Us and them and us | Art Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Us and them and us

In "Animals Are Outside Today" photographer Colleen Plumb looks at humans looking at our fellow fauna

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When I was a kid, my mom found a couple dead birds in the backyard and entombed them in our freezer, thinking she'd have them taxidermied. (She's an art teacher; that's her excuse.) I thought of those feathered ice pops while looking at Fridge Owl, Colleen Plumb's photo of a bird—fake or maybe taxidermied—stuck to a refrigerator magnet. The premise of Plumb's show "Animals Are Outside Today" is straightforward: humans are surrounded by animals, both real (in nature, on our plates) and representational (appliquéed to a gaudy sweater, painted into a pastoral scene). Does their presence "satisfy some kind of need in us?" she asks. What's to be learned from looking at ourselves looking at animals?

The show presents her findings. It ranges from the self-consciously meta (an image of museumgoers sitting before Peter Paul Rubens's Daniel in the Lion's Den) to the sly or the humorous—or the incongruous, as in a picture of a sad little birdcage on the wall in a dingy laundromat. Plumb's work can express a striking compassion. I was especially startled by a photo of a taxidermied duck: hung indoors, from a ceiling with recessed flourescent lights, it appears to be flying.

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