The press loves to identify a hot new artist, and the term has arguably been applied to Polly Morgan in more column inches than any other rising British art star in the past couple of years. Owing somewhat to some high-profile buyers - Damien Hirst, Banksy and Kate Moss - and her gruesomely compelling animal carcases, a tangible excitement has generated around the artist. Her latest work is an installation at London’s All Visual Arts. Set to be her largest work so far, the visceral exploration of life and death dispels any associations with romantic Victoriana taxidermy might still hold. We spoke to Morgan ahead of the exhibition opening to discuss how being at the other end of the surgeon’s scalpel after contracting peritonitis and gangrene inspired her most ambitious work to date.
How did getting so ill affect the new work?
I had two weeks in hospital, much of it worrying about my own mortality and the state of my own body. Being operated on was a strange thing to contemplate, since I am so familiar with the surgeon’s tools and the cutting of skin and flesh. I felt that the knowledge I have acquired from taxidermy wasn't helpful in that situation; I knew too much and was acutely aware of my own vulnerability. Having part of my body die and rot inside me, as well as the bad post-op infection I developed got me thinking more about the subject of pests and hosts and how the living are constantly under attack in the struggle for other life to endure.
What is the significance of the title ‘Endless Plains’?
It is the English for Serengeti, a place I visited last year that inspired some of the work for this show. It struck me that the words could just as easily apply to life on earth - an endless cycle of birth, life and death, all vividly illustrated in that landscape. I came across corpses that had been hollowed out from within by vultures, creating these cavernous spaces inside otherwise well preserved bodies. This gave me the idea to create a landscape within a hollowed out body, that continues infinitely. I have created a hall of mirrors effect inside a hollow taxidermy stag, with sleeping bats hanging from the ribs - 50 of them seem to multiply eternally.
What animals feature that you haven’t depicted before?
I have never done anything as large as a stag before. This was quite a challenge. I have also cast piglets and an octopus out of silicone, also new things to me. I have learned how to make moulds and casts. I made a fibreglass body for the stag, in order for it to be hollow, which I've never done before. I have also developed a technique of drawing with the cremated remains of animals.
You've enjoyed a lot of press attention, much of it from the fashion world, how do you feel about that?
Nervous. I expect to be pulled down on my arse any time soon. People love to champion someone who's up-and-coming but love even more to slate someone who has achieved success. However, none of this is a complaint as recognition is a great reward at the end of a lot of hard work and I know I'm lucky to have had my work even noticed let alone liked. I expect the fashion world will leave me alone when I get older and fatter!