Morgan spoke with Rented Spaces about the genesis for the conservatory, her collecting habits, and the particular struggles of living in an art tableau.
Rented Spaces: How did the idea for the Contemporary Zoological Conservatory come about? Morgan Mavis: I've always been collecting. When my partner and I came back to Toronto, I found a dream place in the west end and it was perfect – very large -- so we had space. I wasn't interested as much in being a practicing artist where I would be in galleries. I was really concerned about being misrepresented. So I was really only interested in representing myself and curating everything I own. Rather than relying on a curator, I was going to curate my life and everything I acquire from that point in.
RS: Is this your only art project? MM: My other practice is all about domesticity and femininity. I've had this pink hair for fifteen years. I like looking at things that are the polar opposites: the juxtaposition, the masculinity. For a while I collected childrens' toy handguns predating the sixties. And then I was collecting taxidermy. I'm interested in things pretending to be something else. I was interested in exploring the role of like a Victorian dandy, or an aristocrat who would be played by a wealthy man. The CZC took shape, and my collections and acquisitions started just rolling in from there.
RS: Who funds the acquisitions? MM: It's privately funded by me – so I look for deals. I'm an art teacher and I teach cooking at a private school. I have a student loan, I rent, so it's really just me knowing how to negotiate, knowing what things are worth to me and just being patient and coming up with the right acquisition.
RS: How frequently do you acquire new pieces? MM: It's about every two months. Something I won't get anything for four months, and then I'll get four things at once. We went to Paris, Berlin, and Barcelona and that took a large chunk out of acquisitions. But when we were there we got a wallaby head and then an African butterfly in Paris. So our acquisitions for this year are smaller in scale but they have wonderful stories.
RS: How do you see the stories behind your pieces? MM: I'm really interested in the preservation of discarded memories. I also collect needlepoints and paint by numbers. Taxidermy is the embodiment of a story. Most of the pieces are hunting trophies. But it's a memory for someone, and they either preserve it themselves by stuffing it, or commission a taxidermist, a son inherits it, doesn't want it, it gets discarded. So instead of thinking of it as I'm killing these animals, I'm rescuing them from a junk shop, someone's basement.
RS: Who comes to see the Conservatory? How is it run? MM: Originally it was open the second Sunday of every month. People would make reservations – and then not show up. So now we rent the space for fashion editorials and newspaper stories. We've been getting into that more than tours – although the College of Art and Design did a walkthrough and we had tea. When people come to the conservatory now they get baked goods and a story. It's like a salon.
RS: Is it hard to live in such a curated space? I'm trying to imagine you putting your feet up on the sofa and just relaxing with a magazine, and it's a little difficult! MM: My partner always teases me I walk around barefoot all the time, and no matter how much I oil the floors, I always have gritty feet walking around barefoot. One of our sofas was custom designed in the 1940's - my feet are always gritty so I have to think before I put my feet on the sofa, and dust them off. I never want to sit with my feet directly on the sofa. I am always aware, it's not the space where you hang out in your pajamas. It's wonderful having a space that's so curated and tailor-made for yourself, except I'm constantly vigilant and worried about it.
Apartments-Turned-Galleries a Growing Trend [RS]