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Porter's silent little figures could tell us lots


Liliana Porter's charming but philosophically fraught visual fantasies, on view at Goya Contemporary gallery, come wrapped in the glittery, bright primary colors one associates with all the good things about childhood, like boxes of chocolates covered in foil or cunningly wrapped Christmas presents under the tree.

Indeed, the nominal subjects of Porter's large-format color photographs are mostly children's playthings: tiny figures of princesses, clowns, ballerinas and circus acrobats; stuffed dogs and carved wooden reindeer; porcelain-skinned dolls and other adorable personages that look as if they just emerged from some youngster's toy chest.

Porter stage manages this colorful cast of characters with the deft hand of a theater director putting actors through their paces. A diminutive tin workman in blue waves frantically at a monstrously out-of-scale glass parrot, who seems oblivious to his presence. An absurdly over-groomed French poodle gazes narcissistically at its own image in a mirror. A crimson ceramic rabbit angrily turns its back on a picture of itself lying on the floor in pieces.

After a while, one realizes that these whimsical scenarios populated by delightfully anthropomorphic creatures are stand-ins for the kind of adult dilemmas that result from our apparently limitless capacity to misunderstand one another. Porter's images are deliciously subversive little metaphors for the unhappy realization that miscommunication may be our eternal lot in life.

Porter's diminutive dramatis personae, so superficially lovable, in fact cannot love anyone, nor be loved in return, because no matter how hard they try they can never make themselves known to each other. If communication presupposes the existence of an Other, then its opposite -- the inability to communicate -- implies a kind of nonexistence. For what does it mean to exist if others don't even know you're there?

Porter cloaks this existential dilemma in the unthreatening guise of childhood fantasy. But the dilemma is no less real for all that, nor are its consequences any less painful. We are cut off from others in ways that rob us of our humanity and diminish our potential, and the realization of our essential aloneness in the world, alas, is simply one of the prices we pay for leaving childhood behind.

Liliana Porter: Recent Works runs through June 30 at Goya Contemporary, 3000 Chestnut Ave., Suite 210. Call 410-366-2001.


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