Deborah Simon: Embroidered Morphologies

Opening: Friday, Jan 27, 2023 6 – 8 pm
Friday, Jan 27 – Apr 23, 2023

1524 N. Lake Shore Dr.
Chicago, IL 60610

My work walks the line between taxidermy, toy, and sculpture. Each sculpture is meticulously fabricated to create an unnervingly accurate, uncanny version of the natural animal. Fragility and vulnerability are central to my work. The sculptures become inverted anatomies showing the interior organ structures embroidered on the body's surface. In revealing the similarities between mammals, the raw, vulnerable interiors connect us all. The sculptures create a tension between the reality of animals, humans, and our cultural concepts of animals; the wild and the tame, the beautiful and grotesque.

Over the past few years, my work has focused on two of the most anthropomorphized animals in our culture: bears and rabbits. Bears interest me as they are the ultimate stuffed animals: both the iconic plush toy and the prized taxidermy specimen for hunters. A stuffed bear is the enduring toy of childhood. The fierce predator declawed and defanged to become a child's best friend and sense of security. While bears and rabbits start as beloved childhood characters, our attitudes towards them quickly diverge. Bears, both revered and feared, are treated with far more respect. Our treatment of rabbits is more complex. Our attitudes range from adoration of their cuteness to contempt. Rabbits are animals that everyone has encountered, from storybook characters like Peter Rabbit and Bugs Bunny to the real rabbits kept as pets and running wild across our lawns. They evolve from childhood toys to pampered pets, garden pests, science experiments, dinners, and clothing. With the rabbits, I play with peoples' expectations and emotions; peel away some preconceptions, and expose the unease of our relationship with these animals and how we symbolize them.

Many people assume my sculptures are created from taxidermy. They are not. I make everything by hand, starting with painted sketches and sculpted maquettes. I embroider samples to figure out the fabric, fur, floss colors, and stitch directions. I then sculpt the body, make the skin pattern and sew the fabric and fur together. I hand embroider the organ systems onto the fabric skin. The head and paws are then sculpted in polymer clay, baked, and the fur carefully glued on. All the parts are assembled and permanently attached. The finished object is important to me; like the stuffed toys that are the first objects we treasure, the sculptures become beings completely contained within themselves.

Ursus americanus: Standing, polymer clay, faux fur, linen, embroidery floss, acrylic paint, glass, wire and foam, 40”H x 18”D x 16”W, 2015. Photo credit: Dan Wonderly.