By engaging with animal lives through their remains, Beachy’s work brings focus to the elemental and malleable forms that life takes. It is a sculptural practice that extends her training in taxidermy into unexpected ends, embracing unconventional means to display and activate animal bodies—anonymous piles, bundles, encasements. Beachy’s minimalist aesthetic allows the viewer’s attention to be drawn to the raw materiality of life forms, evoking a deep sense of ritual and respect towards the creatures whose shapes and composition she transforms. In Feed, Beachy’s interest in found objects and collecting leads to taking a human skull and then rendering it into a form that could feed and nurture a chicken. In so doing, she enacts a kind of ecological alchemy, the human morphing into both bird and (sunflower) blossom, serving to honor the unknown person by shepherding their transformation into new life. — AY
2012, human skull fragments, bird seed with feeding chicken
Artist Reflection —
The bone matter for Feed came from an anonymous human skull that travelled through a chain of several artists before arriving with me. Originally purchased online as a scientific specimen, I wound up as care-taker when gifted it by a friend in this chain of artists who felt a bit haunted by being “in possession” of it. My friend thought I might be able to to put it back into a generative relationship: out of commodity-status as a fetish-object and towards an end that might put the matter to rest. It was an interesting challenge to make a piece that might honor the anonymous person this skull belonged to while allowing it to lose form through pulverization and become a metabolized material, transforming into bird bodies, soil, plants, and new eggs formed through the bone-meal, calcium, and grit.
After the feeding performance at The Terraformer by the incubated-in-my-studio, dear chicken, Vera, the neighborhood birds continued the piece, cleaning up the bone and bird seed by feeding freely, while the remnants were worked into the ground, sprouting sunflowers and other plants from the seed mix. I immediately saved the green eggshells produced by Vera directly after her performative meal. Months later, I collected the sunflower seeds from the flowers that grew out of the exhibition site. In my imagination, the body of this anonymous person is present in these materials, which point to a process of coming out of commodity and becoming better integrated into a multi-species kinship.
(Feed was a work for the group exhibition Graveyard at The Terraformer, an experimental exhibition space in Chicago, curated by Christopher Smith.)
About Rebecca Beachy
Rebecca Beachy is an artist, writer, and educator invested in the subtle and complex kinship between humans and the natural/material world. She transforms and deploys found and collected matter for her sculptural installations/de-compositions, drawing attention to the tangled histories of animal bodies, objects, and the places they inhabit. She holds an MFA in Studio Arts and an MA in Art History from the University of Illinois, Chicago, and trained in taxidermy at the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum. She currently teaches at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Born in 1982, Beachy grew up in Colorado.