ACTIVATE: Market Street Featured Artist Tasha Lewis

My current work is focused on re-imagining taxidermy and other methods of preserving life. My interest in preservation stems from my fascination with the re-presentational powers of photography. I am fascinated with how we as viewers relate to a leaf that has been mechanically produced to look and feel very similar to a real leaf. I have been scaling up that idea to make animal bodies, tree limbs, and I hope to eventually create whole environments. I am in dialogue with moments from the nineteenth century: the popularization of the photograph, the creschendo for big game hunting, and a certain nostalgia and interest in cataloging (Cabinet of curiosities, Wunderkammer etc.) Although I tap into these older sources for my work, the actual execution is dependent on today’s technologies.

My process centers around a cyanotype coated fabric. The cyanotype process dates from the 1870s and is one of the earliest forms of photography. Its images are blue to white, and are exposed in the sun and developed with water. They can be toned or bleached into a purple/mauve or orange/yellow accordingly. I have been working in this process for almost five years and I have tried all the variations. I have returned to the blue for this body of work. The blue of these pieces represents a mineral lens on nature. The natural world is full of blue things, but they are not fertile things; the oceans and sky are blue but there are very few blue animals or plants. The cyan blue of these pieces feels like life in a way, but it also feels frozen. I am attempting to catch life, to preserve it in motion, and to allow it to transcend the usual forms of human conservation.

The content of my work, especially the animal pieces, is interested in breaking the walls of the gallery. These animal heads recall taxidermy, but my hope is to create sculptural installations which allow the animals to leap out of the wall instead of being hung on it; I want the viewer to imagine the world within the wall. All of these animal bodies are made by me with paper, wire and tape. As for my branch pieces, they are all taken from nature and manipulated. All the branches are actually sourced from the woods and then covered in the cyanotype fabric and photographic leaves. It is the power of the photograph which makes us recognize these sculptures. They make a fabric and paper form feel like a real animal. These cyanotypes, are blueprints of living things, not the things themselves. I re-present the natural world in a new hand built form. My hope is that they not only tap into feelings of loss and history but also feelings of nostalgia for forgotten treasures, and lost times.

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