Art that engages the viewer

September 14, 1990|By Jeanne Johnson Dudziak

A very personal story of adoption is used to address issues o origin, choice and destiny in an installation at the Maryland Institute. The joint exhibition also documents the building of an unusual wind-activated boat that is being painstakingly constructed and welded out of scrap metalin harbor at Sparrows Point

The exhibition clearly has no commercial intent. Both works were produced while art instructors Ann Fessler and Art Benson were on sabbatical from the Institute. Rather than inviting a relatively passive exercise in aesthetics, the show instead challenges gallery-goers to conceptually participate in the creative process. an expression of what Ms. Fessler describes as a desire to "make art that's about life and not about art."

Mr. Benson engages his audience by providing photographic, step-by-step documentation of the building of his boat, the Javelina Queen. The artwork itself is frustratingly absent. However, a large photographic reconstruction laid out across the floor and up the wall, as well as sculptural elements incorporated from the boat, make it "the next best thing to being there." You can't cross the gallery without stepping directly onto the Javelina Queen's two-dimensional deck.

There appears to be a heavy, industrial sort of weightiness to Mr. Benson's hulk of a hull, but there's a gracefulness as well. The components of the boat seem both unified and incongruous, making it a hybrid sort of vessel that taps into the universal desire to take whatever fate, God or the forces of nature have dealt us, assimilate it through the creative process, and make it our own unique means of transport and adventure.

Ms. Fessler's installation, titled "Genetics Lesson," is based on the artist's "chance" encounter with a woman who thought Ms. Fessler might be the daughter she had once given up for adoption. The artist is, indeed, adopted. She uses text, furniture and Ektacolor prints to ponder this powerful experience and to examine the strange forces that influenced the motherly trilogy of Ms. Fessler's adopted mother, her natural mother and the woman who encountered her as an adult.

The environment Ms. Fessler has composed works together with her text in an almost poetic way to examine the pain of making difficult choices, the desire for identity, and the way in which intersecting lives overlap and converge to form complex networks that may either be the result of random chance or predestined pattern.

As is typical for her, Ms. Fessler invites the viewer to participate in her experience in a way that can prompt a painful sort of self-evaluation -- an honest introspection that exposes our all-too-human limitations and vulnerabilities.

Faculty show

Where: Maryland Institute, College of Art: Meyerhoff Gallery at the Fox Building, Mount Royal and Lafayette avenues.

When: Mondays to Saturdays 10 a.m.-5 p.m., Thursdays and Fridays until 9 p.m., Sundays noon to 5 p.m., through Sept. 30.

Call: 669-9200.

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