Because their principal components are video projections, Rachel Schmidt’s landscape installations are essentially illusory. Yet they wouldn’t exist without the actual places, including Panama and Taiwan, where the local artist has had residencies. Her latest such sojourn was in Scotland, which Schmidt has brought back with her — virtually — in the form of “Cairn Sounds,” now planted in a darkened Hamiltonian Gallery.
The show’s title refers, in part, to the piles of stones that punctuate the open land on the Isle of Skye, where Schmidt spent several months last year. The other titular element is a clanging, rippling soundtrack by Baltimore percussionist om.era.kev. (Like Dan Deacon, his better-known sometime collaborator, the musician is clearly well acquainted with Steve Reich’s gamelan-inspired compositions.)
Schmidt’s videos observe distinctive scenery and features, such as the thick-coated sheep seen in several of the pieces. The looped mini-movies also record human desecration of pristine vistas, notably an old television set somehow abandoned in a stream. It’s an odd and even comic example of litter, but one that could hardly be more a perfect find for a videographer.
Some of the moving images document the artist’s interventions in the scenery, such as a tree to which she tied articles of clothing; the fluttering garments are echoed by various scrims hung in front of the projections. Other videos, altered after the fact, are jumbled by pixelated areas and glitchy effects such as a sheep that haunts one vignette with its jerky, ghostly presence.
Besides the hanging fabric, the pieces incorporate 3-D elements, such as a real drum kit and, in a tableau titled “Trash Cairn,” a pile of paper-cast bottles. Such throwaways are as commonplace as the Isle of Skye is exotic, and a reminder that humans make similar messes wherever they live or travel.
Across the river, another Schmidt installation is closer to being part of its environment. The artist has previously shown a work in which white pieces hovered above the floor, evoking glacial ice that breaks and detaches from larger floes as the Earth warms. She constructed similar forms for “Distort Displace” but covered them in AstroTurf to suit the site: the front lawn of the Arlington Arts Center.
To add whimsy, and beckon passersby into this little world, the artist has affixed lawn chairs to the raised platforms. On a nice day, the seats must be a pleasant place to sit and ponder the planet’s accelerating crackup.
The concept of “Stretch,” an invitational show at Greater Reston Arts Center, is to ask five Virginia and D.C. artists to expand their ideas or methods. The results are diverse and include documentation of an eco-aware performance piece and a spare stone-and-light sculpture.
Katie Kehoe undertook a series of walks in East Coast cities from Washington to Nova Scotia to spotlight rising sea levels. Her action is chronicled by photos, videos and gear, including the kickboards the artist carried as she strolled along waterfronts that might soon be swimmable.
Melanie Kehoss turns to the past for the lessons of “Bitter Sweeter,” a history of sugar that includes its role in the trans-Atlantic slave trade. The story is told in five chapters, silhouetted in light boxes; these are supplemented by an array of confections inside antique glass containers.
Harry Mayer also employs ready-made objects, building fantastic contraption objects mostly from construction materials. These include a seesaw assembled from two ladders and a grove of tall white PVC pipes, embedded in concrete blocks and with pink doll hands at their tops. These armlike extensions are the show’s most playful embodiment of “stretch.”
James Huckenpahler, who often shows computer-generated video work, here exhibits three large prints that recall 1960s op art. The images are abstract but hint at their origins in cartoon and video game animation.
The quietest piece, secluded in a nook of its own, is Monroe Isenberg’s “Stone,” whose title object is slit and illuminated from inside. A triangle of light frames the rock in its dimmed space, where it sits as a sort of ritual object. “Stone” can be seen as a minimalist’s homage to sacred traditions that are largely lost or forgotten.
Stretch Through Feb. 9 at Greater Reston Arts Center, 12001 Market St., Reston.
Several visual conversations chatter in “Bold Planet,” Matt Leedham and Tom Sliter’s show at Multiple Exposures Gallery. Sliter’s black-and-white horizontal photographs hang on a gray wall in two parallel series: sand on top and ice on the bottom. They speak to each other, as well as to Leedham’s color pictures, which are more diverse in format and location — and which pop from a red surface.
Whether shooting Antarctica or New Mexico’s White Sands, Sliter displays an austere style and an eye for rippling patterns drawn by wind or meltwater and underscored by shadows. Both ice field and desert offer gradations of white and gray, strongly contrasted by dark areas that include skies whose original blues become intense blacks.
Leedham’s pictures are as lush as his cohort’s are stark. From India to China to Iceland, Leedham focuses most often on places of abundant green, in either sweeping horizontal or ascending verticals. The images are crisp but shot with long exposures that turn the action of clouds and waterfalls into cottony blurs. Both photographers place the viewer in the midst of grand natural vistas, but Sliter’s images appear incised in time and space, while Leedham’s seem about to spring to life.
Matt Leedham and Tom Sliter: Bold Planet Through Feb. 10 at Multiple Exposures Gallery, Torpedo Factory, 105 N. Union St., Alexandria.
Don't Push Us Out
A collaboration between the Legal Aid Justice Center and ART180, a Richmond children’s art center, “Lift Us Up, Don’t Push Us Out” uses audio, photography and murals to convey the experience of incarcerated youth.
The centerpiece of the Art League Gallery show is a virtual-reality headset that imprisons the wearer in a jail cell. A minute within the simulated space is sufficient. Spending months or even years there is hard to imagine.
Lift Us Up, Don’t Push Us Out Through Feb. 3 at the Art League Gallery, Torpedo Factory, 105 N. Union St., Alexandria.