The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

In the galleries: Uncovering life’s fragility amid ecological losses

Artist’s works are an enduring reminder of environmental crises within a global consciousness

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Somewhere in most of Rosemary Feit Covey’s recent artworks are woodcut prints, detailed renderings of birds, bones and butterfly wings. But the zoological imagery can be deeply submerged in compositions so layered that they verge on being relief sculptures. The South Africa-born local artist’s “Descartes Died in the Snow” show, named for one of her mixed-media pictures on display at Morton Fine Art, both depicts and simulates nature’s fecundity.

The largest piece, and one of the oldest, 2017′s “Black Ice” is a monumental painting of a glacial scene stretched across eight vertical canvases in the manner of a traditional Japanese screen. It is simpler and more direct than many of these artworks, yet shares several qualities. It’s nearly monochromatic, portrays ecological threats and mixes customary artistic materials with shredded plastic, a substance that exemplifies mankind’s intrusions on the natural world.

Inspired in part by the organic networks generated by fungi, Covey fills her pictures with repeated organic forms, whether the animal skeletons of “Broken Earth” or the firefly-like pinpoints of “Panspermia III.” The latter is among the show’s most colorful works, but its many hues are buried in a complex array that appears black and white from a distance. The colors are subordinate to the whole, as are the recycled plastic mixed with pigment, or the tiny black magnets that hold in place the myriad collage pieces. Covey’s vision is of nature at risk, yet nonetheless growing abundantly and every which way.

Rosemary Feit Covey: Descartes Died in the Snow Through March 31 at Morton Fine Art, 52 O St. NW, No. 302. Open by appointment.

Jackie Hoysted

Since Ireland-born Maryland artist Jackie Hoysted has a background in computer science, it might seem logical that her idea of a garden would be the glowing electronic one she has cultivated within Glen Echo Park’s Stone Tower Gallery. Yet Hoysted, like Covey, takes cues from fungal networks. The model for her interactive “Symbiotica” is mycelium, a fungus that plays a crucial role in decomposing dead matter, in the process yielding nitrogen that forms the bulk of Earth’s atmosphere. “Without mycelium, life on this planet would not exist,” notes the artist’s statement.

“Symbiotica” comprises a field of glowing LEDs that sprout like mushrooms from sheaths made of discarded single-use plastic and biomaterial grown and cast from mycelium. Surrounding the installation are multiple handheld sensors that, when responding to a visitor’s pulse, switch the color from blue to yellow in nearby sections of the cyber-plantings. The effect is to illustrate the interconnectedness of mycelium — and of all living things.

Hoysted’s garden is a universe confined to a single room. But it’s also, as the use of plastic trash exemplifies, a world out of balance. Those color-shifting LEDs are alarm lights.

Jackie Hoysted: Symbiotica Through March 27 at Stone Tower Gallery, Glen Echo Park, 7300 MacArthur Blvd., Glen Echo.

Kang and Kim

Given the prevalence of computer-generated art these days, the title of the Korean Cultural Center’s “Cut Copy Paste” might be taken to refer to graphics-program commands. But Soon Yul Kang and Suhyeon Kim do their cutting and pasting by hand, grounding their work on such venerable media as canvas and mulberry paper. The two artists — both South Korea-born, although Kang now lives in Britain — combine minimalist aesthetics with the meticulousness of traditional crafts. Each describes her process as meditative.

Most of Kang’s intricate compositions are collages of her own writing, assembled into flat circles or 3D orbs. Using the Korean hangul alphabet, she repeatedly writes a single word, such as “love,” “mother” or “human,” and then shreds and arranges the text. One work features a sun-like red circle at the center of a blue field, but most of the pieces are in black and white. Striking a canny balance between the simple and the complex, Kang’s artworks can be grasped in a second yet reward minutes of close inspection.

Although both artists use blades, Kim is the more flamboyant cutter. She makes color-field paintings, including some with Gene Davis-like stripes, that she finishes by gashing with hundreds of small incisions. If some of the resulting pictures are as delicate as lace, the overall sense is of destruction rather than creation, which the artist underscores by sometimes heaping cutout pieces on the floor beneath a painting. The series “connotes death,” according to the artists’ statement. Yet the striped and dripped colors and incised patterns endow Kim’s art with dynamic life-force.

Soon Yul Kang and Suhyeon Kim: Cut Copy Paste Through March 23 at Korean Cultural Center, 2370 Massachusetts Ave. NW.

Daniela Libertad

The pencil and the human hand are integral to the minimalist work in Daniela Libertad’s show at the University of Maryland Art Gallery, but that doesn’t mean the Mexico-born, Germany-based artist is exhibiting only graphite drawings. Pencil whorls cover two large sheets of paper — one is gray, the other nearly black — included in Libertad’s “Yo Regreso a las Acciones Sencillas” (“I Return to Simple Actions”) show. But there’s also a video in which a pencil balances wobblingly near a wrist, and the titles of all the sleek, immaculately made artworks were written lightly on the walls in pencil by the artist.

The show’s centerpiece is a large, site-specific installation of off-white yarn wrapped between and around two pillars. The loops overlap in the center so that the whole resembles an infinity symbol. This insular construction alludes to the effects of the pandemic, notes the gallery’s statement.

In addition to yarn, paper and pencil — including a gray pile of eraser shavings on the floor — Libertad is drawn to copper. A cylinder covered in copper lies on the floor, and hanging from the ceiling are both a circular copper bar and a sort-of ladder of cutout paper rectangles. The hand makes more appearances in a series of three photos in which it’s inserted in various positions through holes in brick. The simplest of Libertad’s simple actions is merely to place her hand in relation to another everyday object.

Daniela Libertad: Yo Regreso a las Acciones Sencillas Through April 8 at the University of Maryland Art Gallery, Parren J. Mitchell Art-Sociology Building, University of Maryland, College Park.

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