Deborah Butterfield | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Deborah Butterfield


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Writing about Deborah Butterfield, critic James Yood identified her subject as "a nostalgic trope--the stuff of revery and myth." Her life-size horse sculptures at Zolla/Lieberman do indeed hark back to the preindustrial past, not only because the horse was a more common subject in earlier art but because hers appear to be made of wood. That's not the case: she finds sticks, precisely casts them in bronze, then uses a variety of patinas to mimic bits of wood down to the tiniest detail. Further, though the interiors of pieces like Tree of Life partly suggest skeletons and internal organs, what's more apparent is that the root systems Butterfield found go quite their own way. The gnarled wood that forms the crouching horse in Hawaii contributes to its overall shape, but close-up many elements conflict with one another, opening a fissure between the idea of horse as visual perfection and the reality of chaotic nature. Butterfield establishes a kind of double tension: her horses apparently made of wood oppose the animal and plant worlds while her nearly flawless simulacrum of wood belies the actual industrial processes used to create it. Thus her horses movingly evoke the tensions in modern life, particularly the clash between industry and nature, which seems increasingly archaic. Zolla/Lieberman, 325 W. Huron, through November 9. Hours are 10 to 5:30 Tuesday through Saturday; 312-944-1990.

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