Life after life

We speak to artist Harriet Horton, who cleverly combines traditional taxidermy with modern neon lighting, about her work and recent pop-up exhibition at Carlos Place.

A neon arrow pointing at the door at 5 Carlos Place, Mayfair, was the first signal to Harriet Horton’s pop-up exhibition. After climbing one flight of stairs, visitors were greeted by a white duck on the first floor landing, its wings spread majestically and lit from beneath by a white neon bulb. This was just the first of many fascinating pieces in Harriet’s collection.

“I started collecting taxidermy years ago, but lost interest in it because I was seeing a lot of frozen mammals in antique shops,” Harriet says. “Because the animals involved are often carnivorous, with their teeth and claws on show, they can look quite aggressive. So, I decided to make my own pieces and inject some femininity into them.”

Her work predominantly features birds, of all shapes and sizes from magpies to pheasants. “I decided to pair the animals with neon lights to give the pieces a more contemporary feel. I also think the lighting tempers the sense of macabre, while keeping the pieces respectful.”

Learning her craft

Taxidermy isn’t an easy skill, and Harriet’s formal training has been fairly limited. “I spent four days learning the craft with taxidermist George Jamieson in Edinburgh – but everything else I do is self-taught,” Harriet explains.

Every animal is different, but there is still a set routine that Harriet goes through to create each piece. The first step is skinning the animal; the second is treating it; and then she creates the inside form for the skin to go around. “Every animal requires different chemical solutions, but the basic steps are the same,” Harriet says.

As an art form, taxidermy can sometimes be regarded as controversial, but Harriet says that she works as ethically as possible. “Nothing is killed for the purpose of my taxidermy,” she says, “so all the animals I use have died naturally – most of the birds have simply flown into windows, for example.”

Finding subjects can be difficult in London. But now, Harriet has enough of a reputation in the industry that people send her animals through the post: “I received one last week, and the lady had even written a card to go with it, so I got to know a little bit of history about the animal.”

A “powerful move”

So why was Harriet keen to exhibit at 5 Carlos Place? “I was drawn to this particular room in the building because it’s pink, and I thought it would look great with the neon lights – especially when it gets dark,” she says. “And being in the heart of Mayfair is fantastic. I usually exhibit in East London, so it’s been fantastic to have a whole new audience.

“I think it’s great that Grosvenor allow young artists to use a space like this. Everyone has been incredibly optimistic and supportive.”

Harriet feels it was a “powerful move” on Grosvenor’s part to let her use the space. “It shows Grosvenor’s commitment to art, and it’s great that they’re pushing the boundaries in what they choose to showcase,” she says. “This exhibition has certainly opened up a whole new conversation with the people who have visited.”

And Harriet has some exciting plans for 2017. One particularly impressed visitor to this exhibition at 5 Carlos Place invited her to display at an Austrian art event. “I never would have had that opportunity if I hadn’t been here. That one person has changed my next four months or so,” she beams. “I’ll forever be grateful for that.”

You can view Harriet’s work and get in touch via her website: harriethorton.com, and on Instagram: @harrietdhorton

For more information on pop-up retail opportunities in Mayfair and Belgravia, please contact Jack Haining