West Loop artist finds beauty in dead birds

Chicago Sun-Times - - CITY BEAT - BY STE­FANO ES­POS­ITO Staff Reporter Email: ses­pos­ito@ sun­times. com Twit­ter: @ sle­spos­ito

With her 2- year- old son on her hip, Anas­ta­sia Makarova paused at a pho­to­graphic ex­hibit of mi­gra­tory birds at the Peggy Note­baert Na­ture Mu­seum and sensed that some­thing wasn’t quite right.

One of the birds in West Loop- based pho­tog­ra­pher Art Fox’s new ex­hibit, Bro­ken Jour­ney, is ly­ing on its back, wings spread, as though it­was sun­ning it­self at the beach. An­other ap­pears to levitate with­out mov­ing a mus­cle.

But it was the birds’ lit­tle black eyes that both­ered Makarova— each is crinkly and shrunken.

That’s be­cause all 15 of the birds in Fox’s ex­hibit are dead. Look closely, and you might see a speck of blood, a bro­ken beak, a limb twisted un­nat­u­rally.

Fox, a re­tired physi­cian, said he draws in­spi­ra­tion from elu­sive ob­jects.

“The birds are so lit­er­ally fleet­ing,” Fox said. “They are here one minute and gone the next. You see a flash of yel­low and don’t re­ally know what you saw or can’t see in any de­tail. Con­ve­niently enough, since th­ese were dead, they were very pa­tient about let­ting me take lots of ex­po­sures.”

Many birds in the ex­hibit were pre­sum­ably dream­ing of warmer climes, when, while mi­grat­ing, they slammed into the mir­rored glass of a Chicago high- rise — hence the ex­hibit’s ti­tle. It’s a dev­as­tat­ing prob­lem. Each year, the al­lvol­un­teer Chicago Bird Col­li­sion Mon­i­tors re­cover about 5,000 dead or in­jured birds from a 1- square- mile patch down­town. They’re gear­ing up for this spring’s mi­gra­tion.

Fox says he plucked some of his birds off the street while out rid­ing his bi­cy­cle. Oth­ers came from the cold stor­age at the Field Mu­seum and from Loyola Univer­sity Chicago. Fox doesn’t have his own stu­dio, so he pho­tographed many of them on the eighth- floor bal­cony of his condo and some in his bath­room.

“My wife would say, ‘ You get that dead bird out of here in 30 min­utes!’ ” Fox said.

The idea of the pro­ject wasn’t to hor­rify vis­i­tors to the na­ture mu­seum, a desti­na­tion that draws hun­dreds of chil­dren daily.

“There was at least one bird that had mag­got eggs . . . on it,” Fox said. “I could leave that, but I thought, if any­body looks closely, they’re go­ing to be re­ally grossed out by that.”

Steven M. Sul­li­van, the mu­seum’s se­nior cu­ra­tor of ur­ban ecol­ogy, ex­plained his hope for the ex­hibit this way: “We don’t ever want any­body to be bored while they’re here. Cer­tainly, th­ese dead bird pic­tures are aes­thet­i­cally beau­ti­ful to lit­tle kids. And whether the adults want to try to ex­plain this or not is fine. But the adults, hope­fully, are get­ting that other layer of mes­sage.”

The ex­hibit also fea­tures recorded bird songs and tips for how the pub­lic can help pro­tect mi­grat­ing birds.

For Makarova and her son, Egor, the ex­hibit was in­ter­est­ing, if a lit­tle puz­zling.

“I was con­fused be­cause their face is dif­fer­ent from their claws,” said Makarova, a re­cent trans­plant from Moscow, not­ing the birds’ life­like grip and blank eyes.

But she wasn’t at all con­cerned at hav­ing to ex­plain the im­ages to her tod­dler son.

“He sawa lot of rats in Rus­sia,” she said, dis­mis­sively.

The ex­hibit runs through Feb. 12.


ABOVE: Pho­tog­ra­pher Art Fox dis­cusses his bird im­ages at the Peggy Note­baert Na­tureMu­seum. LEFT: Anas­ta­sia Makarova and her 2- year- old son, Egor, view the ex­hibit.

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