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'Mystical Mechanical Menagerie' on Exhibit on Dittmar

April 25, 2006 | by Judy Moore

EVANSTON, Ill. --- Artist David Holmes' whimsical and intricate sculptures are a reflection of what humanity has done to “our fellow creatures.”

Holmes' “The Mystical Mechanical Menagerie” exhibition at Northwestern University's Dittmar Memorial Gallery through May 7 is free and open to the public.

Holmes, a professor of art and chair of the art department at the University of Wisconsin, Parkside, juxtaposes the organic and the mechanical and explores the role of animals in an increasingly technology-driven world.

With materials that include recycled metal machinery parts, woodcarvings and found objects, Holmes has shaped animal figures into curio-cabinet oddities.

“Animals have always been seen as 'machines' to expedite human progress,” said the artist. “It is this basic theme of the man-made beast that is at the iconographic core of 'The Mystical Mechanical Menagerie.'” Informed by a sharp but darkly comic perspective, the “Menagerie” exhibition questions humanity's intrusive presence in the natural world. Holmes' figures are a reflection of how people have changed animals to be more useful for human purposes.

Hybrids -- the offspring produced by crossing two individuals of unlike genetic constitution for greater efficiency -- inspired his sculpture “Artificial Pollinator.” The odd-looking, four-legged insect-like creature with curved wire antennae, transparent wings and goggle-like eyes, is chained to a yardstick remnant attached to a wood-framed stand.

“Now that we can make almost microscopic 'spy flies' -- why not take Mother Nature out all together and pollinate the fields ourselves,” reflected Holmes.

Thomas Edison's inventions and his “dark side” inspired the sculpture “Edison's Electric Elephant,” an electrified prancing pachyderm with an upraised trunk. “At one point, to prove that electrocuting a condemned prisoner was humane, Edison experimented on animals -- even an elephant -- and filmed the event,” said Holmes.

Those who prefer to stylize animals to make them fit their perception of pleasing aesthetics prompted the sculpture “Ursine Rococo -- The Baroque Bear.” Constructed from wood, found objects and acrylics, the beast has a flip-down torso that resembles a camera body, and a carved head with two sea shell-shaped soap dish ears.

“Behold a Pale (Rocking) Horse,” a sculpture with a single horn protruding from the center of its horse-shaped head and a tail made from strands of wire, and “Unicorn Cadaver,” a fearsome skeletal creature with legs made from metal pipes, elbows and clamps, are both apocalyptic beasts meant to remind the viewer that “when we mess with the natural realm, it may come back to haunt us.“

The Dittmar Memorial Gallery is located at Norris University Center, 1999 Campus Drive, Evanston campus.  The gallery is open from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily. Admission is free.

For information, call (847) 491-2348 or Norris University Center at (847) 491-2300, e-mail <dittmargallery@northwestern.edu> or go to the Norris Web site at <www.dittmar.northwestern.edu>.

Topics: Campus Life