The German government once tried to put the artist in jail for her taxidermy art but, as she explains, her work gives life and reanimation to the creatures she uses
Iris Schieferstein breathes a new sense of purpose into the lifeless animals that construct her artwork. These tools are taken to the laboratory of the artist, where they are recomposed and stitched together with the mastery of taxidermy. The creatures do not appear deformed or lacking in grace, but instead are of a measured and sublime physical shape that leads the observer into a surreal and fabled reality. The artist discusses life, death and getting her knuckles rapped by the police in her homeland, Germany.
Dazed Digital: What attracted you to working with dead animals?
Iris Schieferstein: My interest in using animals began in 1990. I was thinking about what we eat whilst I was preparing some fish. They are like garbage. They can’t eat or sleep or whatever. Then I started with chicken, because they look a little bit human-like. I started using them because of the nature of making and fixing, but also to create another material from the animals too. Of course, you could create them for a practical purpose, but for me it’s an artwork.
DD: Do you think your art re-animates the animals in some way?
Iris Schieferstein: Somehow, it looks alive. In the beginning I put them in liquid, and straight away there seems to be a life. This is a very old, traditional thing; like if you go to a museum. I work in a very traditional method. You’ve had the Egyptians and the Greeks who used to preserve animals in the past, and I think somehow my work reminds you of that. It’s a game of thinking, ‘what is behind that?’ It will always figure in our history.
DD: Do some people find your work shocking?
Iris Schieferstein: There might be some people who find it shocking, but it’s not really all that shocking because you can feel it everywhere; what you eat, what you’re wearing… This is all animal. If you worked in a slaughter house, then that experience would be shocking. I don’t think I’m shocking. I just try to get in touch with people in a different way. The audience can approach it from any direction they want.
DD: Have you ever faced any criticism for your art?
Iris Schieferstein: When I began working with dead animals I would pick them up from the street. But these animals are protected by the government in Germany, and so after ten years they tried to put me in prison. It’s forbidden to show them or make art with them in Germany. All these free animals that used to live in the city or the country… You can go to jail for almost six years for doing what I did. It’s absolutely absurd. On the other hand, they will cut the horns off of a cow in Germany. I cannot follow or understand these things. There are so many rules in Germany that are absolutely stupid.
DD: What dictates how one particular animal will be used in a piece?
Iris Schieferstein: It really depends on what’s in my mind, but they are always more than one thing. It depends what influence you have in your circle and what you’re looking for.
DD: Is your work open to interpretation?
Iris Schieferstein: Absolutely. I always try not to explain. Somehow I like to think of my artwork as a kind of explanation in itself. These are my words to use, to show people what you can think, or to send them in another direction. If something touches you, you just start thinking. Every artwork is carrying something for the people that decide to get in touch. I hope that people do get in touch with my artwork and feel inspired by it, and perhaps start to question certain things.
Text: James Montgomery