumerism has on the world that sustains us. (Jane Howarth, from her Outrails exhibition statement, found here.)