The art of Amelia Toelke and Margaret Noble glitters and clangs, respectively. Although both are inspired by recent consumer culture, they have detached form from commercial function. That makes the objects in Toelke’s “Facade” and Noble’s “Resonating Objects” familiar yet strange.
Toelke’s wall-mounted pieces, at VisArts Common Ground Gallery, come in various degrees of shiny. Two triangles assembled from gleaming gold tags are geometric abstractions rooted in gift-shop junk. A large assemblage of reflective pink shapes is a vortex of kitsch, as mesmerizing as it is gaudy.
The Upstate New Yorker’s most profound gambit is a backlit horizontal oval, surrounded by lustrous metal starbursts. The visual vernacular promises a logo, perhaps for an automobile brand. But the central space is empty. Viewers, normally barraged by marketing messages, must fill in the blank themselves — or live with the void.
Noble, a San Diegan, was a dance-music DJ in Chicago while attending that city’s Art Institute. But her show, in VisArts’ Gibbs Street Gallery, owes as much to the player piano as to digital technology. Several interactive pieces employ punched tapes to produce tinkly tunes when fed, whether by hand crank or electric motor, through an antique-looking device. Other inventions contain brief samples that are triggered variously. One work contains nine small boxes whose sounds — a gurgling baby, buzzing insects, a whistling tea kettle — emerge when their lids are lifted.
The artist playfully juxtaposes new and old by placing cheap electronic gear within handcrafted wooden containers. Her taste for cataloguing can knowingly flirt with the absurd, as when she surrounds a dead cricket with 12 recordings of noises it made.
DJs may be stars on the club circuit, but the scene also has a democratic impulse: Dancer and beat are equal and inseparable. Noble brings that ideal to the gallery. Her primary goal is audience participation, whether that involves turning a crank or inserting one’s head into a box to prompt whooshing sounds. Noble’s work completes its circuit when the spectator is, literally or figuratively, inside it.
Amelia Toelke: Facade and Margaret Noble: Resonating Objects On view through Feb. 12 and 17, respectively, at VisArts at Rockville, 155 Gibbs St., Rockville. 301-315-8200. visartscenter.org.
Basically, “Score for Room” is a huge kick drum. But Sara Dittrich’s instrument/installation at Washington Project for the Arts is best played by multiple performers, so gallerygoers who want to experience it fully should go with a crowd.
The Baltimore artist has covered the floor with musical staff paper, part of which conceals sensors connected to a guitar amp. Pressure on the surface yields percussive sounds, and multiple feet produce more complex patterns. While making noise, walkers and dancers also dirty and tear the paper.
Dittrich’s piece — and its use of chance, electronics and destruction — follows a long tradition that includes musique concrète and John Cage’s compositions for radios and gramophones. The show’s final act will exemplify that. At 7 p.m. Feb. 11, Baltimore-Washington musician Benjamin Buchanan will interpret the musical score that has been written inadvertently by rips and scuff marks.
Sara Dittrich: Score for Room On view through Feb. 11 at Washington Project for the Arts, 2124 Eighth St. NW. 202-234-7103. wpadc.org.
Several of Julia Dzikiewicz’s epic collage-paintings at BlackRock Center for the Arts represent events from a century or more ago, but the show’s title indicates its contemporary inspiration. “Protest to Power’s” feminist-history primer might well end with a depiction of the Jan. 21 women’s marches.
The series opens with Ida Wells, an African American journalist born in 1862. Dzikiewicz shows her pulling off a KKK robe to reveal a monster beneath, and the picture’s style is as fantastic as its metaphorical vision. The artist uses pigment mixed with wax, which she finishes with a blowtorch to achieve a glossy surface. She embellishes her work with crystals, LEDs and 3-D elements such as antique jewelry and paper flowers. The results appear naive and sophisticated simultaneously.
Dzikiewicz’s studio is at the former Lorton prison, where suffragists were imprisoned and abused in 1917. Two of the seven paintings commemorate those events, interjecting images of such latter-day pop-culture enthusiasms as zombies and video games. More recent subjects include Texas legislator Wendy Davis, Pakistan-bred activist Malala Yousafzai and Pussy Rioter Maria Alyokhina. That one of the pieces portrays the artist herself, rocked by the 2011 earthquake, is fitting. Her approach is personal and singular, even when her subject is far wider.
Dzikiewicz’s pictures share a gallery with “Seeing the Unseen,” by Linda Colsh, whose palette and outlook are less exuberant. Printing, painting and drawing in gray and black on white quilts, the Maryland artist depicts the elderly, often with canes and crutches. The figures may be shown in multiples, but the effect is to stress their isolation. Dzikiewicz’s dissident heroines are part of a continuum; Colsh’s forgotten elders teeter on the brink of oblivion.
Julia Dzikiewicz: Protest to Power and Linda Colsh: Seeing the Unseen On view through Feb. 4 at BlackRock Center for the Arts, 12901 Town Commons Dr., Germantown. 301-528-2260. blackrockcenter.org/galleries/current-exhibits .
Eames Armstrong and John Moletress offer an alternative to “conversion therapy,” the controversial practice that allegedly turns gay people straight. Their “Perversion Therapy” is not austere or coercive. Their show at Flashpoint Gallery consists primarily of paintings of smiling, happy people, cavorting sensually but asexually.
Although rendered mostly in pink and blue, the nude figures are neither female or male. Their bald heads have only cursory features, and their genital regions are even blanker. Visually, the formula is about three-fourths underground comics, one-quarter late-period Matisse.
The show is designed to tweak the new administration with “a celebration of queer bliss and domestic deviance,” a gallery note explains. So there’s a painting that depicts an S&M scene, as well as a much edgier video that shows a man being trained as a dog. But pictures such as “Thieves Like Us,” in which a pink trio poses with a pink flower, are no wilder than the New Order song whose title it borrows.
Eames Armstrong & John Moletress: Perversion Therapy On view through Feb. 4 at Flashpoint Gallery, 916 G St. NW. 202-315-1305. culturaldc.org/visual-arts/flashpointgallery.