Art gives kids something to build on

February 17, 1992|By Linell Smith | Linell Smith,Staff Writer

In a corner of the former automobile showroom, the curious scrap-wood structure stands out as a model of good ideas and even better intentions. Assembled in no particular order, following no particular blueprint, it was designed to run on vigor and whim and deep pockets of wishes.

It is the handiwork of a group of boys from the Woodbourne Center, an organization that serves hundreds of Maryland children with behavioral and emotional problems, often stemming from physical and sexual abuse. Located in a temporary art gallery in the old Pat Hayes Buick building, 1111 Cathedral St., the structure is one of four Woodbourne Workshop art projects initiated and assembled by The Contemporary arts museum.

You might say the structure resembles a church -- rather, the bare bones of a church -- pieced together from smaller sculptures. Emerging from its walls are the crude forms of cars, boats, flying machines, of fancies that are going fast and going in style.

At the entrance, a cross rises from a slice of sign identifying the structure as "Brian's World." Territorial, the sign also expresses a kind of relief. This is the kind of property, the kind of turf, you don't have to fight each day to reclaim.

Artist Brian Poremski says he didn't have anything in mind when he built his particular pieces of "Brian's World." There was no reason he placed the cross right on top of the structure, either.

Broad-chested and soft-spoken, Brian will turn 16 next week. He lives with his uncle on Aliceanna Street in Fells Point; he blames bad relations with his stepfather for separating him from his mother and sisters. He was sent to Woodbourne Day School last year, he says, because he couldn't get along with the principal and teachers at Southeast Middle School. He will leave Woodbourne in June.

What did he enjoy the most about the art project?

"Building the sculpture -- just building it. Art was more physical with Kathy and Sherwin," he says, referring to Katherine Kendall and Sherwin Marks, the artists who supervised the projects. "You didn't have someone watching over you all the time. It was more freedom. It was fun. The kids got a chance to work with tools and stuff that you might use when you get out of school.

"I like building and drawing."

Why?

"I can just space out when I do it."

Ms. Kendall and Mr. Marks, who are Baltimore photographers and media artists, spent two weeks at the school documenting the life of this art project in a multi-media slide installation, also shown at the gallery. "Today Was a O.K. Day" follows the uneasy conjunction of imagination and discipline in a world in which kids destroy their own Christmas trees.

"I've been a teacher for 20 years and I was surprised at the rawness of what happened there," Ms. Kendall said. "Every kid has a story that is horrendous."

When The Contemporary sponsored six Baltimore artists in workshops at the Woodbourne Center, the goal was to find ways in which children could use art to air, perhaps transform, thoughts about their lives.

Ms. Kendall and Mr. Marks decided to build their multi-media story upon the construction of a sculpture that would take whatever shape the students desired.

The boys constructed an elaborate gateway to the entrance to the school, located in the overflow building of Herring Run Middle School. Every day they would add something wonderfully unexpected. Before long, it was mysteriously destroyed.

The students shrugged it off.

"It was like everything else in their life -- so transitory," Ms. Kendall says. "It upset Sherwin and me a lot more than it did them. Those kids are so used to having things like that happen."

However, they worked hard to rebuild the sculpture for the show at The Contemporary.

Some days Brian Poremski thinks he would like to become an artist; his drawing of Martin Luther King won first place in a recent contest at school. Some days he talks of entering Job Corps and learning to drive heavy equipment.

He seems most animated when discussing his uncle's pets: a tarantula, three Amazon tree frogs, two albino black snakes, three red-headed garden snakes and three Chinese rat snakes. He says he loves to read "Spiderman" and "Hellraiser" comic books and listen to Slayer, Metallica and Nirvana.

He says he would like to move back home with his mother.

"Working with Brian was like working with an adult," Ms. Kendall says. "He had real creative solutions to problems; he pitched in and worked very hard. It was like he had a stake in the sculpture. It became his."

No one from Brian's family has come downtown to see "Brian's World."

Neither has he.

* "The Woodbourne Workshops," running from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily through Sunday,also presents enameled boxes from a project by Angela Franklin, a "whispering wall" of thoughts and computer-manipulated self-portraits supervised by Ardai Baharmast and Will Freeman, and a continuously run video of tribal group dances led by Kauna and Kibibi Ajanku-Mujamal.

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