From a distance, Heloisa Escudero’s small assemblages look like fun. Made principally of candy-colored salvaged materials, the two dozen concoctions resemble homemade toys. But these are “Tools for the Mind” — the title of her show at the BlackRock Center for the Arts — and many are designed to banish dread.

Four of the simple machines are marked “do not touch,” usually because they hold small, partly concealed video screens. The rest are interactive and come with precise instructions. To employ tool No. 21, for example, the user is directed to imagine a fear inside the container and then stab it with a wooden skewer. One device is a noisemaker; another is a pull toy connected to a jar filled with non-recyclable snack packaging. Several have tiny movable parts, including red strings that can be arranged in a form of 3-D drawing.

The Brazil-bred local artist works with castoffs rather than new materials because one of her fears is climate change fueled by human overconsumption. But not all of Escudero’s phobias are science based, and one non-interactive piece contains stuffing removed from her pillow after a run of bad dreams. The elementary tasks the artist details for gallery-goers are meant to encourage “positive envisioning, meditation and non-religious prayer,” according to a gallery note. But maybe they’re also meant to unite gallery-goers into a team to combat the artist’s terrors.

Heloisa Escudero: Tools for the Mind Through Feb. 22 at BlackRock Center for the Arts, 12901 Town Commons Dr., Germantown.

Matthew McLaughlin & Brett Ferguson Schiezer

There’s a palpable sense of space in Matthew McLaughlin’s prints, which suggest maps, landscapes and architectural drawings. But who could inhabit these abstracted realms? In the six collaborations featured in Pyramid Atlantic Art Center’s “Spatial Rapport,” McLaughlin’s territory is claimed by figures from the collages of Brett Ferguson Schiezer, the show’s other contributor. Schiezer’s photo-derived interlopers turn McLaughlin’s austere compositions into mid-20th-century American suburbia.

The artists are longtime friends who constructed the combined works across a divide. (McLaughlin lives in Maryland, Schiezer in Ohio.) Their individual pieces are different in look and mood, yet use similar techniques. Both artists collage digital images, print them on panels and then finish the pictures by hand, applying ink, pencil and foil. But where McLaughlin arrays inkblot continents and seemingly receding lines, Schiezer scatters pictures of dogs, old cars and baby boomers when they were still babies (or at least hadn’t yet reached puberty). These time travelers, some of whom recur in multiple pictures, live on planes of graduated pastel hues, secured in wooden boxes.

McLaughlin’s collages are more cohesive, but both artists simulate three dimensions. Schiezer’s flat people treat this imaginary depth as if it’s for real. They seem to walk, perch or pull on the stripped-down scenery. In “Spatial Rapport #1,” children appear on parallel bars of color as if they’re climbing a monumental staircase.

Aside from technique, the two collaborators also share a concern for how people fit into their surroundings. In an age when nearly everyone lives in a place that’s more technological than organic, the artists call attention to manufactured environments. If only the world of highways, office blocks and cul-de-sacs were as congenial as the one McLaughlin and Schiezer built from lines and colors.

Matthew McLaughlin & Brett Ferguson Schiezer: Spatial Rapport Through Feb. 23 at Pyramid Atlantic Art Center, 4318 Gallatin St., Hyattsville.

Song Byeok

To glorify the Kim dynasty, North Korea has developed what is perhaps the world’s most skilled cadre of propaganda artists. Song Byeok, whose work is now at Lost Origins Gallery, was one of them. In 2000, famine led him to try to swim to China, a journey that ended in a North Korean prison camp. A second try two years later put Song on the path to South Korea, where he developed the approach showcased in “Graphic Novel: A (North) Korean Story.”

Song hasn’t altered his tight realist style, but he has freed his attitude. Rather than depict Kim Jong Un and predecessor Kim Jong Il as godlike heroes, the artist makes them objects of fun. The current Korean dictator melds with Hitler, the Hulk and Mickey Mouse, and rides a rocket bareback — or rather, entirely bare. One of the new liberties Song clearly prizes is the ability to depict nudity, whether painting a pudgy tyrant in the raw or a shapely woman wrapped only in a filmy North Korean flag.

The satirist’s best-known mash-up, made a decade ago, placed Kim Jong Il’s head on the body of Marilyn Monroe in the famous moment from “The Seven Year Itch” in which she clasps her white dress during an updraft. The white dress in this show is worn by Donald Trump, who holds a skull in one hand as he’s dipped by sometime dance partner Kim Jong Un. The mockery is gleeful, but also bitter. That skull represents the real-life horrors experienced by Song and the millions he left behind.

Song Byeok: Graphic Novel: A (North) Korean Story Through Feb. 23 at Lost Origins Gallery, 3110 Mount Pleasant St. NW.

Lou Stovall

Veteran Washington artist Lou Stovall has been making silk-screen prints for so long that he’s begun to see them as a sort of natural resource. The most recent works in Stovall’s show at Addison/Ripley Fine Art begin with his own mottled-color monoprints, which he has cut into thin strips that are arranged into vertically oriented collages. Many of the artist’s serene abstractions are inspired by flowers; slicing them into closely placed stalks makes them suggest forests. (Indeed, they look a bit like Wolf Kahn’s sylvan scenes, the gallery’s previous attraction.)

The current show’s selection, whose earliest item is from 2009, includes prints that haven’t been dissected. The most striking of these have a strong central focus, such as the shimmering red bars that punctuate black or blue-black fields in the two entries from Stovall’s “Color Regit” series. Even more incandescent is the almost-white rectangle that glows at the core of “Midnight Journey,” bracketed by areas of pink and yellow. As a printmaker, Stovall has collaborated with such Washington colorists as Sam Gilliam and Gene Davis. Pictures as luminous as “Midnight Journey” demonstrate that Stovall’s prints have a profound affinity with their paintings.

Lou Stovall Through Feb. 22 at Addison/Ripley Fine Art, 1670 Wisconsin Ave. NW.