It started with a dead hamster. In the late ’90s, Dutch photographer Danielle Van Ark was living in Rotterdam, reacquainting herself with the charms of the grain-eating, wheel-chasing starter pet. Her hamster expired right around the time the Beastie Boys were coming out with a single called “Intergalactic”. “The cover of that single was basically a giant hamster attacking humanity, and it inspired me to have my hamster stuffed,” Van Ark says. “I found someone in a village near Rotterdam who does it, and I loved the place instantly.”
Van Ark became obsessed with taxidermy culture. She began buying up secondhand and antique specimens, and in 2006 she started an ongoing, medium-format photography series called The Mounted Life. The series documents the storage closets of natural history museums around the world, which tend to house an array of the petrified creatures, yanked from dioramas and plunked down in haphazard tableaux among boxes or on shelves. “In my work, I’m looking for something that’s off, a weirdness,” Van Ark says. “And in the storage rooms I found all of these emotional moments: a donkey looking at the door, or two animals standing next to each other when in the wild they would eat each other.”
Van Ark has also long been fascinated by signifiers of status and by places that are normally inaccessible to the public, both of which play into The Mounted Life. Though the furry creatures are now a staple of hipster dwellings, Van Ark points out that at one time “only very wealthy people had taxidermy, exotic species they had brought from other lands.”
Van Ark is in the midst of another series on art openings in New York — “where you have the 5th Avenue people and the gallery bums who come and drink for free” — and she recently received a grant to photograph the perfectly manicured gardens of Amsterdam’s ritzy canal houses. She’s also received a grant from the Netherlands Foundation for Visual Arts to visit 16 additional European institutions in the coming year to flesh out The Mounted Life. “The project will be really valuable when I start to have a couple hundred images — like a Noah’s ark,” she says. Before she heads off, we asked Van Ark to share with us the decisions she’s made, the places she’s visited, and a selection of the photographs she’s taken so far.