Monday, April 8, 2013

Bio-Art: THe Unfeathered Bird.

Last week, this column highlighted a relatively new book called The Unfeathered Bird. It is a brand shiny new publication by Katrina van Grouw. The cover features a "naked" peacock except for the tailfeathers, showing what to expect: a head-turning look at the inner structures that make birds tick.  This is indeed trying to sell the book, but we will be keeping this image-light so as to avoid legal shiznit. 

From the artist's site.

First off, apologies. Last week, we said that this book had all sorts of glorious bird insides for your brain to chew on. We were half-wrong about that. There aren't any guts. Muscles and bones are as squicky as things get. You never see anything that a taxidermist would not have to deal with. Actually, take that back- taxidermists have to deal with more disgusting things, like flesh-eating beetles. This book is pretty mild by comparison.

This book is a solid course in avian anatomy,  taxidermy-style. Did you know that all mammals have seven neck vertebrae? Did you know that all birds have more neck vertebrae, and that the rest of their spinal cords are pretty much rigid? Now you know, and knowing is half the battle. You can also see every one of those vertebrae in the artist's amazing renditions of bones, muscles, and feathers when necessary. The sketches are woven in with well-researched information to explain what you are seeing.

The best part is how it presents its information. We've said it before and will say it again: scientific literature is written so dryly that it sometimes hurts to read. Scientific documents tend to be loaded with jargon and spacing that really only makes sense if you have a degree in biology. This book does not hurt to read, and contains some well-done pictures to boot. The author has acknowledged the difficulty in reading scientific literature and made sure that her work was not like that. Major props.

Even when chock-full of astounding facts, this is an art book at heart. It's really here to show and explain the drawings. The drawings do merit explanation, especially since very few Americans could recognize the inside of a chicken, the most commonly-eaten bird in the world. Said drawings are so realistic that a splash of color would give one the illusion of touching actual bones and muscle. This is an art book well-worth your time.

It's really hard to go wrong with The Unfeathered Bird. You get what you pay for, and then some. Biology students, artists, and bird-lovers alike will find this book fascinating. Prepare to have your mind blown. "Possibly the best book inspired by a dead duck" indeed.

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