Charlie Tuesday Gates stands poised over a table littered with dead animals, scalpel in her hand, grin on her face. The compelled audience stares at her, some disbelieving, some nervously laughing. ‘What would you most like to preserve?’ asks one. ‘Oh,’ Charlie shrugs, ‘I’ve done it. I did the cat.’
We are in a warehouse space on Shoreditch’s Rivington Street for an evening of the macabre with Charlie’s DIY Taxidermy session. The space is packed with her fans, the curious and, naturally, her mum. Around the walls hang some of her previous sculptures: an odd mix of kitschy, glitzy tat mixed somewhat coarsely and startlingly with her home-preserved animal carcasses. An old dresser filled with curiosities such as a china doll smoking a pipe, some antique light fittings and a deer head catches my eye.
Charlie continues. ‘I didn’t know the first thing about taxidermy when I started. I was raised a country girl and there was a dump next to my house. I became fascinated with waste.’ She says: ‘I am disgusted by waste, especially the waste of life – the most precious gift of all!’ The creatures she works with have been chucked as part of the hugely wasteful agricultural process. ‘In my head I am saving them, bringing awareness and insight into the other side of the industry, informing people to a degree on some simple facts of unseen life.’
This was DIY Taxidermy IIII, the latest instalment in the artist’s increasingly popular show that mixes taxidermy, performance art and hands-on tutorial. Charlie wears a microphone and interacts with the audience constantly in her self-styled ‘shopping-channel presenter’ manner.
The talk is non stop, natural and really rather funny. She recounts a story of how she was kicked out of a previous house after a prospective tenant was shown into her room and almost had a fit after seeing a dead deer on her bed. She is full of tips on how to get started on stuffing animals, especially if working on a shoestring. She has made it a mission to experiment with techniques and embrace any way of bypassing the expensive, conventional taxidermy route.
But the darkness of the situation isn’t lost on her. She is not apologetic about what she does (why would she be?) but she does understand that there are people who might not get it. It is as if she is defending herself when she says: ‘I’m just making something strange and beautiful out of something that would have otherwise been forgotten and needlessly wasted.’ Despite her being wrist-deep in a fresh carcass and apologising because she, ‘just popped this squirrel’s eye,’ she comes across as warm, fun and totally sane.
The show may make some feel uneasy but there is no room for being truly horrified. She is an artist, not a professional taxidermist and she deals with life’s most integral, unavoidable fact. Charlie sums it up best herself: ‘Taxidermists preserve the illusion of life. My work preserves the reality of death.’
Charlie Tuesday Gates’ Taxidermy IIII was held on Tuesday 3 May at:
3 Rivington Street
Tel: 020 7729 8080
For details of further demonstrations, visit the artist’s website.