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In the galleries: Hammocks focus on history, culture and some rest

Black artist’s work intersects race, background and economics to inform his perspectives

Sheldon Scott's “Jacobs Ladder, A Leisurely Stroll to Heaven for Black Folx.” (Sheldon Scott/Connersmith )
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D.C. performance artist Sheldon Scott is not known for lying down on the job. Ritualizing the role of Black labor in U.S. history, Scott has performed hard tasks at lengths that both test his endurance and represent the travails of his exploited ancestors. But he took a more restful approach in the June performance that inaugurated “Altar of Repose: I’m Gonna Lay Down … ‚” his Connersmith show: He reclined all day on a hammock stretched across the gallery’s front yard.

Inside the building are seven handmade hammocks that symbolize relaxation, but also craft, tradition and, of course, toil. The pieces are made primarily of white rope that the artist turned partly black by burning, tarring, painting or — in a piece that refers obliquely to noted African American performers — embellishing with sequins. Also dark are the shadows cast by the interlaced ropes, which sketch complex, mutable webs on the gallery's white walls.

For all the pieces, Scott drew on the braiding techniques of his birthplace, the South Carolina Lowcountry known for its Africa-rooted Gullah Geechee culture. Two of the assemblages have further sources: “I’m Coming Up,” which wraps multiple hammocks around a pole to yield a treelike whole, was partly inspired by “Ladder for Booker T. Washington,” a wooden sculpture by D.C.-rooted Black sculptor Martin Puryear. The biblical tale mentioned in its title sparked “Jacobs Ladder, A Leisurely Stroll to Heaven for Black Folx,” in which three hammocks are hung horizontally to resemble steps. But the hammocks are too far apart to be climbed with ease. Scott began “Altar of Repose” with the idea of repose, but his art always includes reminders of struggle.

Sheldon Scott: “Altar of Repose: I’m Gonna Lay Down … ” Through Aug. 6 at Connersmith, 1013 O St. Open by appointment.

The Space We Occupy

Originally presented at Manhattan’s Irish Arts Center, “The Space We Occupy” wasn’t designed for the space it currently occupies: a soaring atrium in the futuristic former Intelsat headquarters, lately home to Whittle School & Studios. Just before the opening of the show, which is sponsored by local Irish arts group Solas Nua, Whittle announced that it would close the D.C. location, a development that ironically complements the six Irish artists’ focus on change, decay and possible rebirth. It seems unlikely, though, that the site will soon fulfill the prophecy of contributor Katie Holton, who uses her own tree alphabet to spell out the phrase “This Will Be Forest Again.”

Holton’s are among the pieces mounted or suspended dramatically in the multistory chamber. George Bolster’s “You Are Made of Stardust” is a mobile of stylized celestial forms in glistening silver and gold. Bolster also offers “Extinctioneering: Soon Available Only in Museums,” a set of banners printed with photographs of natural-history dioramas in most unnatural shades of pink, green and purple.

Closer to eye level are Colin Crotty’s almost-neoclassical paintings of blurry people with just wisps of faces; Fiona Kelly’s etchings and wooden constructions with sprigs of nature imagery; and Ailbhe Ní Bhriain’s photographic collages of people, fabric and damaged quarry walls. Those walls resemble the 3D surfaces of Neil Carroll’s large collages, which are abstract but suggest abandoned buildings and graffiti-garnished storefronts. Placed in the pristine atrium, Carroll’s constructions appear both incongruous and a bit ominous, as if the artist had fast-forwarded to the building’s eventual ruin.

The Space We Occupy Through July 31 at Whittle School & Studios, 3400 International Dr. NW.

Singleton & Wu

One of Jenny Singleton’s principal inspirations is Islamic art, which generally forgoes representation, so it’s hardly surprising that her paintings are abstract. And yet there are bits of nature imagery, as well as embedded messages, in “Do It Anyway,” the Maryland artist’s Touchstone Gallery show. The engrossingly intricate “SOS (There Is No Planet B)” places simplified blue waves at the center of what might be an aerial-view desert landscape, and telegraphs “SOS” in Morse Code dots-and-dashes across the picture’s base.

Other paintings, most of which feature metallic pigments, contrast watery or plantlike tendrils with ornamentation that recalls fabric patterns or Persian illuminated manuscripts. “Shabaka,” which suggests a microscopic cosmos, is overlaid with delicate light-blue filigree. Such gestures may be derived from calligraphy, but they also hint at a world written by forces more powerful than a pen or brush.

Also at Touchstone is a show, titled with emoji for eyes, easel and picture, of sculptural paintings by Jenny Wu. The D.C. artist, who exhibits her work frequently, begins by layering multiple coatings of latex paint; when the fields are dry, she cuts them into small shards and arranges them in geometric patterns. The resin-coated assemblages resemble mosaics, with multiple strata that sometimes open to reveal a solid color at the bottom of the pile. The 3D collages appear both decorative and primal, like artificial tectonic plates lurching toward the making of a new continent.

Jenny Singleton: Do It Anyway and Jenny Wu: Eyes Easel Picture Through July 31 at Touchstone Gallery, 901 New York Ave. NW.

Emon Surakitkoson

Wide black brushstrokes meander through space — and, metaphorically, time — in Emon Surakitkoson’s recent mixed-media paintings. The Thailand-born D.C. artist’s show at Gallery Y, “What Was & What Will,” abstractly recounts a particular interval in recent history. Nor surprisingly, that period was the height of the covid-19 pandemic, when isolation encouraged artists to turn inward. The gallery’s statement also lists “economic insecurity, political instability and violent hate crimes” among the impetuses for this work.

Surakitkoson’s style is stark and geometric, but with a wealth of detail. The black-on-white pigment is arrayed in tight curves that alternately dovetail or interlock. The backdrops are usually white, but sometimes include large areas of thickly textured black, and the clean forms may be contrasted by drips or cracks. All these elements feature in “No. 32122,” in which twisting black ribbons divide the circular picture plane between a parched white top and a heathered black base. There’s a glimmer of landscape, and more than a little drama, to this depiction of time’s arrow on a loop-to-loop trajectory.

Emon Surakitkoson: What Was & What Will Through Aug. 5 at Gallery Y, YMCA Anthony Bowen, 1325 W St. NW.

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