The term “Open World,” borrowed for the title of the Arlington Arts Center’s current show, comes not from politics or ecology, but from video games. An open-world game is one in which the player’s avatar moves freely through the simulated environment rather than along a set course. There are limitations, of course, just as there are in life — or art.
The closest thing to a video game in this nine-artist exhibition is Nicholas O’Brien’s “Cross Timbers,” a far-from-open world in which the player encounters pop-ups of historical facts about a Midwestern region rather than virtual antagonists. But many of the other participants rely on video, if not the game format.
In Rachel Frank’s short movies, people wearing outsize animal-head masks encounter one another in a real forest. Plakokee (Justin Plakas and Rachel Debuque) offer an ad parody that mashes up pitches for computer apps, cryptocurrency and new-age spirituality. Stephanie J. Williams’s animation anthropomorphicizes a fermented duck egg (a Filipino delicacy) to critique culinary and cultural fads. Jodie Mim Goodnough offers a subjective video tour of a wallpapered psychiatric hospital, an homage to Charlotte Perkins Gilmore’s Victorian-age feminist touchstone, “The Yellow Wallpaper.”
Video is visible only through slits in the boxes in Rachel Guardiola’s pieces, which document “cryptoflora,” inspired in part by the artist’s sojourn in the Arctic. Whereas Frank’s pseudo fauna have a cartoonish character, Guardiola’s abstracted nature imagery is beguilingly lovely.
Goodnough’s is the most immersive of the videos and complements pieces such as Alissa D. Polan’s interior-design showroom of one-dimensional furnishings and Azikiwe Mohammed’s mixed-media installation of a park for an imaginary African American city. Poignantly, the artist presents a rather ordinary place — not a whole open world, but just a small place to hang out — as an impossible dream.
Open World Through Sept. 29 at the Arlington Arts Center, 3550 Wilson Blvd., Arlington.
The paintings in Carolee Jakes’s “Time and Distance” look fine at Studio Gallery, but some of them would also fit nicely around the corner at the Phillips Collection. Like some of the artists whose work Duncan Phillips collected in the mid-20th century, the McLean artist makes abstracted landscapes in lush, complex hues of earth and sky.
The show also includes screen prints that incorporate photographic imagery and a few paintings whose style turns more direct, whether to portray a rural highway or a reclining mountain lion. The pictures that conjure the greatest sense of depth, though, depict more fluid things: water, sky and moonlight. Exactly what’s under the transparent domes in the alluring “Wherever You Go” is unclear. But the richly mottled colors pull the eye into the mysterious blue and brown depths.
Also at Studio is “Being Human,” a selection of Chris Corson’s pit-fired ceramic sculptures of nude male torsos. These charred, earthy figures are similar to the ones he exhibited at the same venue a year ago, but with a twist. As before, the Maryland sculptor’s statues are mostly headless. This time, though, Corson provides supplemental objects that can be inserted into the main statue’s open neck holes. One statue is outfitted with five small figural sculptures to be added at the viewer’s whim; another offers rocklike forms with transferred-photo faces of the artist as a boy. These mix-and-match pieces have a primal humanity, but their interactivity doesn’t make them any less personal.
Carolee Jakes: Time and Distance and Chris Corson: Being Human Through Sept. 29 at Studio Gallery, 2108 R St. NW.
Wood-turners shape lumber as it rotates on a lathe, producing clean curves and sleek surfaces. But some of the nearly 50 craftspeople who contributed to “Vessels From Our Trees,” at Glen Echo Park’s Popcorn Gallery, don’t smooth away all the imperfections. These artists leave not just the wood’s grain but also spalting, the discoloration and decay caused by fungi. Among the bowls, vases, platters and ornaments are pieces that appear more tree than vessel.
The show displays work by three regional groups of wood-turners: Mid-Maryland, Chesapeake and Montgomery County. Most of the pieces are functional, or nearly so — the French title of Steve Haddix’s impressively thin flask translates as “the carafe is not for wine.” Other jesters include Gary A. Guenther, whose bowl has a little ladder that leads to a tiny escape hatch; Jay St. Michel, whose “Not All Things Turned Are Round” is a square with gently bowed corners; and Richard Foe, whose “Bowl of Fruits and Nuts” is filled with balls fashioned from pecan, walnut and cherry wood.
A few of the pieces feature painted or burned patterns. Most strikingly, David Swiger makes wood simulate aged metal with oxidized copper paint. Few of the man-made embellishments can rival nature’s own idiosyncrasies, but Charlie Goedeke and David Termini make astute use of spalting — Goedeke for an unusable bowl punctuated with large natural gaps, and Termini with an unclassifiable creation whose sides are as neatly fashioned as its top is craggy. In a show that celebrates expertise and control, Termini’s “Sassy” is a monument to splendid accidents.
Vessels From Our Trees Through Sept. 30 at the Popcorn Gallery, Glen Echo Park, 7300 MacArthur Blvd., Glen Echo.
Most of the artworks in Terence Nicholson’s “Home,” at Artreach GW Community Gallery at THEARC, were in his Willow Street Gallery show early this year. These autobiographical assemblages are worth revisiting or seeing for the first time. Perhaps the most evocative is “Safety Jacket: A Mourning in Chinatown,” which incorporates the partly shredded banner of the downtown martial-arts school the artist frequented before its 2016 eviction.
Among the pieces exclusive to this show are “Mother Figure,” an embodiment of domestic refuge that glows from inside, and “Daisy Cutter (Dreamsicle Cemetery).” The latter is a wall-mounted memorial for children killed in overseas wars or on American streets, with half-eaten ice pops substituting for graves on a green turf-covered outcropping. For Nicholson, who grew up not far from the location of his current show, the idea of home contains both comfort and menace.
Terence Nicholson: Home Through Sept. 30 at Artreach GW Community Gallery at THEARC, 1901 Mississippi Ave. SE.