Art Beat: Union gallery offers new take on 'beasts'

Art Beat: Union gallery offers new take on 'beasts'

Given its title — "So Many Beasts of Burden" — the exhibition at the Illini Union Art Gallery had me thinking the art would riff mainly on donkeys, oxen and horses.

So I was surprised to see takes on rats, mice and snakes in the show curated by Maria Lux, a 2012 University of Illinois master's of fine arts graduate in painting and sculpture.

Lux, whose art addresses animal issues, made work for and curated the exhibition after she uncovered bizarre stories about how mice and rats were used in war and in the aftermath of war.

They are amazing true stories, and you might want to check them out.

One concerns mice paratroopers on Guam, an island that was pristine before snakes infested it and killed off 18 species of native birds. The snakes, which also cause power outages by climbing electric poles, had arrived on Guam by air, as stowaways on war planes, Lux wrote.

"It wasn't until the mid-'80s that they were discovered, and by then it was too late," she wrote.

Some people on Guam believe the snakes came in airplane wreckage taken to the unincorporated U.S. territory in the western Pacific Ocean to be disposed of on scrap metal trash-heaps. Unnoticed, they escaped from the military base and fanned out into the forest, Lux wrote.

Though killing all the snakes is impossible, a military base on Guam is trying to control them by dropping dead mice attached to parachutes onto the island. Laced with acetaminophen, the active ingredient in Tylenol, the mice land in treetops, where the snakes, unaware of the poison added to the mice, eat them.

Reading on the NPR website about the mouse droppings over Guam, Lux visually imagined parachuting mice. She just had to make some.

She cast her white mice from real dead mice, making the molds from alginate and then casting them in plastic.

She inserted them wrapped in tiny red parachutes into cellophane wrappers. The labels on the packages read "Mouse Trooper."

"They are based on real packaging for toy paratroopers, but I redrew them to use mice," Lux said.

A real, albeit dead, rat also plays center stage in one exhibit about the roles of rats in war. Lux, in a sense, made that rat, too.

"I was fortunate enough to participate in a taxidermy workshop on campus this spring and thaf rat was done during the workshop," she told me via email.

The exhibition also features work by current UI MFA students Shayna Egan and Cherie Fanning.

Egan made from wood a hearst-type wagon with large wheels. Fanning hanged discarded snake skins, wrapping around them at the hanging point small doilies. She is interested in the unique relationships humans have with reptile pets, Lux said.

Like many practicing artists, Lux did extensive research before making the pieces in the exhibition. It included driving to the Chanute Air Museum in Rantoul to chat with staffers there about Guam and the animal stories she had read and now relates to us.

"So Many Beasts of Burden" will be on display through June 28 at the Illini Union Art Gallery, which is in the northwest corner on the main floor.

With this being summer, it's easy to find a parking space in front of or close to the Union at 401 W. Green St., U.

More art

The UI School of Art + Design Figure One project space at 116 N. Walnut St., C, has through this month work by alumni as part of its recent alumni reunion.

There's a variety of pieces in all kinds of media by alumni from several decades. The School of Art + Design plans to do "alumni-by-decade exhibitions" in future summers.

Figure One has limited hours, particularly during the summer, when it's open 5 to 9 p.m. Fridays.

You can go next door, though, to Cream & Flutter to see art jewelry and painted-copper-on-canvas paintings by 2003 UI alumna Brooke Marks-Swanson, who also has pieces at Figure One.

In her paintings and "neckpieces," as she calls them, Marks-Swanson tends toward dusky blues and greens and other soft colors. The landscapes evoke the Midwestern landscape and horizon.

Her neckpieces, which also incorporate gemstones, are rough looking but I wanted to pick them up and try them on.

For more on her, check out

"Edzmz" leaving

Eduardo Diazmunoz, conductor and chairman of the UI Opera Program, will leave in January 2014 to take a position at the Sydney Conservatorium at the University of Sydney.

There he will be chair of conducting and music director of the Conservatorium Symphony Orchestra.

In an email sent Wednesday to his UI colleagues, Diazmunoz wrote:

"I do cherish every moment we lived and shared together during these last nine years and I look forward to further collaborate with every one of you on what will be my last production here, celebrating (Giuseppe) Verdi's bicentennial with his last masterpiece, 'Falstaff.'"

As you might remember, former UI School of Music director Karl Kramer left on March 31 to be dean and principal of the Sydney Conservatorium, which is next door to the famed Sydney Opera House.

Shortly before he left, Kramer cited as one of his major achievements here his hiring of Diazmunoz. Kramer said the native Mexican's "huge personality" was a great addition to the School of Music and the community.

Update in Indy

The Indianapolis Museum of Art will open new contemporary design galleries Nov. 21 after a three-year, multiphase renovation project.

The reinstallation of the museum's expanded collection of modern design will feature more than 400 objects.

"Unlike most design installations, the IMA's will focus on design after 1980 — a period of immense growth and creativity," a museum news release reads. "The galleries will be based on the two over arching concepts: design as industry and design as art. The new installation will be one of the largest displays of contemporary design in any North American art museum and one of the first surveys of recent trends in this dynamic field."

The IMA is always worthy of a day trip. And remember, "Ai Weiwei: According to What?", a survey of the famous Chinese artist-dissident's work, is on view there through July 21.

News-Gazette staff writer Melissa Merli can be reached at 351-5367 or Her blog is at

Topics (2):Art, Music

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