Exhibition Project
Becoming Animal, Becoming Human
Animal Perspectives
Deborah Sengl

The eyes sparkle with fire, the jaw opens for a majestic roar and in so doing reveals the deadly lion fangs, leaving a strong impression. But what is this creature? Rather than the bloodcurdling thunderous voice, we hear merely the bleating of an antelope. This incongruity might constitute an accurate description of a soundscape for Deborah Sengl’s taxidermy sculpture.

Onto the body of a lion she has attached the skin of one of its prey, an oryxantelope. Although certain adaptations in leg length or facial form had to be made, the king-of-the-forest’s new clothes seem to suit him. Even the splendid horns and the beautiful markings on the fur look quite good on the lion. Alongside the advantage for hunting which this new look would bring with it, allowing the predator to close in on the antelope herd unnoticed (at any rate if the lion were also able to imitate the gait and the smell of the ruminant), it would also derive an aesthetic benefit. Who knows – perhaps potential sexual partners would be more interested in this unusual exemplar than in its sand-yellow competitors? Perhaps, they might instead prefer to devour him.

Whatever conclusions a Darwinist analysis of this situation might arrive at, Sengl’s work immediately unleashes an array of associations. Camouflage, deception and mimicry are elements of animal hunting strategies as well as defense strategies against predators; they are also included in the repertory of those capacities humans have observed in animals and made use of for themselves. Accordingly, this work could be understood as a commentary on the activities of the secret service or police informers; one might also deduce a biting commentary on the advertising world or on locust capitalism whose representatives only appear to be innocuous grass eaters until they see an opportunity to gobble up their victims whole. The oryxlion is the proverbial wolf in sheep’s clothing – and Sengl has already created one of those as well.

Through translating this paraphrase of human behavior into taxidermy, the Austrian artist alienates the content precisely by arranging it realistically. In her work human existence appears to be camouflaged animal existence. Perhaps human beings are nothing more than animals in human skin. Peace, such is the lesson the “Tagesschau” [a nightly news program] teaches each night, is impossible for a creature that only masks its predatory instincts out of necessity. Similarly, Berthold Brecht’s Mack the Knife, from the “Three Penny Opera,” loses in the moral comparison with a shark because of visibility: At least the shark’s teeth are there for all to see.

Friedrich Weltzien

Der Löwe – als Räuber – ertarnt sich seine begehrte Beute, 2004
[The Lion – as predator – camouflaging itself as its sought after Prey]
Taxidermy and sketch, Courtesy of Galerie Marcus Deschler

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