The snares, lairs and restraint mechanisms that Judith Brotman’s new sculptures evoke are all of the illusory sort. Brotman has a masterful ability to procure emotionally provocative scenarios from very simple materials: strips and sheets of thick gray felt, metal springs and hooks, black plastic thread and chains of various lengths and sizes, all of which are wrapped, tied, folded or sutured together in a manner that suggests bondage games, law enforcement, or torture.
A group of small sculptures in the first room reside on the playful end of this spectrum. We see multiple wrist and ankle-sized cuffs made of grey felt, a phallic fabric tube wrapped in turquoise mesh and pink lace, and a “whip” formed from two thin rolls of paper bound together and affixed with a chain. Some sculptures have hairy black threads sewn into their surfaces, which spin the associations towards genitalia.
In the back room, the work feels tougher as connotations shift away from sex teases towards penal discipline. At the same time, we begin to realize that Brotman has stealthily lured us into a trap of our own making, where flaccid loops become handcuffs, spray-painted paper tubes become steel billy clubs, flayed felt arranged just so becomes a mask, a leash, a noose. Whether angling for love or sex or writ large in war, power, Brotman’s works suggest, is all a mind-game. The desire to keep playing is the trap we ultimately can’t escape; the apparatuses by which we play are just feints that allow us to continue. (Cluadine Isé)
Through May 8 at ThreeWalls, 119 N. Peoria