It is always interesting to see what fledgling artists are creating when their ideas are incipient and their forms just evolving. Even more interesting, perhaps, is how a curator can discern a theme among disparate works to create a cohesive, even piquant, show.
At first viewing, "un-attached: Works by Mary Washington College Art Students" at Main Art Gallery, curated by Carole Garmon, an assistant professor of sculpture at Mary Washington who received her M.F.A. at VCU in 1996, seems formally united yet thematically ambiguous.
However, the dictionary definition of the word "unattached," while literally referring to the opposite of being joined, contains nuances that make it particularly relevant to the works presented.
"Unattached: 1. Not joined, especially to surrounding tissue." Peter Dubins' two sculptures are cast amputations of the human body. "Other Side of the Shield," for example, is a pair of white-plaster buttocks with antlers attached and mounted like a deer head on the wall. By unattaching this sensitive body part and elevating it to trophy level, he questions the ideals of corporal perfection.
"Unattached: 2. Not committed to or dependent on another person, group, or organization." The art of both Miriam Tobias and Erin Smith seems to subtly enact this particular definition. Tobias' "63 Buddhas" comprises tiny identical Buddha figurines placed in a row on a wooden ledge. Manipulating each to vary color and meaning, Tobias rather irreverently transforms Buddha into a flower, a Santa Claus and even a Smurf. Yet, the multivalent sides of Buddha and his noble truth of detachment from material things are whimsically played out here.
The exquisitely reticent tiles by Erin Smith also relate to a lack of dependence on a group. Smith places her tiles on wooden boxes and lines them in a grid on the wall. The creamy, cloudlike coloring of the tiles works cohesively when they are grouped, but they just as easily could stand autonomously as individuals. Like watching cells part and merge under a microscope, Smith's forms quietly diffuse and reconnect in a matrix of nebula.
"Unattached: 3. Not engaged, married, or involved in a serious sexual or romantic relationship." Wendy Padgett documents her childhood collection of Barbie dolls through photography. Per her statement, she first took pictures of them as she found them, nude, roped together and jammed into a plastic case. Then, Padgett "played" with them as she did as a child and recorded the results. These vivid color photographs show Barbie frolicking on Black Beauty, as a cowgirl in boots and hat, beheaded, and even more pruriently, clumped together with Ken in a jumbled orgy of plastic insipid smiles.
Jac Bonner's "Weathering Perfection" is the hardest piece to fit under the "unattached" rubric. It is a wall piece consisting of a wooden wheel with black-and-white photographs mounted around the circumference and covered with a filmy plastic circle. Hanging to the left is a pair of blinders. The viewer can turn the wheel with a plastic knob so the photos spin and become individually framed within a clear square. Bonner states that the piece deals with our obsession with perfection. The blinders, hence, serve as a wake-up call to ignoring obscured perceptions and to seeing things more clearly, unfettered.
"un-attached" is more than dictionary definitions, as these students persuasively demonstrate. While some of the works lack artistic maturity, all carry a worthy concept that with time and experience will grow to