Panty power

Abra is a rite of passage, the Playtex armor that signifies double-A or B-cup rank in the army of womanhood.

But panties are forever.

The fabric may change - from the day-of-the-week cotton of girlhood to the polyester leopard bikinis of barstool-hugging adulthood. And that slim stretch of fabric may modestly cover or brazenly announce What Lies Beneath. But the song remains the same. A girl's panties remain a closely guarded secret, shown only to a select few, and is as close as the liberated West may have to a veil.

Artist Erin Bennett has found a surprisingly rich and provocative subject for visual musing in her ode to panties at Young Blood Gallery.

Often slightly out-of-focus, the photographs of various women posed in their skivvies are shot mostly from the waist down and knees up. The angle emphasizes the heart of the matter - the charming little triangle formed by a panty and a pair of legs.

There are old Hollywood black briefs, boy cuts, innocent white Elvis panties, Hawaiian prints and polka dots in this cornucopia of pulchritude, like the various cuties on a cheesecake calendar. A winking, new burlesque attitude hangs over the show, from the stagey names (Nico, Gi Gi) that identify Bennett's subjects to the over-the-top showmanship of the hefty gold frames that put ironic quotation marks around the images.

But despite the hotsy-totsy connotations of a girl in her underwear, there is something downright sweet about the images in The Panty Project. All those rosebud navels, pouting bellies and miles of milky skin (though a dose of chocolate would have been nice amid all of the vanilla) amplify a kind of beauty in things left to the imagination. Those closed legs and triangles of cotton are like hands clasped in a lap or legs crossed at the ankle: iconically feminine and unabashedly sexy for their vive la difference.

And panties turn out, in Bennett's hands, to be a tidy way of expressing the post-modern girl's contradictions: enchanted by the retro demure but anxious for sexual liberation, a paradox of eros and innocence, woman and girl.

The Panty Project runs through Jan. 30 at Young Blood Gallery, 629 Glenwood Ave. Thurs., 2-7 p.m.; Fri.-Sun., noon-5 p.m. 404-627-0393. www.youngbloodgallery.com.??

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