David Kimelman


April 22, 2012
Mathieu Miljavac —1

Mathieu Miljavac is a Paris based taxidermy artist. I visited him recently in his home and his studio and took these pictures of his artistic process.

While Mat uses traditional taxidermy techniques to create his creatures, he avoids classical or naturalistic presentations for his animals. His approach is more expressive, creating unique forms, poses, and colors for his creations. He generally uses relatively common animals and I love how he can make me look at a rat or a pigeon in a completely new way by the pose he gives it, or how I suddenly appreciate the unique shape and silhouette of a baby chicken because he died it black.

Mat never destroys animals. All animals used in his work have expired from natural causes, or are casualties of various kinds. He currently has two mini freezers in his studio that are full of animals from farms, pet shops, and the city of Paris’s deceased pigeon department.

Q & A by Autumn Whitehurst.

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Your taxidermy work is very distinctive. What inspires how you decide to pose and present your specimens?

It mostly comes from the animal itself. Each animal is different. As I begin, I think about its form, its markings, its peculiarities – its personality. During that process, a natural shape reveals itself and becomes obvious. It’s a very special time where a bond is created between me and the animal. We are getting to know each other.

Many of my pieces are posed in a non traditional way. I try to capture the essence of the animal. For example with a bird, I will naturally exaggerate its aerodynamic movement.

The way I display my pieces is also untraditional. I think more like an installation artist than a classical taxidermist. Even though I use cloches, I also experiment with other kinds of displays.

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How do you think your experiences working in fashion influence your taxidermy?

Most of my career until now had been in various aspects of fashion design – in particular working on couture dresses – in a skill called ennoblissement. Ennoblissement is very specialized – and very French! It involves incredibly intricate work applying extra layers of details to the fabric itself. It has given me a lot of experience in understanding shape, color and lines. And it has definitely taught my hands how to work with extreme attention.

When I am working on my pieces, the process is very similar to the process of working in couture. There is the same respect for materials, the same aspiration for perfection, the same spirit of experimentation, but fortunately, not quite so much madness! I’m normally alone in my studio skinning, tanning and stiching, listening to music, and concentrating so hard that the days
just fly by.

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What is the most challenging aspect of
your craft?

The most important is to do justice to the animal, to create something respectful, beautiful, and with spirit. It’s about all the little details; the positioning of the eyes, the expression, and the sense of movement. If I am slightly incorrect with the positioning, a very handsome animal can suddenly seem rather scary! Its personality can literally seem to change!

When you begin doing taxidermy, the biggest challenge is related to the skin of the animal, the way it will fit you model you create. Later on, the challenge shifts from a technical one to an aesthetic one, to express what you want as precisely as possible.

Another challenge – one that inspires me constantly – is about the impossible quest for perfection. My taxidermy teacher, who has been practicing for over 30 years has taught me that you can always improve. You can try to imitate nature, but you’ll never be as good as nature is. That’s a good thing to
meditate about.

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I’m certain that you’re always learning from the process of taxidermy. How do you think your work will evolve over time?

I believe that exploring new ways to make the animals touch people will always be a part of my evolution in taxidermy.

At the moment, my work is moving towards bigger installation pieces that will involve multiple animals interacting with each other. I’m also beginning to build new taxidermy pieces with solid silver attachments; including crowns, wings and even horns. Yesterday, I completed my first unicorn mouse. I’m very happy with the way it has worked out.

It sounds odd to say but however it evolves, I know that I will be involved in taxidermy forever. It’s something that is rich, moving, complicated, and infinitely beautiful to me. At night I dream of pigeons, mice, and all the animals that travel in my imagination.

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How does your work with taxidermied animals affect the way you see the living world of animals?

Taxidermy has given me a completely new perspective on animals in general; and also on how humans and animals interact. I feel much closer to animals now! In particular, the pigeons of Paris which have surrounded me all my life have become a daily inspiration. I now find myself stopping in the streets to watch them, there is something extremely touching about their simplicity. And they make me laugh! They can be
really cute!

I hope that through my work, I can encourage other people to look at the animal world around us in a different way. It is easy to be impressed by exotic animals, but I like to draw people’s attention to unexotic animals – the “ordinary” ones, pigeons, mice, rats, etc.

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