Outside many Japanese temples and shrines, there’s a basin that contains water for purification; often water spills into the receptacle via a bamboo tube. Entering VisArts at Rockville’s Gibbs Street gallery is not much like approaching a Japanese temple. But Katherine Kavanaugh’s installation there, “Flux: Water and Sound,” manages to evoke the experience. The room is dominated by a piece that arrays nine bamboo tubes at various angles. Each drips water, at a different pace and volume, into a plastic trough.
The gallery is a standard art/industrial white box, altogether lacking a sylvan vibe. Rather than install rocks or shrubs to make the space more bucolic, the Baltimore artist conjures a Zen-style garden just with water’s motion and sound. “Moving water has a will of its own — uncontrollable, dynamic,” writes Kavanaugh. The liquid in this piece, which streams from an large, illuminated tank, is fairly well controlled. But the rippling water sparks small, unexpected variations in sound and light. These suggest the experiments in chance devised by noted American Zen enthusiast, John Cage.
That’s apt, since Cage was foremost a composer, and “Flux” is as much music as visual art. The show includes a series of bamboo staves and hammered-copper bowls, labeled “Instruments,” and the opening was marked by a performance by composer David Smooke and other musicians. A piece involving a copper cone and a semicircle of blue spatters on the wall is titled “Call and Response,” a musical term.
Smooke and his cohorts reportedly played the installation itself, but such intervention is not necessary to make “Flux” musical. Water and gravity, with a little help from bamboo tubes, do that on their own. Visually, the mix of bamboo and plastic doesn’t make for a cohesive whole. But with eyes closed, the call and response of dribbling water is transporting.
In Edo-period Japan, woodcuts portraying daily life, scenic vistas and actors and geishas were known as ukiyo-e — pictures of the floating world. Andrea Kraus’s Studio Gallery show, “Same Floating World,” uses the term more literally. These photographs, prints and paintings depict koi, the brightly colored decorative carp often found in the ponds of Japanese gardens.
Kraus doesn’t vary the subject, but she uses a range of styles and media. She makes linoleum prints and acrylic paintings with elements of collage, sometimes using Japanese paper or incorporating snippets of Japanese calligraphy. Despite such traditional elements, Kraus’s work also suggests pop art, with its taste for duplication and repetition. One painting, which bears the same title as the exhibition, divides a scene of swimming koi into 12 panels, as if it were a page from a comic book. But the delicate palette — mostly green, black and white, with hints of other hues — and supple lines are more akin to Asian ceramics than “Superman” (or Roy Lichtenstein’s comics-derived paintings). In these works, contemporary and historical aesthetics float gracefully together.
Long View Gallery calls Sondra N. Arkin’s work “process-driven,” which is another way of saying that it’s about nothing other than itself. But it’s easy to see these painstakingly crafted pieces as depicting life under a microscope: squiggly, random cells floating in water. This impression is boosted by the pictures’ sensation of depth. Arkin (who will give an artist’s talk Sunday at 2 p.m.) paints and stains with opaque walnut ink, but layering with transparent wax and shellac. Sometimes, she burns away parts of the image to produce irregular levels. The ultimate effect is that the forms, mostly loose circles and wavy lines, seem to be suspended just below the surface.
Like most artworks that execute variations on a theme, Arkin’s pictures gain power from being shown in profusion. The show includes many smaller, square pieces — 16 by 16 inches, slightly bigger than an LP cover — that are grouped together in handsome combinations. The colors are vivid, yet muted and watery, and sometimes suggestive of batik fabrics (which are also made with wax). The painting with the strongest sense of oceanic deeps is “Refractions II,” one of a pair of larger, horizontal works. It’s simply an collection of circles on a turquoise field, yet with whole worlds murkily visible beneath them. Arkin’s paintings have an immediate graphic appeal, but they also beckon viewers to peer at length into their expanses.
A transatlantic venture that offers residencies in Calabria, Lo Studio dei Nipoti (the Studio of the Grandchildren, Nieces and Nephews) cultivates artistic ties between southern Italy and Italian Americans (most of whom have roots in the country’s south). A group show named for the organization, currently at Hillyer Art Space, includes some work that seems very American — or at least very contemporary international art world. Calcagno Cullen, for example, contributed “Scar Stories,” simple wooden boxes that contain a bit of scarred “skin” and voice recording of the story of getting the scar. But the exhibition is also rich in textures that seem entirely Old World, as if some of the artists wanted to bring back chunks of the aged towns they’d visited.
That’s what Rose Michelle Taverniti did, in essence, with “Casa,” a large pencil drawing of a weathered facade rendered on a six-foot-high sheet of drafting film. Nancy Agati’s “eastwest” mounts mica on black paper, curved to suggest an open book, combining images of stonework and knowledge. Joan Giordano’s small encaustic paintings on board seem to portray architectural details. There are also several photographs of craggy surfaces, whether of a Sicilian wall clotted with the remains of torn posters or the hands of elderly people. Fabric works and a video of mesh used in olive harvesting also evoke the feel of everyday Italian life. One Giordano piece is a ribbed, cracked slab of red-brown encaustic on handmade paper whose title could apply to many of the works here. It’s called “Memory of Touch.”
Jenkins is a freelance writer.
VisArts at Rockville through Oct. 10. 155 Gibbs St., Rockville. 301-315-8200. www.visartscenter.org.
at Studio Gallery through Sept. 29. 2108 R St. NW. 202-232-8734. www.studiogallerydc.com.
at Long View Gallery through Sunday. 1234 Ninth St. NW. 202-232-4788. www.longviewgallery.com.
at Hillyer Arts Space, 9 Hillyer Ct. NW; 202-338-0680; www.artsandartists.org/hillyer.html.