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In the galleries: Recognizing our environmental emergencies

Exhibit illustrates critical consequences of climate change, pollution, deforestation and wildfires

“With us the future grows greener.” That slogan would be more persuasive if printed somewhere other than where photographer Todd R. Forsgren encountered it: on a plastic bag floating in the ocean. Pictures of that and 44 similar bags, many of which insipidly say “thank you,” are laid out in a grid in the artist’s “A Field Guide to Pelagic Plastic Bags.” The series is among the standouts of “Approaching Event Horizons: Projects on Climate Change.” The Mason Exhibitions Arlington show gathers thematically linked work by Atlantika Collective, a group of artists who generally have ties to the Washington region but live elsewhere in the United States and Europe.

Most of the entries involve photographic imagery, whether still or moving. Gabriela Bulisova photographed charred forests on two rolls of film that she then crumpled and digitally scanned, yielding damaged pictures of destroyed places. Equally stark and panoramic are Mark Isaac’s upward-gazing photos of tree canopies outlined against white skies. Employing color rather than black and white, Katie Kehoe superimposed wildfires over pictures of areas to which she has a personal connection — and which, so far, have not burned. The photos in Sue Wrbican’s “Before the Ghost” sequence are abstracted, but their bright-orange swells evoke fire, perhaps of the petrochemical variety.

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Closer to home, Billy Friebele enlisted artificial intelligence and a two-part video rig to explore the Anacostia River. The resulting photos and videos — one of which screens on a large, low-definition monitor in the plaza outside the gallery — gaze both above and below the water line. The AI-generated digital stills produced in the process are murky and mucky, yet oddly beautiful.

Atlantika Collective: Approaching Event Horizons: Projects on Climate Change Through Oct. 1 at Mason Exhibitions Arlington, 3601 Fairfax Dr., Arlington.

Matt Leedham

When the pandemic forced the globe-hopping photographer Matt Leedham to stay home, he curled up with a good book — one he made himself. The Virginia artist collected some of his pictures into a volume, in the process educating himself about Asian handmade paper and European bookbinding techniques. Some of the results are on display in “Recto/Verso,” a Multiple Exposures Gallery exhibition that takes its title from the front (or right) and back (or left) of a leaf of printed paper.

Several copies of the book are on display, opened to pages that juxtapose such rhyming photos as “Open/Closed”; a rectangular cavern portal that reveals sky beyond (verso); and a stone-framed doorway blocked by a pile of rocks (recto). Leedham didn’t restrict himself to a single format, though. The show also includes photo-based scrolls, an extremely horizontal “accordion book” and multiple 3D “tunnel books” that allow the viewer to gaze past outer images to view partly concealed inner ones.

Leedham doesn’t identify his photos’ locations, but language sometimes offers a clue: Two tunnel books feature signs in Thai and Japanese, respectively. The Japanese text is next to a set of rail-car windows behind which the photographer has inserted sweeping outdoor scenes. Exterior becomes interior — or verso becomes recto — in Leedham’s wittily jumbled tableaux.

Matt Leedham: Recto/Verso, A Pandemic in Codex Through Oct. 2 at Multiple Exposures Gallery, Torpedo Factory, 105 N. Union St., Alexandria.

Elizabeth Casqueiro

Parts of Elizabeth Casqueiro’s pictures are loose and fluid, splotched and drippy. Yet viewers of her Athenaeum show might well guess, correctly, that the Portugal-born local artist trained as an architect. Casqueiro’s creations include crisp, straight lines and clean, rectangular blocks, and some incorporate precise renderings of classical buildings or land-use plans. This architectonic quality makes them compatible with the work of the venue’s other current featured artist, Jean Sausele-Knodt, whose 3D wall sculptures have been reviewed in this column previously.

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Casqueiro’s style pits soft vs. hard, line vs. color and paint vs. ink. Bright hues dominate, yet there are also stark black forms and areas of neutral gray and tan. Flowers often appear, sometimes painted but often outlined as carefully as in a botanical guidebook. Floral forms can also occur in more decorative schemes, echoing fabric or wallpaper designs.

On balance, the painting-drawings are more calculated than intuitive, yet the first impression they give is quite the opposite. Close observation takes the eye from color to form, and into compositions that are more intricate than they initially seem. In a sense, Casqueiro’s pictures are like buildings, revealing details as they’re entered and traversed.

Elizabeth Casqueiro Through Oct. 2 at the Athenaeum, 201 Prince St., Alexandria.

Choi & Song

In separate local group shows, the Korean-born, U.S.-based artists WonJung Choi and Ahree Song explore the idea of transformation. Choi took the top award in this year’s Trawick Prize, whose winners are featured in a Gallery B exhibition. Song is one of three artists featured in the Korean Cultural Center’s technology-themed “True and False.”

Choi’s prints and drawings are something of an art-history — or art-prehistory — joke. She devised a genealogical chart that imagines the offspring of two artifacts, unearthed in what is now Germany, that have been dated to 35,000 to 40,000 years old: the “lion-human” and the “Venus of Hohle Fels.” Choi supposes that the mating of the angular lion-human and the bulbous Venus would have gradually led to people who look more like contemporary humans. In this scenario, mutation leads to normality.

Song doesn’t have to guess what her evolutionary experiment would yield. Her “Contained Time” is a red bell pepper coated with urethane primer, an industrial waterproofing material, and allowed to decay. Isolated from air, the vegetable liquefied, yet retained its shape and color. The result is a plastic replica of a pepper that is, also, an actual pepper. “Contained Time” is as bright and shapely as a piece of pop art, and yet offers an eerie commentary on science’s ability to denature organic objects.

The Trawick Prize: Bethesda Contemporary Art Awards Through Oct. 2 at Gallery B, 7700 Wisconsin Ave., #E, Bethesda.

True or False Through Oct. 3 at the Korean Cultural Center, 2370 Massachusetts Ave. NW.