Organic Material

About

Artworks that employ living (or formerly living) organisms as material, from feathers, fur, bones, or bodily substances to dirt, twigs, plants, and food. Art has been made with organic materials for millennia—before the advent of synthetic chemicals, most pigments were derived from mineral and plant matter. Works in this category, however, foreground such materials. For example, both the Aztec Empire and Pacific American Indian cultures developed intricate featherwork techniques to create headdresses or garments. Such objects blur any clear distinction between art and artifact, and many modern and contemporary artists have further expanded traditional definitions of art in their own use of organic material. In the mid-1960s, Dieter Roth began using chocolate, yoghurt, and bananas to create provocative assemblages that appeared equal parts garbage heap and craggy mountain landscape. Damien Hirst and Maurizio Cattelan have created large-scale installations of taxidermied or preserved animals. Hirst’s The Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living features a tiger shark in a tank of formaldehyde, making it one of the largest and most iconic instances of organisms in contemporary art.