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Fish Tales 

An artist's odd medium -- taxidermy without animals

Wednesday, Jan 16 2002
Taxidermy is an imperfect art, but its purpose is to render permanently lifelike that which is lifeless. Its practitioners spend weeks skinning, drying, and stuffing hunting trophies, dead pets, and fishermen's conquests so that these creatures can live forever. What strikes many people upon their first glimpse of the embalmed critters, however, is exactly how unlifelike many of these specimens actually appear.

San Francisco artist Lauren Davies has plied her own version of the taxidermist's trade for years, reconstructing ducks, squirrels, and other animals not from their own skins and bones but from castaway household supplies. Intrigued by the idea that taxidermy isn't an act of preservation but rather one of re-creation, she makes her own creatures entirely from non-animal materials. This week, her ode to mummified fish arrives at the LAB with "Ultra-marine: the workshop for alternative aquatic taxidermy."

Davies, the gallery's artist-in-residence, has hung the walls with her fake fish, constructed by following the directions from antiquated how-to taxidermy manuals. She made the replicas' "bodies" from wood, chicken wire, carpet matting, building insulation, and newspaper. Some are painted in the overdone airbrush tones occasionally seen on wall-hung swordfish. A few are finished; many are under construction. A skinless 25-foot shark swims motionlessly on the gallery floor. In a corner, a partially assembled marlin waits to have its large fin and sword attached. The far end of the gallery boasts a fin arcade, where Davies' numerous models of the aquatic appendage claim wall space.

Those with a hands-on interest in alternative taxidermy may want to drop in on a Saturday for Davies' fin-making workshop (call for details). Simultaneous with "Ultra-marine," Leslie Henslee's Earthworks-inspired sculpture installation devoted to the American offramp, "Roadside Attractions," shows in the LAB's foyer.

About The Author

Todd Dayton


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