The transience of existence is fixed permanently in Marissa Long’s fascinating photographs of piled-up, mostly organic materials. The images in “Offerings,” at Civilian Art Projects, are beautifully lighted, carefully composed and rooted in Western fine-art tradition. They recall those still-life paintings that contemplate mortality, or simply flaunt a hunter’s latest victims. But the evocation of death and decay isn’t necessarily grim. There’s also an agreeably playful side to Long’s work that suggests she’s more of a surrealist than a classicist.
In such compositions as “Halves Huddle,” the subject seems self-evident. It’s a pile of cut fruit and vegetables in the beginnings of putrefaction, its messiness countered by golden light. Other pictures, however, are more ambiguous. In “Honey Snakes,” reptilian coils twist through a visual pun: a mound of flour and flowers. But is the partially seen serpent real or rubber?
Such cagey juxtapositions prompt double takes and prolonged inspections. The principal ingredients of “Animal” are a brown wig and a slice of red, meat-like matter. The photo suggests a creature whose furry flesh has been cleaved, or perhaps a human whose skull has been split. The intent could be to highlight the fragility of life, or just to fool the eye.
The deteriorated items in Long’s photos are not always organic; she also shows dripping, half-melted candles and bits of confetti whose colors have run after being doused with water. Pitting the banal against the beautiful, “Rainbow Gelatin” piles some potato chips against a mound of shimmery, prismatic goo. The gelatin, like these pictures’s mushrooms, fish, sponges and such, must have been soft and yielding. But here, photographed crisply against a black background, it becomes as hard as a diamond. As Long’s models rot, this impeccably rendered instant will shine on.
Marissa Long: Offerings
On view through Oct. 19
at Civilian Art Projects,
1019 Seventh St NW; 202-607-3804; www.civilianartprojects.com
This is Labor
Making sculpture can be heavy work, and “This Is Labor: Washington Sculptors Group Juried Exhibition” includes some monumental pieces. But this exhibition, curated by Anne Reeve and Claire D’Alba and on display at Visarts’ Kaplan Gallery, includes relatively little stone and steel. Millicent Young’s “(un)Furl” hangs a curtain of horsehair from a dried grapevine, and several other entries are made principally of fabric. One of them, Elsabe Dixon’s “One Hundred Silk Discs,” adds a conceptual flourish by charting how much the hanging circles are worth at different levels of compensation, from minimum wage to master’s degree.
Some of the artists turn hard materials into lighter forms. Nizette Brennan’s “Labor” is mostly stone but suggests a pair of oversized wooden shoes. Jeffrey Cooper’s “A Character” uses nine planks of wood to mimic calligraphic strokes. Paul Steinkoenig and Adam Robert Hager both repurpose industrial material into unexpectedly delicate constructions; the former’s “Building Blocks” uses glass block, salvaged steel and copper pipes in three airy boxes, while the latter’s “Jack’s a dull boy” is a standing paddle of reclaimed wood, framed by tire tread.