Polymer clay, faux fur, linen, embroidery floss, acrylic paint, glass, wire,
Courtesy of Bernice Steinbaum Gallery, Coconut Grove, FL
Dancing the line between toy, taxidermy, and sculpture, Deborah Simon creates mesmerizing “stuffed” animals as part of her Flayed series, which are modern combinations of clay, foam, and faux fur. Prior to the Victorian era, scientists and hunters were likely to stuff animals with cotton, rags, or sawdust, in much the same way they would a sofa cushion. This invariably led to rather bloated or boneless-looking creatures. However, the late 19th century saw great improvements, as specialists began to mount skins over wooden skeletons, designed to imitate the anatomy of the animal. In addition to using taxidermy for scientific study, the Victorians had a fondness for creating theatrical poses or sentimental vignettes.
Simon’s sculptures reflect the Victorians’ love of the surreal and the natural world, and give a nod to women’s handicraft in the lovingly detailed embroidery of her bear’s vertebrae and rabbit’s open nervous system, worn as a kind of pullover. Although the diminutive scale of her “teddy” gives him a toy-like quality, she grants him the full dignity of his Latin scientific name, Ursus americanus (American Black Bear), to suggest his validity as an actual scientific specimen. The bear’s appearance is startlingly real, despite its small size and artificiality.
Simon’s sculptures are grotesque yet gorgeous, juxtaposing ruby-red nerves against a rabbit’s snow-white fur, or flayed red musculature against a bear’s rich brown pelt. Opened up but alert to their situations, her tactile sculptures project a feeling of vulnerability.