State Changes

by Boru O’Brien O’Connell with Justin Lieberman

Fire, ice, and a stuffed platypus walk into a picture.

"State Changes" was commissioned by Triple Canopy as part of its Internet as Material project area, supported in part by the Foundation for Contemporary Arts and the Brown Foundation, Inc. of Houston.

OF ALL THE MAMMALIA YET KNOWN, it seems the most extraordinary in its conformation; exhibiting the perfect resemblance of the beak of a duck, engrafted on the head of a quadruped. So accurate is the similitude, that at first view, it naturally excites the idea of some deceptive preparation by artificial means: the very epidermis, proportion, serratures, manner of opening, and other particulars of the beak of a shoveller, or the broad-billed species of duck, presenting themselves to the view; nor is it without the most minute and rigid examination, that we can persuade ourselves of its being the real beak or snout of a quadruped.

When we consider the general form of this animal, and particularly its bill and webbed feet, we shall readily perceive that it must be a resident in watery situations; that it has the habit of digging or burrowing in the banks of rivers, or under ground; and that its food consists of aquatic plants and animals. This is all at present that can be reasonably guessed at: future observations, made in its native regions, will, it is hoped, afford us more ample information, and will make us fully acquainted with the natural history of an animal which differs so widely from all other quadrupeds, and which verifies in a most striking manner the observation of Buffon, "that whatever was possible for nature to produce has actually been produced."

—George Shaw and Frederick Nodder, The Naturalist's Miscellany, 1789–1813

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