Pyramid of Animals

Katarzyna Kozyra

  • type of object: sculpture
  • date: 1993
  • material/technique: stuffed animals, video
  • dimensions: 220 x 190 x 120 cm, 47'
  • inventory No.: RZ-46
  • image licensed under: CC BY-NC-ND 3.0

Katarzyna Kozyra is one of the most important representatives of the critical art movement developing in Poland after 1989. In her work, she challenges social taboos and explores issues related to the body, ageing, mortality and vulnerability to disease. The Pyramid of Animals is her graduation piece, inspired by the Brothers Grimm fairy tale Town Musicians of Bremen. The installation features four taxidermised animals stacked on top of each other. The artist herself chose a horse and a rooster to be put to sleep. The sculpture is accompanied by a film shot in a slaughterhouse.

The piece unleashed a fierce wave of media criticism, initiated by letters of protest from the board of the Association of Polish Artists and Designers (ZPAP) to the rector of the Academy of Fine Arts and the Ministry of Culture and Art. Kozyra was attacked without any attempt to understand the meaning of her work. She was accused of violating moral principles because the death of animals was used to create a work of art rather than for practical purposes. In a letter to the editor of Gazeta Wyborcza, Kozyra explained that her composition was ‘about death in general and the death of these four particular animals’. ‘I didn’t do it “for thrills” or because of a lack of technical skill. I did it out of an inner need to ask the question: do we still feel the presence of death when we eat pork chops, use cosmetics or other products derived from animals . . .?’ The Pyramid of Animals speaks to the hypocrisy of a society that considers the killing of animals to be civilised and justified when it satisfies practical needs and is carried out industrially, out of sight of the consumer.

video accompanying the sculpture
Audio description:
No sound

Artist's statement: 

A very specific situation developed while I was working on this piece, a situation that caused myself and those somehow included in the process of creation to react in many different ways.

The starting point was an animal pyramid, which can be found in the fairy tale of the Brothers Grimm. The actual content of the tale was not important. What drew my interest was the structure itself – the animal pyramid and the visual and conceptual spheres that are somehow linked to it. As opposed to, for example, a seven-headed Dragon (which appears in other fairy tales), what was intriguing about this sculpture was that it could be made using ready-made materials, i.e. animals. The idea of this monument to animals – this pyramid, carries in itself clarity and simplicity, and at the same time a rich and multi-layered symbolism (belief, culture, religion).

The material, which I used, was a given, that is the animals: a horse, a dog, a cat, and a rooster. Then the problem arose – where could I get the material for the monument” I began my preparations from the basics, that is I chose the live animals. They were not selected from museum collections of trophies, but were found and selected according to a set of criteria. Hence there was conscious selection which was the result of the prepared composition. What mattered was what kind of statement they would make, would they be representing themselves or would they be symbols of these animals. If the assumption of the sculpture was just to get across some sort of symbolic message, it could have been made of clay or other materials used in sculpting, or finally out of stuffed museum exhibits.

The concept was different, the material for the sculpture existed and these were concrete animals selected by myself. The later stage, that is the death of the animals and their stuffing was a very risky step, but at the same time intriguing. I was balancing on the edge of accepted ethical norms, while at the same time I was touching that difficult thing called the death of a living creature.

All of these animals were basically destined to die, however, using them for the sculpture generated ethical problems. And yet animals are murdered everyday and used for everyday purposes, or for consumption. My personal participation in the act of death and using their carcasses to realize an idea changes the point of view, it has evoked and continues to evoke various reactions. The making of piece ended up being a peculiar situation.

The question arose: Did the process of creation become more important than the piece I was trying to create” The answer to this question and the perception of the entire process of creation of this work were far from singular in their interpretation.

