Local artist Dana Duff makes an auspicious solo debut with a series of sculptures and drawings that explore the relationship between the autonomous object and our tendency to transform it into metaphorical essences. The work's tension and interest derives from the fact that this phenomenological tug-of-war is unwinnable. Duff imbues her imagery with such arresting ambiguity that every time we think we have deciphered a particular meaning, the piece quickly reconstitutes itself as a new allegory or mythology.
Duff achieves this enigmatic immediacy through a series of simple dialectics, in which object/image, painting/photography, underlying process/surface appearance both complement and undermine each other. Duff's charcoal drawings, for example, with their abstract depictions of spirals, ripples, whorls and furrowed surfaces, look like grainy photo enlargements of hair follicles or tightly cropped graphic illustrations of distant galaxies. By blurring the distinction between macro- and micro-universes, between the organic plasticity of charcoal and the cold repetition of mechanical reproduction, Duff is able to deny a clear conceptual rationale. Thus the "foreignness" of discovery is not only manifest but critical.
Similarly, Duff's floor and wall "sculptures," rendered in industrial materials and drawing upon largely Minimalist tenets, elicit contradictory responses. As finely crafted objects that stop you dead in your tracks, they both cry out their autonomy and encourage interpretation. Thus "Catholic Object," with its hanging wooden grid surrounding a tiny door, could be seen either as a trellis-like form, a dangling Modernist metaphor, a reductive confessional or a witty homage to Sol LeWitt. As in all of Duff's work, what seems to have burned indelibly into the memory banks, is rarely the same when we look at it a second or third time. (Piezo Electric, 21 Market St., to April 12.)