Exhibit gets under the skin of pet taxidermy, burial rites

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Exhibit gets under the skin of pet taxidermy, burial rites

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Clockwise from left: “Tweetie,” “Cookie” and “J16,” photos of dead pets during freeze-dry taxidermy procedures in the United States, and a Japanese pet memorial hall by Korean artist Keum Hye-won, show how humans receive and handle the death of their animals. The images are part of Keum’s solo show “Cloud Shadow Spirit,” co-organized by the Parkgeonhi Foundation, which grants the Daum Prize for artists, and Artsonje Center. Keum is the 12th winner of the annual Daum Prize. The show runs through July 13 at ArtSonje Center in Samcheong-dong, east of Gyeongbok Palace in central Seoul. Provided by the gallery

On the third-floor walls of ArtSonje Center in central Seoul hang photos of man’s cute and furry friends, such as dogs, cats, rabbits and birds.

But people of a more sensitive nature may get an uncanny feeling from looking at them. A white rabbit’s eyes are too blue to seem real. A cat’s ears are kept erect with clips.

The photographs are of dead pets, taken during a U.S. company’s freeze-dry taxidermy procedure, which is undertaken at the request of animal owners who want to be with their pets forever.

“To recreate one’s animal companion through taxidermy could be shocking,” said artist Keum Hye-won, who took the photos, at the museum.

“It might be from the desire to objectify animals and the obsession to possess animals even in death,” said Keum. “However, what I saw at the sites of such activities were the figures of lonely humans trying to fill an absence with empty shells.”

In other parts of the exhibition are photos of pet cemeteries in the United States, and pet funeral and memorial halls in Japan and Korea.

These are also part of the solo show of young artist Keum, winner of the 12th Daum Prize, which was set up in 2001 to commemorate Park Geon-hi, the co-founder of Korea’s second-biggest Internet portal, Daum, who died young.

The show was co-organized by the Parkgeonhi Foundation, which grants the Daum Prize, and ArtSonje.

Since winning the prize in 2013, Keum has traveled around Korea, Japan and the United States to record and contemplate how humans receive and handle the death of their pets.

The title of the exhibition, “Cloud Shadow Spirit,” is named after epigraphs the artist found on graves in pet cemeteries.

When viewers see the photos of funeral scenes and memorial halls for pets, they will likely wonder if the pet owners believe animals have the same souls as humans, raising questions about whether they ever eat meat or have double standards toward animals that are not their pets.

“Actually, I am a vegetarian,” Keum said, regarding these questions.

“But I never judge those who have animal companions but eat meat. I know it is very difficult for us humans to be completely coherent in our thoughts and acts. My works argue nothing but are open to these various questions and lead people to think about them.”

“Keum’s works on pets may seem somewhat unfamiliar, considering that she has focused on the time and space-specific ‘other side’ of the city in her previous works,” ArtSonje said in a press release.

“But if we closely examine these works about pet animals, we reach the conclusion that their starting point is not the appearance of the subjects but the relationship, which begins from humans.”

*The exhibition runs through July 13. Admission is 3,000 won ($2.94) for adults. Opening hours are 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. from Tuesday to Sunday. The gallery is closed on Mondays.

Travel to Anguk Station, line No. 3, exit 1, and walk for 10 minutes.

For details call (02) 733-8945 or visit www.artsonje.org.

By moon so-young [symoon@joongang.co.kr]


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