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Ellen Durkin: Blindheaded by Al Zaruba

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Blindheaded: Ellen Durkin
Location: Towson Unversity – Center for the Arts MFA Holtzman Gallery
Reception: Thursday, March 26, 2009 from 7:30 – 9 p.m.
Gallery Hours: Tues – Saturday, 11 a.m. – 4 p.m.
Information: www.towson.edu/artscalendar

When visual art operates at its best, we are challenged to think and see in unexpected ways, which brings us to understand the human condition from a broader perspective, or to see in directions we had not yet encountered. Few artists these days achieve this level of incandescent vision- work that is impossible to ignore while delivering a range of complex psychological, social and spiritual interactions in well-crafted forms. Many blue chip collectors in the area assume that one needs to travel to New York or beyond to find work that explodes beyond the provincial into the universal- work that can arrest the jaded, convert the cynical, or make the blind see.

Durkan says she’s interested in the human form with limitations placed upon the body. That’s about the same as the Marquis de Sade telling us he rather likes leather corsets. Durkin has furiously hammered out an astonishing array of increasingly crafted, detailed metal sculptures and marvelous large drawings that, with a rare authority, sweep aside certain fashion perspectives of the female form and the male gaze.


She delivers a stunning plunge into the darker side of women under constriction, without going over the top or falling into the trap of the obvious or the literal. Yet the work also balances a transcendent state of contrasts that dig deep into the psychological and spiritual dilemmas of the human condition and its desires and denials.

On one hand, she puts lovely naked women into rigid steel dresses that reveal much and that will likely drive many to distraction. Yet in doing so, she places them out of reach, precariously balanced in frameworks that would impale all enflamed would-be lovers.

The dresses are a tremendous visual and psychological tease, darkly funny and yet anchored into the animal instincts in a nervy way that enshrines and visually lifts each woman into an alpha state of dominance. The contradiction between appearance and function, power and helplessness is profound. On one hand, this will give coronaries to the prudish or faint-hearted, who will yet be unable to pinpoint any obscenity, and on the other hand, arouse the fantastic imaginings of a post apocalyptic Road Warrior’s dream mate come true. Echoes bounce from the Dark Crystal to Blade Runner and into cyberspace.

Yet, her visionary drawings are in certain implications, ahead and outside the current sculptural developments. They are fierce- and far more complex in their arresting juxtapositions. One aspect that is offered up points into the undertow of our shadow fears- a whisper of Star Trek’s nightmarish Borg- only more evolved and without the cartoon horror- tense implications that synthesize machines and humanity. They contain and hide and envelope a state of being that does not reveal itself as willing, helpless or in control. Yet that question dances in and out of the maddening complex of Durkan’s inventiveness. Yet, they are also quite beautiful, refreshingly original and haunting. Full of contradictions, they evoke an uneasy, trance-like presence that sings of sleeping cyborgs effecting self-changes even as we watch, mutating and shifting towards a groundless unknown. They emanate their own authority- but an oblique authority that may wake to madness and desperation. In certain ways they question our increasing dependence upon science and medical developments for the sake of our obsession with eternal youth. It is this socio-political eddy that most intrigues- what comes out of this remarkable work? What follows? Where is Ellen Durkin headed? Where are we headed?

– Alzaruba

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