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Art

Road to Nowhere

Ceci N'est Pas Une Carte

ENDLESS SEA: a detail of kazue taguchi's "Ilum d'Onada."

By Deborah McLeod | Posted 4/16/2008

Ethnography of No Place:At Goucher College's Rosenberg Gallery through May 2

What do we already know of the whereabouts of No Place? For starters, it seems to be a site built on a plinth of puns. The Greeks constructed the word "Utopia" from ou (no) and tottos (place), demonstrating the sentimental calculation behind Dorothy's semiconscious, back-in-Kansas chant, "There's no place like home." Setting up a parallel realm by associating tottos with the prefix eu (good), the ancients gave rise to a second state--"Eutopia," the Land of Oz, the seekers' ideal place. Somewhere along the way, "no place" and "good place" fused, punting the seemingly vestigial "e," forever establishing the relationship between an ideal existence and its frustrating tendency toward nonexistence.

The notorious expatriate writer Gertrude Stein more recently provided the world with another useful concept of No Place when she said of her childhood home, California, "There is no there there." So it appears that, owing either to our flight instinct or our inability to discern detail, many of us know, or feel we know, more about No Place than we know about Place--which is why Laura Amussen's curatorial contribution to the citywide map extravaganza, The Ethnography of No Place, at Goucher College's Rosenberg Gallery, is particularly salient. It features seven artists, and each provides some furtive evidence of situations that, while not concerned with ethnicity in the regular sense, do break down the ambiguous suspicion or artifice of No Place into building blocks and fables.

Kazue Taguchi's sensational, furling and unfurling mirrored Mylar wave "Llum d'Onada" eddies and surges, refracting looping light across the show's grand title wall. This pyrotechnically glorious, watery piece is much like a tempestuous sea, one that--for the purposes of No Place--appears to deluge and purify the space and carry viewers across to new lands.

In the fixed distance--blanched a sporadic white in the jewel thicket of Isabel Manalo's dappled and blistered trees--is the natural landscape of this hypothesis of No Place. Manalo provides hints of children who silently populate its partly extant glens and forests to slip shyly through the watery-colored overgrowth, as pale pink, barely perceptible silhouettes. Like a more benign version of Nathaniel Hawthorne's "Rappaccini's Daughter," these children's innate perfection and innocence, nurtured in such a tempting garden of uncertainties and absences, might be subject to the diminishing atmosphere and decomposing glare that Manalo's vegetation endures, yet respond by becoming essentially eternal.

Across No Place's carpeted plains, Aili Schmeltz's phosphorescent coral strung-thread mountain range floats in midair. This impressively time-consuming, spontaneously elaborate work nonetheless recalls the too palpable experience of being in the front row of a ballet production. The labor of the craft overwhelms the prestidigitation of it. This is not to say that the work is without witchcraft, but Schmeltz might not let us get so near if she desires to transport us. The work's lyricism and wonder are in full sway in the promo photos, and would likely convey similarly if it were sited at a greater distance, mitigating the messy obviousness of the nails and hastily piled string. But maybe that is what the artist wishes--to humanize her piece or disclose the ruse that might be seduced by the concept's portrait. That, after all, is the blunt truth of the ballerina as the floor beneath her takes its pounding.

Leah Bailis' claustrophobic chain-link pen is unimaginably constructed of painstakingly cut cardboard in place of the usual galvanized metal. In this case, knowing what it's made of and how it is made enhances both her fragile sculpture's deception and its ascendancy. Its inherent statement is thoroughly intractable in its implications. As curator Amussen aptly writes in her statement, "Ballis' barriers represent the tension of what is deemed worthy of protection, and the perceived danger from which the space is protected." In either role, this little ready pen preserves nothing from inner captivity or value, nor outer freedom or assault. It is a beautiful effigy.

Jean Jacques Rousseau said civilization and its countless inequities and injuries began with the first fence. Chain link is probably the über-motif for Eutopia's dearth but, contradictorily, stands tall for the perpetual supremacy of No Place.

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