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Ravages of Time: Isles de las Munecas

By Willy Thorn | Posted 2/8/2006

Ravages of Time: Isles de las Munecas

Through Feb. 9 at Baltimore Gallery

Linnie Greene loves dolls. She still collects them, even uses them in art. She photographs them, records reminiscences and memories about them, and makes doll-themed cigar-box accordion folding collages.

So when she visited Mexico City’s floating gardens of Xochimilco, she was spellbound. What she came back with became the exhibit Ravages of Time: Isles de las Munecas, now showing at Baltimore Gallery.

Nonprofit Baltimore Gallery prides itself on an open-door policy; for local youth, “more like a museum than one of those art places you can’t go,” curator Susan Gould says. And when the local school kids saw the show, they said it “should’ve ran at Halloween . . . it reminded them of Chucky [from the Child’s Play movies]. It’s powerful for the same reason Chucky is scary.”

Greene’s Ravages of Time takes visitors to Xochimilco, where a reclusive hermit named Don Julian Santana lived. He never married and never had children. His neighbors were magpies, wild ducks, herons, and pelicans. He lived in a mud and grass hut, drank pulque, and collected abandoned dolls—rescued from canals, the trash, wherever—to protect him from evil spirits, improve harvests, and provide company. After Don Julian turned up dead, floating face down in a canal, his island remained untouched, occupied only by his four skinny dogs and, of course, the dolls.

Greene is a former corporate monkey smart enough to abandon it all who currently lives in Federal Hill. She has a studio at the Broom Factory and has been featured at Baltimore Gallery before. Her first show—mostly altered photos with architectural remnant frames—included but one photo of a doll.

Ravages of Time is a series of black-and-white photographs painted with oils and pastels post-development. A series of closeups showcases the dolls’ hollow eyes; smudged, spattered, and stained weathered texture; chipped, cracked, and tattered forms; and matted, clinging, and debris-tangled stringy hair.

One series captures Don Julian’s display methods: dolls hang from rafters and posts and in trees, with wires, coat hangers, chains, rope, and clotheslines securing them in place—and a doll head on a stake.

Greene can be too effective: In capturing the decaying, decrepit, and occasionally gruesome, her skillful touch can get lost or overlooked. In the end, she captures what she set out to—and does it well. Still, the show might disturb any who spent childhood cradling and cuddling dolls.

“When we age, we mature,” Gould says. “These dolls retain innocence even as they corrode. They remind us of youth and death at the same time. Baby dolls are children for children.

“You want to take care of them,” she says, looking over at one photo. “Or not.”

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