Taxidermy in Fashion at the Horinman

This weekend we are installing our interactive taxidermy experience "The Plume Boom Chorus" at the horniman. In addition to bringing to life the extraordinary and unnatural histories of birds hunted in the name of fashion, the exhibit will allow us to user-test our 'connected-objects' on the museum-going public. For more information read the article below or Merle's interview with Culture 24: http://www.culture24.org.uk/curators-choice/art493699-Curator-Choice-Merle-Pratchett-taxidermy-century-bird-plume-boom"

“Technology brings the history of the plumage trade to life”

                                        

“Taxidermy is back in fashion. Whether in museums, art galleries or designer boutiques taxidermy animals are making their presence felt. Yet did you know that the taxidermied wings, heads and entire bodies of birds were at the height of fashion in the past? This weekend visitors to the Horniman Museum in South London will be able to experience this history by taking part in “The Plume Boom Chorus”, a unique interactive taxidermy installation which brings to life the extraordinary and unnatural histories of birds hunted for fashion.

 

During the “plume Boom” (1880-1914), the business of killing birds for the millinery trade was practiced on a global scale. It involved the deaths of hundreds of millions of birds in many parts of the world. Birds of all kinds were used for both their feather and bodily appearance. Colourful and exotic birds like the Hummingbird, Parrot and Bird-of-paradise, were enormously popular, but common fowl, such as pigeon, turkey and goose were also used. London was the centre of the trade in exotic feathers, and in the periodic monthly, bi-monthly and quarterly feather sales, traders and feather merchants were able to bid for the ““skins” and “plumes” and “quills” of the most beautiful and most interesting unprotected birds of the world” (Hornaday 1913, p. 145). A single 1892 order of feathers by a London dealer included 6,000 bird-of-paradise, 40,000 hummingbird and 360,000 "various" East Indian bird feathers.

 

In addition to viewing incredible period examples of these birds, each visitor to Horniman installation will be provided with a small hand-held object which will allow them to act as curator and collect a host of fascinating digital information about the history of plumage trade. Visitors will learn, for example, how growing awareness of the devastating impact the plumage trade was having of living populations of birds led to the formation of the first conservation societies. The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) in the UK and the Audubon Society in the US worked tirelessly to ban the trade in birds and their campaigns against “Murderous Millinery” eventually initiated the first wild-bird protection acts. In 1913 the U.S. passed the Lacey Act, which banned both interstate and international feather imports and, although anti-plumage legislation failed in Britain’s House of Commons in 1908 and again in 1920, Britain finally passed The Plumage Bill in 1921. Thus ended the “Age of Extermination” and the possession and displaying feathers became, once again, an avian trait.

 

The Plume Boom Chorus was collaboratively produced by researchers at the University of Bristol and the multi-disciplinary, technology and creation studio, Play Nicely as part of REACT’s Object Sandbox - http://www.react-hub.org.uk/objects-sandbox.  It is being installed for ‘user-testing’ at the Horniman Museum on 9 & 10 August.” 

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