Once I knew these two ducks. I didn’t know them personally, but I knew of them. They’d walk through the ped mall in Iowa City every once in a while, strolling through the crowd just like any other young couple in love. Monique Habraken had a similar experience, except different. “I found a duck couple, along the road, in spring, they were probably flying after each other and got hit by a car in the heat of the moment,” Habraken tells me. “I took them and will make a tapestry of them together, which has a very romantic story behind it, in a way.”
Some people might call Habraken’s work strange, but anyone who’s been in the presence of a particularly charming duck will get it. She plucks the feathers from ducks found in nature and slaughter houses, then creates beautiful, abstract art from them. The piece here is called One Duck, and it’s just that–the plumage of a single duck, an homage to the life of one animal.
“We do use feathers sometimes in accessories for example, but we use only the ‘most pretty’ ones. In this piece I show every single feather of that one duck, because they’re all pretty,” Habraken tells Co.Design. “I want the viewer to be amazed about the duck, more than about my work. I want to show how beautiful every part of the duck is, for example the male wild duck has about five curly black feathers in his tale, with a green shine, this is a little detail I like to show to people.”
The textures alone are remarkable, as the stiff ornamental feathers contrast with the soft down in a visceral way. You may have been compelled to touch art in your life, but in this case, you don’t even need to. Your eyes can tell your hands how it feels.
But what’s most compelling about One Duck may be that it doesn’t seem weird. Taxidermy, for all its good intentions and anatomical precision, creates frozen zombie animals–something that’s replaced an animal’s inherent beauty with scientific objectivity.
“I want to highlight the reflection of color and forms in the feathers. … With taxidermy, then it would [just] become the duck again,” Habrakan writes. “On purpose, I didn’t put the feathers back in the position as they were on the duck, because I would never be able to do it as well as nature created it.”
[Images: Ruud Peijnenburg]