John Pusateri: Caterpillar Killer

Auckland based artist John Pusateri's recent suite of works refers to museum specimens of owls and other bird species while bringing awareness to issues around biodiversity and conservation. His drawings and lithographs on exhibition tap into the artistic tradition of ‘memento mori’, a practice dating back to antiquity wherein artists include imagery designed to remind the viewer of their mortality and of the transience and fragility of human life.

Born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, John Pusateri moved to New Zealand in 2004 to undertake a Master of Fine Arts degree at the Elam School of Fine Arts, University of Auckland and is Master Printmaker and director of the Auckland Print Studio specialising in lithography.

CATERPILLAR KILLER 18 October - 25 November 17
This body of lithographs, monotypes and an etching was commenced during my 6-week residency at Two-Bit Press, La Sierra University.

(Supported and sponsored by the Brandstater Endowment Committee and Unitec New Zealand).

I initiated the residency with a period of 'specimen' source gathering from the collection storerooms at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County. These photographs form the basis of my print work and the ‘gathering’ is a step that I always look forward to. For a few days I’m free to explore the backstage corridors of the museum. In towering shelving units sitting row upon row, I hunted through huge numbers of birds, moths and bats. Searching for interesting colors, patterns or expressions, these specimens that lay in dark fumigated spaces, I get to give a stage. Some of the mounts and skins look deceivingly alive, others are clearly long deceased, but all impart a dignity that I hope to capture in the final prints.

My work reflects the interest I have in the culture of animal preservation, taxidermy, scientific classification, speciation and extinction.  My aim is to re-contextualize these scientific specimens in a broad and abstract sense of place, space and time -- to "unpack" them in a manner that extends and shifts their reading.

Iteration is a primary aspect or 'tool' used within my practice.  Repeating gestures, from a defined, but non-fixed matrix, result in shifting forms or morphologies—each time revealing different structures, textures and patterns.  Just as species adapt and evolve over time, so too do the “specimens” within my work. 

I am motivated by the belief that museum specimens are more than just scientific curiosities.  They are simultaneously an individual animal and its story; a representative of a species; a pile of bone and feathers; a scientific and cultural notion; a testament to extinction or a hope for future survival. In my work I try to comment on the complex history of animal speciation, conservation and extinction all the while highlighting the irony that living things are destroyed in order that they are better known, catalogued and preserved.


Artists in Exhibition: 
John Pusateri
Date of Exhibition: 
18 October - 25 November
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