Artists who dwell on the fragile Earth Art review: Maryland Art Place exhibit is a reminder of the dangers to the fertile planet.

April 05, 1996|By John Dorsey | John Dorsey,SUN ART CRITIC

For decades, we have become increasingly aware that we are destroying the planet: We contaminate its water, pollute its air and gobble up its declining resources. So it's good that artists keep reminding us of what's at stake, as four artists do currently in two shows at Maryland Art Place.

Martha Jackson-Jarvis' sculptures occupy the downstairs gallery in a one-person exhibit devoted to her work of recent years. Jackson-Jarvis is a Washington-based African-American artist who began as a ceramic sculptor two decades ago and has increasingly incorporated other materials into her richly accumulative pieces.

Jackson-Jarvis' works operate on a double level. Her series of tables, sarcophagi and boxes (wall-mounted pieces) exist as ceremonial tributes to the generosity of the Earth even as they lament the destruction of its bounty. "Sarcophagi IV" features representations of sea creatures including several huge fish, which -- since they're lying on their sides -- we take to be dead. The same may be true of the leaves in "Table of Plenty Installation," but the effect here is of the beauty of the fallen leaf.

If the sarcophagi are of course coffins, both they and the tables also look like altars, and the boxes remind us of icons. There's a real religious feeling to this exhibit, as if one were in a church walking from chapel to chapel.

A notable feature of Jackson-Jarvis' work is its harmonious combination of many materials, from clay and wood to coal, copper and glass. The artist can take objects of disparate sizes, ZTC colors and textures and combine them so that the individual part retains its identity yet contributes to the unity of the whole.

The three artists in Maryland Art Place's second-floor installation exhibit, "Earthbound," complement one another as well as Jackson-Jarvis because they deal with the world of the past, present and (by implication) future.

Nefeli Massia, originally from Greece and now living in Baltimore, has fashioned "Crucibles of Creation," about the beginning of the world. From her painted walls and hanging Mylar strips, her swirling and streaking images that appear to rush at us from a far corner of the installation, we do get a sense of grand upheaval.

Soledad Salame, from Chile and now living in Baltimore, contributes "Growth," a sunny paean to the Earth's fertility. Her satisfyingly symmetrical installation combines hay, handmade paper and actual growing green grass -- a testament to the ever-renewing life cycle, which Salame in a text calls "visual poetry."

Elba Damast, from Venezuela and now living in New York, checks in with "Wild Animal." It's a disappointment that Damast sent us this 6-year-old work instead of creating something new for this show, but it turns out to be oddly appropriate. A square "room" screened in and with barbed wire around the top of its walls contains two chairs on either side of a box-like object from which animal sounds emanate. You're invited to go sit in those chairs and imagine what it would be like to be a caged animal -- to spend your entire life in this 8-by-8-foot space. It gets to you pretty quickly. But then would you rather be slaughtered as some other creature's food, which is what we do to far more animals than we cage?

In the context of this show, the work seems to say the world is in a cage, for it's unable to escape man's depredations.

Green art

What: "Martha Jackson-Jarvis: Structuring Energy" and "Earthbound"

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

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

Call: (410) 962-8565

Pub Date: 4/05/96

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