When the horse was put to sleep and skinned a film was shot of this event. This is a macabre document showing the fresh corpse of the animal. In the first shots you can see the still trembling flesh of the horse and then you can see only the fragments of the carcass, which looks quite normal and people are used to seeing that – all you have to do is go to the meat shop. And yet the participation of other people at this stage of creation evoked reactions of shock, lack of understanding, and even rejection. The same was true in the case of the other animals. I began to question whether to be consistent in the process of realizing this piece, whether the killing of the horse was to be followed by the killing of other animals, for the process to be consistent. The final piece – the diploma work – is nevertheless aesthetic, worthy of being looked at, and contains no gore. What you have here is the paradox between the final effect and the process of its creation, which for me was more important. The idea of a monument to animals, a pyramid, was realized thanks to cooperation with Mr. J. Linkowski, whose professionalism in stuffing animals can be called an art. This piece was made for my diploma and was subject to evaluation, but can this work be viewed only as a sculpture, or can the process of its creation and the related reactions also be evaluated.

text of a publication accompanying the display of “The Pyramid of Animals”, Academy of Fine Arts, Warsaw 4 June 1993


Other works by artist in the Zachęta collection

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  • Zdjęcie pracy Cheerleader
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  • Zdjęcie pracy A Quarter of an Hour
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  • Zdjęcie pracy Summer Tale
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  • Zdjęcie pracy Lords of the dance
    Lords of the danceKatarzyna Kozyra2002
  • Zdjęcie pracy The Bathhouse
    The BathhouseKatarzyna Kozyra1997
  • Zdjęcie pracy Punishment and Crime
    Punishment and CrimeKatarzyna Kozyra2002
  • Zdjęcie pracy Dance Lesson
    Dance LessonKatarzyna Kozyra2001
  • Zdjęcie pracy It's better to know nothing, from series Eight
    It's better to know nothing, from series EightKatarzyna Kozyra2000
  • Zdjęcie pracy The Rite of Spring
    The Rite of SpringKatarzyna Kozyra1999
  • Zdjęcie pracy Blood Ties
    Blood TiesKatarzyna Kozyra1995
  • Zdjęcie pracy Non so piu
    Non so piuKatarzyna Kozyra2004
  • Zdjęcie pracy The Castrate / Il Castrato
    The Castrate / Il CastratoKatarzyna Kozyra2006
  • Zdjęcie pracy The Castrate / Il Castrato
    The Castrate / Il CastratoKatarzyna Kozyra2006
  • Zdjęcie pracy Men's Bathhouse
    Men's BathhouseKatarzyna Kozyra1999
  • Zdjęcie pracy In Art Dreams Come True
    In Art Dreams Come TrueKatarzyna Kozyra2006
  • Zdjęcie pracy Faces
    FacesKatarzyna Kozyra2005
  • Zdjęcie pracy
    Katarzyna Kozyra1991
  • Zdjęcie pracy
    Katarzyna Kozyra2011
  • Zdjęcie pracy Casting. Tel Aviv
    Casting. Tel AvivKatarzyna Kozyra2011
  • Zdjęcie pracy Beauty-Preview with Gloria Viagra
    Beauty-Preview with Gloria ViagraKatarzyna Kozyra2005
  • Zdjęcie pracy Stairs from the series Boys
    Stairs from the series BoysKatarzyna Kozyra2001
  • Zdjęcie pracy Spears from the series Boys
    Spears from the series BoysKatarzyna Kozyra2001
  • Zdjęcie pracy Ragazzi from the series Boys
    Ragazzi from the series Boys Katarzyna Kozyra2001
  • Zdjęcie pracy Madonna from Pelago
    Madonna from PelagoKatarzyna Kozyra2005
  • Zdjęcie pracy Teatro di cani. Lou Salome a Roma
    Teatro di cani. Lou Salome a RomaKatarzyna Kozyra2005
  • Zdjęcie pracy Appearance as Lou Salome
    Appearance as Lou SalomeKatarzyna Kozyra2005
  • Zdjęcie pracy The Nightmare
    The NightmareKatarzyna Kozyra2004
  • Zdjęcie pracy Facade Concert
    Facade ConcertKatarzyna Kozyra2005
  • Zdjęcie pracy Diva: Reincarnation
    Diva: ReincarnationKatarzyna Kozyra2005
  • Zdjęcie pracy Tribute to Gloria Viagra: Birthday party
    Tribute to Gloria Viagra: Birthday partyKatarzyna Kozyra2005
  • Zdjęcie pracy The Winter's Tale
    The Winter's TaleKatarzyna Kozyra2005
  • Zdjęcie pracy The Midget Gallery
    The Midget GalleryKatarzyna Kozyra2006

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