Vivienne Maun creates the most whimsical and tongue-in-cheek animal heads you’ve ever seen. The likes of apes, sheep, tigers, groundhogs, dogs, etc. become her muses; accentuating the similarities between man and animal.
Once upon a time, taxidermy and animal heads showed up only in country décor or in sombre Victorian homes. Today, you’re more likely to encounter well made cruelty-free animals in any medium of your choice, be it wood, stone, ceramic or clay. Or if you are really lucky, you might spot one of Vivienne Maun’s marvellously whimsical papier-mâché creations.
The mammals are first given human like expressions and attires; these populate Maun’s quirky bestiary. Her cheeky, papier-mâché animals make you smile. Indeed she calls them “a genuine remedy against melancholia.”
Using nothing more than chicken wire and a wire cutter, Maun gives shape to her imagination. Inspired by photographs or animals she has seen in the wild, she puts together the proportions of the head “until the shape becomes tangible.”
The papier-mâché is then applied slowly, like a protective skin. Next the application of colour takes place and finally some accessories are introduced. The result is a true-to-life, modern sculpture, and one where taxidermy is elevated to a new art form.
All of Maun’s animals in the bestiary have a name. And they are inspired by real people! So you have Max the bulldog that looks like Winston Churchill, complete with hat and a cigar dangling from his mouth or Zita Von Flouse, the ostrich in her boudoir.
“I like to connect a special animal with a special face,” explains Maun. “Take my camel, for example. His name is Yasser because Yasser Arafat looked so much like a camel in real life with his big lips.”
Unlike Yasser, Mariette (the groundhog with flying goggles, inspired by Amélia Earhart, the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic) is a little different, because Marmots live on the ground or under the ground whereas this Amelian version is all set to fly.
Maun belives animals and humans are physically similar and attempts to highlight these intricate similarities through her work.“On looking at the animal head we are most likely to be reminded of a caricature of a person living or dead; the head references the person in expression which could show gentleness or even aggressiveness,” she adds.
Maun trained at the Fine Art School of St Etienne, France. Her love of sculpting and her fascination for Ethology, the scientific and objective study of animal behaviour, inspires her creations. “It is this facetious and joyful observation of living creatures that provides the daily substance for my work.”
She started the series about six years ago “just for fun”, but since last four years, it has become a serious affair which inspires her frequent trips to Africa. Her passion to photograph animals in the wild is yet another reason for her expeditions. “I’m crazy about apes and I try to travel to every country where I can take pictures of apes.”
Maun’s work first became popular at the Maison et Objet Trade Fair 2013 in Paris. The mounted faux-animal heads with their distinctive personalities captured the imagination of the visitors. “It was with great pleasure and measured irony that we saw, at this occasion (at the Maison et Objet), gentlemen looking at Leon the pig with familiarity…while some ladies seem to find Zita the ostrich’s distinguished looks more attractive.”
Maun’s first major body of work was the Jungle Collection, a series of faux animal heads for Center Parcs, a UK-based holiday company. The Jungle Collection is a straight-faced series of wild animals – no smiling zebras or giraffes with bows on their heads here. “Center Parcs opened a big restaurant in Germany and they wanted jungle-themed accessories. That is why these sculptures are different from the others,” she explains.
Some of her beasts are custom orders and their design clearly reflects what the customer wants. “For example, Edmond the sheep and Isabelle the Gazelle went to Egypt as the people there seem to like colours like gold, purple and fabric silk.” This attention to detail is supported by Maun’s use of antique lace and other accessories to complete the montage.
Hunting without a gun and yet giving us creatures that are expressive and evocative, Maun’s animals explore the similarity between man and animal with a sense of humour that brings a smile across our faces.
Text By Chryselle D’Silva Dias
Photographs Courtesy Vivienne Maun