Charlie Tuesday Gates is a vegan installation and performance artist based in London who uses the remains of dead animals to create "animalation" videos. Looking at that picture above, you might think that they look gross, but don't worry, I’m going to bet that the sound alone of one of them is going to make you switch off in disgust. Her grisly manipulation of dead stuff (“Lamb Skins Itself”, etc) is all intended to explore people's perceptions of death and to force viewers into acknowledging the mistreatment and waste of animal life. It also involves making the skin of a fox sing about Peckham while Gates sits next to it in a leopard print bustier.
CTG has, unsurprisingly, made a few enemies along the way, namely a hate campaign running in Germany, and the universally recognised bad press of making your audience vomit spontaneously. I love shit like this, so I caught up with her to talk DIY taxidermy, dog-skin puppets and the smell of a rotting carcass. As Stephen King once said: Curiosity killed the cat, but satisfaction brought it back. Or rather, a big truck killed the cat, but this freaky girl skinned it and put it on YouTube. That's kinda the same. Right?
VICE: Hi Charlie. How did you get into playing with dead animals?
Charlie Tuesday Gates: I used to have a disabled chick; it walked backwards and its beak didn't reach the ground, so it couldn't feed itself. It died of natural causes and I buried it, but a few months later I dug it up out of curiosity. After university, I moved into a warehouse with a terrible rat infestation. I started trapping and killing them, buying bits of taxidermy off the internet, collecting roadkill from the street and pulling the eyes out of old chicken heads. Eventually I started experimenting with preservation, manipulating the process of decay. I let nature take its course in unnatural situations. I incorporated the results into surreal assemblage sculptures.
How did that develop into taxidermy?
One day, my brother brought me a fox he'd found in the woods. I’d never opened anything up before and I didn't have a clue what to do. Four days later, I plucked up the courage, wrapped a towel round my head for the smell, said a prayer and took a stab in the dark. Gut instinct and common sense created "Fox In A Box" – a fox opened up at the chest and put into a suitcase. I've never read a book or taken a lesson in my life.
Okay, if you’re not a taxidermist, what are you?
I am an artist. I have huge respect for taxidermists but I'm not interested in recreating something that looked better alive. I'd rather make something no one has ever seen before out of materials no one would dare use in this way – materials that have been bred to be abused by eating them, wearing them and injecting them. Basically, I'm using taxidermy as a tool to bring awareness to this hideous waste of life. Taxidermists create the illusion of life. I'm focusing on the reality of death.
Tell us about your live projects.
As well as sculpture and installation I also do live taxidermy performances. The D.I.Y Taxidermy series came to the stage for the first time in 2010 and is now on its seventh edition. Eventually I’d like to take it to the West End. I skin and stuff an animal live, with audience participation to encourage them to take death into their own hands. I'm making the point that life is precious and it shouldn't be wasted.
Why are your videos so gross?
Pointless shock and sensationalism seems to be the only way to get ahead these days. If you can't beat them, become the future. These films ask where the limits of taste, shock and irony lie in the modern age. What does it take for people to look again at the terrible waste of animal life?
Really, really gross shit, it would seem. Do you like the idea that your films make people sick?
It's supposed to be funny, to make you squirm in your seat. Lots of people find my work funny. It's controversial and extremely distasteful but live animals are tested, injected, stripped of their useful parts and discarded as if they mean nothing.
Okay, so you’re Team Animal Welfare, why don’t people get that?
There’s been a recent hate campaign in Germany after parts of my last live D.I.Y. Taxidermy show was broadcasted over there. They showed the footage to an animal rights leader and she went nuts. It was crazy. They didn’t bother to find out where or how I came to have these animals. I only use things that have been found dead or rescued from the side of the road. No one cares when it’s getting flattened, but people are in uproar when it’s dancing in their faces.
Hypocrites. Thanks, Charlie!
Follow Charlie on Twitter: @GoodnessGates
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