Restraints provide a compelling theme at MAP

April 05, 1995|By John Dorsey | John Dorsey,Sun Art Critic

David Page's "Luggage" is a body bag.

No, not the kind of bag you ship dead bodies in, though that of course comes to mind. This is a finely crafted piece of luggage -- of canvas and leather with brass locks -- in the shape of a human body, head to foot. You could get in it, if you're of moderate size, and be completely enclosed by it.

But think of being enclosed by it. Think what it would be like to be locked up in that bag, with no means of escape unless somebody else let you out, and the fear will hit you like a wave hitting the beach after a storm.

That's what Page's objects of restraint, now at Maryland Art Place, do to you. They're half of an intriguing show that both repels and seduces, as it's meant to do, and that has to do with both physical and societal restraint.

Page's works deal with the physical kind. He creates objects that enclose either parts or the whole of the body and that are based on such things as medical restraints and medieval armor. His "Superhero" is a metal and aluminum face enclosure that laces up the back and reminds you of a medieval helmet. "Fetish Trike" involves both a tricycle and a straitjacket-like torso enclosure.

Not all of these objects are threatening. "Brace" (a pair of leg braces) is meant to help. "Wearable Lampshade" and "Porcubird" have an element of humor.

The seductive side of these works comes from their expert craftsmanship, so even as you're being scared by them, you're drawn to them with a kind of perverse fascination.

Annet Couwenberg's "Public Apparel/Private Structures" installation deals with restraint of the kind that society puts on you. Her corset-like body sheathings, which would be incredibly confining if anyone tried to wear them, are connected by metal wires and a huge bolt to one of a group of wall-hung fiber pieces that refer to dress patterns. From the bolt hang five spheres covered in soft, feathery material that masks their solidity.

The artist deals with the kind of restraints that society puts on women in particular, but by extension all of us -- restraints of convention, manners, propriety, tradition. These may be more subtle but more confining than Page's overt restraints. The latter are imposed from the outside, whereas, by the time we're developed human beings, the restraints of society may be so ingrained that we can't free ourselves of them.

Upstairs at MAP is a separate show, "Indeterminate Origins," works by a group of five artists that purport to deal with, if I understand correctly, the mystical origins of physical reality.

What we have here looks like a group of artists who wanted to show their work together, so they attempted to create a theme into which they could all be shoehorned. It doesn't work, because they're too different. But the show has its share of good artists, including Nancy Sansom Reynolds, who fashions handsome wooden sculptures, and W. Reid McIntyre, whose expressionist paintings have real force.

AT MAP

What: "Annet Couwenberg and David Page: Recent Work" and "Indeterminate Origins"

Where: Maryland Art Place, 218 W. Saratoga St.

When: 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays, through May 6

Call: (410) 962-8565

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