When entering Napoleon this month, one’s first reaction is to duck or run for cover. Perhaps this assessment is not entirely literal, but the space is occupied by a stampeding herd of beasts which appear to be passing through the walls of the gallery. Like Mustafa’s death scene in “The Lion King” or an illustration by John James Audobon, “The Herd” by Tasha Lewis is a show that is fun to explore and quite in-your-face.
Immediately after passing the threshold, or maybe even a second sooner, it is instantly apparent what is going on inside. Blue, hoofed creatures in all manner of leaping, bounding, prancing, dashing and even cautiously looking behind themselves are crisscrossing the entire room.
The artist, Tasha Lewis, actually crafts these animals from an initially two-dimensional process: cyanotype prints. Lifting the imagery from textbooks and similar sources, the deer are of unidentified species (it appears that there are more than one) but extremely anatomically accurate, short of their bright blue color. Up close, the details of the herd shrink down to the individual hairs of the animals’ hides. From the population as a whole to the minute intricacies of each creature, the exhibit looks like it could be a display from a natural history museum, if not for the strange, alien color of everything.
After creating her cyanotype prints, Lewis then constructs a padded framework for the bodies of the beasts. She stitches the prints together Dr. Frankenstein-style and ultimately brings each scene to life with their gestures and positions in three-dimensional space.
Like many true taxidermists, the artist attempts to place her creations in ways that are true to life. The only difference is that instead of working with the skin of a real animal, Lewis starts completely from scratch and designs her own body parts, giving her a significant amount of liberty with the arrangement.
As the startled grazers dash across the room, they are frozen in extremely precise and deliberate poses, which are meant to capture the chaos of such a rush. A couple of full deer are bisected and suspended by transparent plastic in the center of the room, while others are barely emerging or disappearing from the walls. Some are sliced at odd angles, while one turns to look back over its shoulder, its antlers protruding backwards from the white paint.
Everything about this installation is demanding of attention and it is easy and amusing to wander amidst the silent stampede to see it from multiple angles. The viewer is fully immersed in action while still being able to spend quality time with their thoughts and this disconnect makes it all the more intriguing. Napoleon will have Tasha Lewis’s “The Herd” in its gallery through September 28.
Napoleon is located at 319 N. 11th St., Philadelphia, room 2L on the second floor; firstname.lastname@example.org; napoleonnapoleon.com.