London based contemporary artist Polly Morgan best known for her taxidermy sculptures in conversation with Maria Abramenko.
You won the First Plinth Public Award this year, could you tell us about the project?
Until 2020 I worked predominantly with taxidermy, stretching animal hides over sculpted forms. Last year, in order to better replicate the iridescence and lustre of some snakes, I relinquished the skin and began painting my own veneers. This has meant I am no longer bound by the perishable nature of skin and can at last diversify into outdoor sculpture. Understand your Audience is a sculpture I made for my exhibition, How to Behave at Home, last year. It involved much experimentation with iridescent transfers used in nail art. Applied to each painted scale individually, they remain transparent but when lit create a rainbow effect over the pattern beneath. This is most successful when lit by the sun as every scale glows with increased intensity. I intend to use this technique for my first public sculpture as the surface will alter depending on the weather.
Where does your passion for dead corpses come from? How did you start working with dead animals?
I don’t have a passion for corpses! Like most humans, I find animals beautiful and they can endlessly inspire. However, I can’t use living animals in my work so I wait for them to die before using their skins or their bodies to cast. This doesn’t mean I don’t prefer them alive. I started to work with them via my interest in Taxidermy. I love the way taxidermy can trick you into thinking something is there that isn’t really there. It’s the 3d troupe l’oeil effect I’m interested in, not death, which is simply a logistical necessity.
Snakes seem to have a significant importance in your work, any particular reason for this?
I was finding it hard to make abstract sculptures with taxidermy, which is where my work was heading. Snakes were a bridge to more abstract work as they are more malleable than other animal bodies and easier to make new forms with. I am persistently drawn to the deceptive qualities of veneers; used to conceal or protect something less desirable or durable, and snakes’ skins are the ultimate veneer; designed to provide camouflage or to imitate more deadly breeds. In this context our edited and filtered online selves can be interpreted as products of a natural instinct to nurture misleading perceptions in order to assimilate and avoid crowd censure.
Please tell us about your exhibition with Banksy in 2005?
He used to put on a yearly Exhibition called Santa’s Ghetto at Christmas time in Soho. A few years running he asked to include my sculptures in the show.
Could not agree more with Louisa Buck from The Art Newspaper when she calls your work “outrageous and savagely erotic”. Does this statement make sense to you as well, and if so, why?
Yes I enjoyed her take on my work and felt she understood what I was attempting. She was referring mostly to my new images taken clad in false nails whilst skinning a snake. These were intended as comment on surface and reality and the artificial selves we construct in real life and online.
What are you working on at the moment?
I am building my public sculpture in CAD before casting the real thing. I have about five different versions of it as I want the idea to be watertight before I begin.