Still Life | Wild Places

The mind I love must have wild places, a tangled orchard where dark damsons drop in the heavy grass, an overgrown little wood, the chance of a snake or two, a pool that nobody's fathomed the depth of, and paths threaded with flowers planted by the wind. — Katherine Mansfield.

This year we're running the Literary Taxidermy Writing Competition in association with a Wellington, New Zealand arts exhibition called Still Life | Wild Places. The exhibition is a follow-on to the 2019 Auckland, New Zealand exhibition called The Art of Death, which featured contemporary women artists working in the medium of taxidermy. This year's exhibition showcases a new generation of contemporary women artists, including taxidermists, jewelers, painters, and photographers, all inspired by the life and works of writer and poet Katherine Mansfield. We think it's a perfect pairing with the idea of literary taxidermy!

Considered in her time to be the equal of Lawrence and Woolf, Mansfield was a literary innovator who explored many contemporary themes in her writing. She was fiercely critical of our tendency to anthropocentrism — that is, having a human-centered world view — and often used wild animalistic imagery and metaphors in her writing. Mansfield’s stories blur the boundaries between people, animals and nature, in strong contrast to the dominant patriarchial culture of the early 20th century that believed humans, particularly men, were separate from, and superior to, nature. She wrote about the "others" of that culture — women, children, animals, and plants — subjects generally regarded as inferior and of secondary importance.

These themes are incredibly topical today, given the increasing separation and disregard that humanity has for the natural world, which is resulting in global environmental destruction. Given this urgent situation, the Still Life | Wild Places exhibition will re-engage with Mansfield’s work through the eyes of a new generation of contemporary artists who will explore these concepts and transform the domestic spaces of her 1888 home — now a historic landmark — into a series of curious new settings inspired by her life and works. They will incorporate ethical taxidermy installations, refurbished dollhouses and vintage girl’s annuals, photographic prints, large scale mobiles, and ethereal projections.

As well as enjoying these specially-created artworks and installations, the Still Life | Wild Places exhibition will include a program of satellite activities related to the exhibition, hosted within the house and beyond, extending out into bars, gardens, and venues around Wellington. These events include Bliss: A Taste of Mansfield (during Wellington on a Plate), various public readings, Life and Death Drawing evenings, Miss Brill’s Day Out in the Botanic Gardens, ethical taxidermy classes, and of course the Literary Taxidermy Writing Competition.

This thoroughly modern take on some thoroughly modern writing by one of New Zealand’s best authors will run from the 7th August to the 31st October.

A full program of events and information for the curious can be found at The Metropolitan Club. And if you find yourself in Wellington, make sure to drop in!