Monday, August 03, 2009

Access Denied

In the contemporary imagination, the chastity belt holds a place in close kinship with medieval devices of torture. As a mechanical restraint upon the human organism, the chastity belt exists as an object of curiosity alongside the iron maiden and the rack. Unlike the others, however, the chastity belt is meant to restrict pleasure rather than inflict pain. As part of Metal-Urge, the Tacoma Art Commission’s summer-long celebration of the metal arts, the gallery space known simply as Mineral has invited a variety of regional artists to create their own version of the chastity belt. The resulting show, entitled “Entrance Denied: the Art of the Chastity Belt,” opened July 18 and runs through Sept. 5. The walls and display cases within Mineral’s cozy space are filled with a wide variety of “chastity belts” submitted for the show. Some are fitted onto white mannequin torsos that are mounted on the walls. A number of the artists have used the form of the chastity belt – i.e. a cumbersome or imposing garment meant to be fastened around the loins ­– as a template upon which to construct a similar device using their own particular media. Lauren Osmolski’s “The Guardian,” for example, is a mask-like face (that appears to be an owl with curly antenna) made of brass and copper. It has leather straps (made by Amy Pomering) to fasten it upon the pelvis of its display mannequin. Trained as a blacksmith, Osmolski brings traditional metalworking techniques to the fore in the creation of works that draw upon such disparate sources as Northwest Coast Indian art and the art nouveau movement. Other artists approach the concept of the chastity belt from a philosophical point of view, exploring the whole idea of chastity itself. Bill Dawson, for example, asserts that marketing is the new chastity. Consumerist culture values objects that are pristine and hermetically sealed in their plastic packaging. Dawson thus presents a computer mouse that is kept forever pure inside its plastic wrapping. It is presented like a jewel at the center of a kind of elongated shield fashioned out of steel. Julia Lowther and Mineral owner Lisa Kinoshita also present versions of the chastity belt that are visually beautiful results of a rather thoughtful analysis of the idea of chastity and how that translates into a contemporary worldview. Lowther’s “Pathological Purity” is expertly crafted out of sterling silver links. Most of the artists approach the outlandish idea of the chastity belt with sharp humor. Foremost among these is Tacoma artist Lynn DiNino, whose wild contraption is entitled “Natural Selection Protection (she hears his coming, she RUNS).” DiNino puts a spin on the chastity belt by making it something worn by a man instead of a woman. Full of bells and chimes, the chastity belt is designed to give a clear warning of the approach of its imagined wearer so that any women in the vicinity will know to stay away. The belt is also accessorized with items that poke fun at stereotypical male behaviors that women might find unappealing. There are garlic cloves to produce a bad smell and a package of saltine crackers that the man might use to make crumbs in the bed. Dorothy Cheng and Naomi Landig present a set of five beautifully crafted chastity belts made as accessories for a Barbie doll. By making the chastity belt a mere accessory of the “prolifically outfitted Barbie,” the artists seek to highlight “the absurdity of a sexless but sexualized toy wearing a garment which was originally imagined to prevent the act of sex.” “Entrance Denied: the Art of the Chastity Belt” touches both the intellect and the funny bone and is well worth an excursion to Mineral. It is located 301 Puyallup Ave.

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