The urbanite’s exposure to nature is obviously limited. In Chicago, the wildest of the wild creatures we come across is the odd coyote in Lincoln Park or, more famously, the cougar that police killed in Roscoe Village in 2008. But human life still depends on nonhuman animals, from tonight’s steak to “natural” raspberry flavoring made from castoreum—a secretion produced by sacs located near beaver anuses (it’s also used in perfumes and cigarettes).
Of course, our reliance on things like beaver anal glands is obscured by the industrial process. In “Ground,” artist Rebecca Beachy brings the connection to light. The show consists of animal parts imaginatively, and pointedly, repurposed for our benefit. There’s a pillow stuffed with the feathers of birds who’ve crashed into windows, a roadkill deer that’s been ground up and returned to the highway to fill cracks in the asphalt. This is macabre stuff, but it’s also beautiful—heavy on the earth tones—and sometimes playful. In Cheshire Cat, for instance, human baby teeth have been stuck into the mouth of a dead cat to produce a “taxidermied cat-skin marionette”—a creepy, thought-provoking gloss on the industrial food chain.