GENERATING SPARKS Collins's Vein Dress.
Liz Collins's Doll Cave at AS220's Project Space (93 Mathewson Street, Providence, through May 23) drapes the gallery with loosely-knit walls that look like spider webs or giant white granny shawls. Some dangle from the ceiling like soft stalactites. Hidden inside the see-through veils and revealed by peek-a-boo vents are eerie plastic baby dolls. Most are suspended in the air by netting, as if snared by a spider and left to be devoured later.
The Cranston artist and RISD teacher's past projects have included team Knitting Nation crafty art extravaganzas and years designing ready-to-wear collections in New York. In her "Veins/New Life" show at AS220, she demonstrates her designer chops with Vein Dress, a gray silk, organza, and reflective slit film gown. It's bound with red and gray knit ropes that are the veins of the title, but it looks like something Spiderwoman would wear to the ball. Collins generates sparks with the attraction-repulsion of its S&M kink — the wearer could be tied up and/or the hungry spider waiting in the middle of the web.
At her best, Collins combines a knitting addiction, the sexuality and sensuality of high fashion, juvenile delinquency, and the alluring creepiness of goth and bondage. This taboo charge made her Sock Monkey Suit one of the standout pieces at the RISD faculty biennial exhibition in February. It was a slinky, knit bodysuit with the distinctive red and white sockmonkey lips placed at the genitals for an electric mix of child's toy and sex fetish.
But is there anything more eyeroll-inducing than creepy baby dolls? That's the danger Collins courts with goth and bondage — they easily fall into cliché and distract from her compelling vision. But she's mixing up strong ingredients — striking craftsmanship, obsessive knitting, seductive fashion, sexual taboos. It won't be long before it comes to a boil.
Providence artists Scott Lapham and Jonathan Bonner offer contrasting work at 5 Traverse Gallery (5 Traverse Street, Providence, through May 16). Lapham's "Sea Song" is six alluringly sensual black-and-white landscape photos from 2000 to '06. Here low tide reveals rocks covered with a rubbery shag rug of seaweed, rotting pilings sticking up from glassy water like strange teeth, while water slurps mysteriously around a submerged rock. In one image, a grove of cypresses blurred as they shivered during the exposure, creating an effect resembling a traditional Chinese ink drawing.
The image that haunts me is Bog, Maine, which shows a pool of water surrounded by lush bushes and trees in the distance. Careful viewing reveals Lapham puts only a vertical band in the center in focus, leaving the rest in a soft mysterious fog. That effect plus the composition makes the pool magnetic. It's a mirror, a window, a black hole, a mouth that draws you in and swallows you up.
Note how powerfully Lapham's photos suggest touch. Suspended in the middle of the room is his sculpture Perfectly Preserved Seashore #6 (2009), a jumble of plastic, foam, and wood junk that washed up onto some shore. I'm told Lapham covered it with layers of glue right at the water's edge until he could carry it back to his studio without it falling apart. The epoxy makes it look like it's covered with milky slime. This particular nasty gooey assemblage doesn't hold me, but Lapham's idea is strong — sticky found sculpture that reflects the way our plastic disposable culture litters the world.