In the mid-19th century, when European painters began dragging their easels and brushes outside, nature was often seen as infinite in beauty. But the climate, so to speak, has changed. Artists still depict flowers, mountains and sunsets, but these days, they also mount shows with titles such as “Migration of Pestilence.”
This collaborative installation responds to the expanded range on a hotter Earth of such vector-borne diseases as malaria, dengue, Zika and West Nile virus. Ellyn Weiss, Sondra N. Arkin and Veronica Szalus have filled the Otis Street Arts Project gallery with sculptures and found objects that evoke the microscopic and the catastrophic. Among the diverse materials, both natural and synthetic, are a pile of branches and crumbling dried leaves, and clouds of white plastic bags dangle overheard. Many items are torn, warped or burned.
This is familiarly scorched terrain for Weiss, who worked with two other artists to make a 2014 exhibition about the warming polar regions for display at the American Association for the Advancement of Science. “Migration of Pestilence” is an edgier, or at least less pretty, show at a funkier venue. The warehouse space suits pestilent pieces such as a corner swathed in black plastic tarps, and spirals of white mesh punctuated by rusted metal can lids — the nuclei, perhaps, of a supersize coil of harmful virus.
Although the components aren’t credited to individual artists, some are recognizable from previous shows. The suspended wire forms are Arkin’s “shadow paintings,” one of several installation elements that convey fragility and mutation. Those oxidized lids probably come from Szalus, who often works with aluminum cans. But what’s crucial is that the parts constitute a compelling whole. One of their goals, the collaborators write, is to conjure “the interconnectedness of human and natural systems.” And to suggest, ominously, that they can unravel together.
Migration of Pestilence On view through Feb. 18 at Otis Street Arts Project, 3706 Otis St., Mount Rainier. 202-550-4634. otisstreetartsproject.blogspot.com.
Making objects to represent unmaking is also Sheila Crider’s method in “January ’15-October ’16,” a show of paper, fabric and wood pieces at the District of Columbia Arts Center. The selection includes “Water Meditation,” whose blue triangles suggest ocean waves unfouled by mankind. The centerpiece, however, is “Toxicity in the Air,” a series that depicts poisoned skies and sooty clouds.
The notes for the show were written by none other than Ellyn Weiss, who commends Crider for addressing “the most critical issue of our time.” Like “Pestilence,” Crider’s work includes many hanging objects that cast foreboding shadows as they imply the universe above our heads. “Urban Runoff” arrays more than 50 grubby samples made from painted dryer lint. This crypto-scientific display recalls local artist Julie Wolfe’s jars of water collected from urban sources. But where Wolfe adds chemicals to elicit vivid hues, Crider offers mostly industrial shades of gray. Those blue paper waves offer just about the only color in this show that a 19th-century landscape painter might appreciate.
A few steps away, in DCAC’s Nano Gallery, Nihal Kececi Thadani is showing small (if not literally “nano”) acrylic paintings. These “Mysteries” are abstract but most resemble landscapes, and the local artist’s technique is a traditional one. She layers thin glazes to suggest that light is filtering through the images, like sun through clouds. Thadani’s pictures are solid but translucent, tiny yet bottomless.
Sheila Crider: January ’15-October ’16 and Nihal Kececi Thadani: Mysteries On view through Feb. 12 and March 19, respectively, at the District of Columbia Arts Center, 2438 18th St. NW. 202-462-7833. dcartscenter.org/exhibitions.htm .
The photos in the twinned shows at Multiple Exposures Gallery are all rural landscapes, and mostly black and white. Yet Sandy LeBrun-Evans’s “Hard Truths” and Colleen Spencer Henderson’s “Irish Landscapes” are as different as their locations: West Virginia and western Ireland.
That’s not just because LeBrun-Evans’s pictures document economic decline, while Henderson’s portray a land with no noticeable industry. (So the area’s commercial engine must be tourism.) “Jobs, jobs, jobs” promises a campaign sign in West Virginia, but abandoned mines and buildings abound. In this account of Ireland, the principal man-made structures are a church and a bridge. Surf and sky dominate.
Those expanses are showcases for light, which is Henderson’s essential subject. The heavens glow, and the water mirrors their sheen. Such individual moments are transitory, of course, but the link is eternal — at least by the standards of human perception.
The moments frozen in LeBrun-Evans’s photos also are still, yet convey a sense of motion. Many of her pictures include railroad tracks or line-divided highways, and these pathways usually lead the eye from one side of the image to the other. (A notable exception is “Mine Entrance,” on which the tracks lead into a dark void.) The ribbons of steel or asphalt are a dynamic compositional device, but they also hint at a message: We gotta get out of this place.
Sandy LeBrun-Evans: Hard Truths and Colleen Spencer Henderson: Irish Landscapes On view through Feb. 12 at Multiple Exposures Gallery, Torpedo Factory, 105 N. Union St., Alexandria. 703-683-2205. multipleexposuresgallery.com.
Japan-bred New Yorker Takefumi Hori’s abstract paintings are coats over many colors. In the pictures in Long View Gallery’s “New Work,” the skin is usually glossy white or gleaming gold, but other hues can be glimpsed below, and amid the scrapes, smudges and scrawls. The layered surfaces suggest wabi (intentionally imperfect) Japanese pottery and approximate the exposed brick of the venue’s walls.
For his previous Long View show, Hori added rich colors to a palette that emphasized white, black and varieties of metallic leaf. Two of the new pictures are evenly divided between battered fields of gold and, respectively, green or blue. But such hues are largely submerged in this selection, which contrasts abstract-expressionist gestures with the pomp of earlier eras’ regal and religious art. The most commanding canvasses feature large gold circles, ideal in form and rough in execution. They are symbols of infinity, tethered to earth.
Takefumi Hori: New Work On view through Feb. 12 at Long View Gallery, 1234 Ninth St. NW. 202-232-4788. longviewgallerydc.com.