Ali Kazma

Obstructions / Taxidermist

2009

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Not on display

Artist
Ali Kazma born 1971
Medium
Video, projection, colour and sound (stereo)
Dimensions
Duration: 10min
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Purchased with funds provided by the Middle East and North Africa Acquisitions Committee 2014
Reference
T14124

Summary

Obstructions / Taxidermist 2009 is a single channel colour video with sound, lasting ten minutes and presented as a large-scale projection in a dark room. The video was created in 2009 and is part of Turkish-born artist Ali Kazma’s Obstructions series, which comprises fifteen videos made between 2005 and 2012. The series explores human activities in relation to labour and the conditions of work. In 2010 the series was awarded the Nam June Paik Award by the North Rhine-Westphalia Art Foundation in the field of media art. Two other videos from the series are also in Tate’s collection: Jean Factory 2008 (Tate T14123) and Automobile Factory 2012 (Tate T14125).

Taxidermist expands on Kazma’s research into the dynamic and apparently anonymous labour of mass production, as seen in the earlier video Jean Factory, offering instead a contemplative and reflective study of the embalming process. In this video, which touches on concepts of life and death, Kazma approaches the work of a single artisan as he practices taxidermy, a very physical yet slow practice with a long and complex history. The word taxidermy derives from the Greek word for the arrangement of skin and it is the art of preparing, stuffing and mounting the skins of animals for display or study. Taxidermy was an important and highly valued craft in Western societies during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. In a domestic context, the display of ‘nature’ in the form of the conservation of dead animals reflected on an individual’s elevated social status. In an academic and public context, taxidermy played an important role in the development of nineteenth-century museums, which were seen as cathedrals for the preservation of nature.

Kazma’s video explores this now almost obsolete practice in depth. The camera follows Thomas Bauer, a German taxidermist, as he carefully examines, prepares and reconstructs the physiology of dead animals in his workshop. The silent eye of the camera records and edits Bauer’s movements and procedures as he models an animal’s silhouette in polyurethane foam or prepares an artificial skull before carefully treating a glass eye to be inserted into it. The video is a study in craftmanship as both an archaic and a contemporary practice. The attention to detail, the meticulous slow pace of the work and the humble humane environment of the craftsman’s workshop are set in direct and eerie opposition to the harsh yet everyday reality of the preservation and presentation of an animal in death. Here, life and death overlap, metaphorically and physically as the taxidermist and the dead animals alternate as the subject of the camera’s focus.

Taxidermist is positioned at the opposite end of the spectrum to the dynamic and intensely mechanised functions documented in other videos in the series, such as Jean Factory and Automobile Factory. Antithetical to the fast-paced environments of the factory, Taxidermist presents a solitary and highly individual performance. The process is personal rather than collective, and the attempt to freeze time and prevent the decomposition of a corpse is presented in a meditative slow fashion. At the same time, the viewer is aware of watching a process that is itself antiquated and at threat of extinction. In this video Kazma plays with the slow camera movements to focus on the extreme precision required in this type of work. Taxidermist becomes a document of a documentation process and a technical record of a labour practice that seems out of step with a fast-moving world.

Along with other films from the Obstructions series, Taxidermist can be seen as a complex study of the often elaborate and demanding physical acts required to carry out the processes of production, from the grand scale of an automobile production line to the relentless speed of clothing manufacture to the quiet precision of the taxidermist’s craft. Describing the works, Kazma has explained that: ‘The different combinations and juxtapositions of videos reveal their own dynamics. Since each video has a different length, you never see the same combination of images, just as you never hear the same sound track twice over. And of course, with more videos the complexity grows exponentially.’ (Quoted in Gourmelon 2010, accessed 18 July 2013.)

Obstructions / Taxidermist exists in an edition of five plus two artist’s proofs; Tate’s copy is number five in the edition.

Further reading
Ali Kazma interviewed by Mo Gourmelon, Ali Kazma: Temporality, A Pivotal Position of the Work, 2010, Francesca Minini Gallery, Milan website, http://www.francescaminini.it/upload/pdf/art-txt48.pdf, accessed 18 July 2013.
Ali Kazma, Işler/Travaux/Works, 2005–2010, Galeri Nev, exhibition catalogue, Istanbul and Galerie Analix Forever, Geneva 2011.
In It, Ali Kazma – Paul Ardenne, exhibition catalogue, C24 Gallery, New York 2012.

Vassilis Oikonomopoulos
July 2013

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