Dodo, Mauritius, last seen in the wild 1690
33″ X 16″ X 27″
mixed media and chicken bones
Christy Rupp

One of my favorite art blogs, Hungry Hyaena, recently reviewed the work of Christy Rupp. Her last show at Frederieke Taylor, “Extinct Birds Previously Consumed by Humans (From the Brink of Extinction to the Supermarket)”, is a clever twist on a curiosity cabinet: each of the life-size skeletons, representing a smorgasbord of extinct birds from the auk to the dodo, is a fake made of fast-food chicken bones.

2 Moas, New Zealand, last unverified account of wild sighting 1838
58″ X 58″ X 26″ & 108″ X 39″ X 42″
mixed media and chicken bones
Christy Rupp

From Rupp’s website:

It’s about diversity – the artist is trying to repair environmental holes by retrofitting a series of extinct birds from the recycled bones of fast food chickens.

Poultry grown for the fast food market is mass produced in the speediest, cheapest and unhealthy of conditions.

We eat them, ingesting their antibiotics, hormones and pesticides.

While Rupp’s skeletons are cunningly made, they aren’t fully convincing – even in a photograph. The moa skeletons above probably wouldn’t fool a child. But I think that’s the point; even in death, one species cannot substitute for another. These implausible skeletons made of chicken bones delimit our power as human beings: we can copy life more or less convincingly; we can mass-produce it on industrialized farms; but we can’t recreate forms of life we’ve destroyed – we can’t fill those “environmental holes.” If her skeletons were too accurate, too successful as replacements, Rupp would undermine her message.

On another level, the collection is disturbing because we’ve (almost) all eaten chicken – it’s so American it’s banal. The sailors who once devoured the Dodo and helped drive it to extinction at least had the excuse of hunger; what’s our excuse for the extinctions occurring all around us now? We have such abundant, cheap food that we can make art out of it! Furthermore, if we are what we eat, we’re connected to both chicken and Dodo in some disturbing ways: will we end up extinct as well, or simply placid and fat? Weren’t the sailors lucky to feast on exotic Dodo instead of generic KFC? Or did Dodo, too, “taste like chicken”? (According to journals of the time, it may have tasted much worse). And what are we to make of “specimens” that don’t represent species, of a wonder cabinet that contains boring old chicken bones?

I’m being silly, but there are serious issues to consider here. In Jasper Fforde’s frivolous novel The Eyre Affair, the heroine has a pet dodo – resurrected through genetic engineering. I doubt we have good samples of dodo DNA, but if we did, should we bring the dodo back, sans habitat or conspecifics? It’s not a farfetched scenario: we’ll soon have to decide which species we can save, which we should bank postmortem, and which we should endeavor to resurrect. Knowing that we can’t replace any of them with chicken, how do we make those choices?

Whenever my questions tumble out that fast, I believe I’ve found a fairly successful case of art-meets-biology. But Hungry Hyaena offers a slightly different opinion – that the didactic message is stronger than the art itself, and what’s interesting here is the idea, not the work:

The works may not resonate individually, but Rupp’s engagement with this important subject matter is appreciable, and I would be pleased to see her sculptures and collages pictured in Orion or Harper’s, alongside relevant essays.

So is Rupp’s art mere illustration? Perhaps. Without knowing these are 1) extinct species and 2) fast food chicken bones, could you distinguish them from the decorative mounts of more common birds that you might find in a high-end retailer like (dare I say it) Anthropologie? Would they strike an emotional chord? I don’t know the answer to that. But overall, I think Rupp has created a remarkable and intriguing collection.

Carolina Parakeet, detail, Migratory Range Eastern US, last seen in the wild 1913.
6″ X 6″ X 6″
mixed media and chicken bones
Christy Rupp

Via Hungry Hyaena.

I previously blogged about Christy Rupp’s line of provocative environmentally-themed products.


  1. #1 guy
    March 21, 2008

    we’ve been making extinct creatures from chicken bones for nearly 10 years…
    (perhaps not as artistically as rupp…)

    it is great fun, teaches basic anatomy, and helps to make evolutionary/genetic connections for undergrads.

    however, i must dispute the statement that commercial chickens are somehow fed ‘antibiotics’ and/or ‘hormones’.

    first, there are NO hormones fed/injected/or.otherwise.introduced to commercial poultry. sorry, but that’s flat out incorrect. there are several legitimate points of discussion regarding the poultry industry, but this is NOT one.

    second; very few chickens ever receive ‘antibiotics’ — certainly not the kind that influence bacteria that might harm/infect mammals. the most popular drug given to chickens are in the class of ‘coccidiostats’, which combat a common, paramecium-like intestinal parasite of birds. the FDA classifies it as an antibiotic… but, it as no effect on e.coli, etc. there is also a 2or3 week withdrawal period before the birds can be processed. generally, they don’t receive a coccidiostat after they are 2 weeks of age — meaning the withdrawal period is actually 4-5 weeks.

    i don’t know where the ‘pesticide’ comment comes from. commercial poultry are not sprayed with pesticides for any reason. but, perhaps this was meant to be an indictment of commercial agriculture, in general.

  2. #2 Hungry Hyaena
    March 24, 2008

    Thanks for the linkage, Cicada. Unfortunately, my writing time is marginal these days, so curious blog trollers may link over to relative disappointment (having been reading more exciting words, here on Bioephemera).

    In any case, I like what you write about Rupp’s work, and will post a follow-up on HH.

  3. #3 Monado, FCD
    March 26, 2008

    I saw instructions somewhere for taking the bones of three chickens and making a model dinosaur skeleton. That would be interesting–and the cats would love it!

  4. #4 LadyMeerkat
    April 11, 2008

    The medium is part of the statement, as is often the way with non-traditional sculpting media. It makes it a thought provoking collection, once the viewer understands what is being created and what it is made of. It and your revisitation of Jessica Joslin’s AMAZING work, reminds me I really ought to come up with something using the assortment of bones I have kicking about in boxes!

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