Burnish + Bone


hudson_wallCCCBurnish + Bone is an ongoing project I started in earnest in 2015 after much experimentation. To be concise, the project concerns itself with the execution and narrative behind the cleaning and preservation of the skulls of other animals. 

Osteological taphonomy is the induced fossilization of bone matter similar in concept to the embalming of a corpse. In this process, to preserve the bone, all residual fat within the bone is removed so that the material ceases to yellow and decompose. By studying the different forces and actors found in nature that work together to create fossils, after much experimentation, I developed a methodology that worked to preserve bone matter without the use of synthetic materials and caustic agents, and relies instead on the use of microorganisms, water, salt, and sunshine. The resulting procedure is slow, repetitive, and messy (and smelly) and can take upward of nine months to finish a single skull, though every skull requires unique measures of care that are often attributed to its species and current level of decay. A bird’s hollow bones, for example, do not take much time to process, but their lack of internal fat render them extremely delicate to work with. Contrariwise, the skulls of lynx are notoriously fatty (see inset of two lynx skulls, Hannah and Cedar). Some conditions are also not obvious, such as the way in which antlers must be treated differently than bone. The heads of these animals are salvaged as roadkill, from hunters’ kills, farms, forest floors and ocean shorelines.

The purpose of the project is to explore the physical processes of decomposition in order to reveal the layers of continuity of life after death. For its human audiences, the ability to feel the untouchable core of an organism elicits narrative, intrigue, and questions of the distance and fear we contend with other species. The stories evolve, and the organism lives on in our translations. More literally, the sustained presence of microorganisms and their voracious consumption of organic materials in the bone feed nutrition back to the earth, build healthy soil, and breathe life into an environment where new life can grow. 

Revealing the beauty in decay, narratives and nostalgia surrounding death and other animals are born. People talk, ask questions, touch, feel, and wonder. It becomes a project about continuity, and connectivity. Animal to animal, life to death, and death to life.


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