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In the galleries: ‘Interact + Integrate’ requires audience participation

Jackie Hoysted’s “Mix ‘n Match v2.0,” at VisArts at Rockville. (Jackie Hoysted/VisArts at Rockville)
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While religious meaning largely vanished from Western art, paintings and sculptures remained objects of contemplation and even veneration. “Interact + Integrate,” as its title declares, is having none of that. This playful VisArts show seeks to involve — and even improve — the gallery-goers who become the four artists’ collaborators.

The most open-ended piece is curator Jackie Hoysted’s “Mix ‘n Match v2.0,” a wall-filling array of brightly colored discs that glow under black light. The Velcro-mounted rounds are movable and can be arranged into a near-infinite variety of designs. Think of them as pixels, and the people who elect to reorganize them as the world’s slowest, least efficient microprocessors.

Philadelphia’s Denise Philipbar is the only participant from beyond the Beltway, but she’s not out of the loop. She devised a video game in which players use virtual hands to bat around a balloon that resembles the head of the current president. Less vindictively, she pitched two small black tents, labeled “war” and “peace,” as places for meditation.

Communication (and its potential breakdown) is the main theme of Michelle Lisa Herman’s pieces, including one in which tin-can phones connect ceramic hands. In another, white electric pulses between two phones turn red when someone steps between them, disrupting the circuit.

Of the four artists, Heloisa Escudero is the most inclined to offer assistance. Her installations are little self-help machines designed to defeat human frailties, such as phobias. Once they’ve finished exploring “Interact + Integrate,” visitors can write a personal fault they’ve overcome on a slip of paper and insert it into the artist’s “Graduation.” Or they can circle back and have another try at those Day-Glo circles.

Interact + Integrate Through May 13 at Kaplan Gallery, VisArts at Rockville, 155 Gibbs St., Rockville. 301-315-8200.

Heather Theresa Clark

The British have a phrase for a strong sense of security: “safe as houses.” This phrase cuts both ways for Heather Theresa Clark, who lives in exurban Loudoun County. The human instincts to survive, prosper and protect offspring have led to SUVs, McMansions and other affronts to nature. These phenomena are indirect subjects of “Along a Line,” Clark’s Hamiltonian Gallery show.

Crowding the front door is a large wooden plinth whose form is partly emulated by shaped rawhide. On one wall are photos of a performance Clark did on a barge while in residence at Woods Hole Research Center, which studies climate change. The artist often works on a monumental scale, reflecting mankind’s grandiosity. Yet her use of biological materials, and the hand-crafting of her constructions, are small rebukes to mass production and high technology.

Thus, Clark included beeswax in the show’s centerpiece, a kinetic installation titled “Sides of a Line.” A mobile wall tracks toward a stationary one until they meet, and then retracts. The walls don’t appear likely to crush someone who gets in the way; they’re upholstered with wax-covered fabric from military parachutes (a reference to the wedding dresses that Clark’s great-grandmother made from reclaimed parachute silk in a Boston shop).

The idea, Clark said in an artist’s talk, was to make something that’s “comfortable and uncomfortable at the same time.” Sort of like the outer-suburbia where the artist lives, cozy yet apprehensive.

Heather Theresa Clark: Along a Line Through May 12 at Hamiltonian Gallery, 1353 U St. NW. 202-332-1116.

Freelon & Robles-Gordon

Fabric scraps and damaged tissue paper are the essential ingredients of new work now at Morton Fine Art. Those materials might sound negligible, but Amber Robles-Gordon and Maya Freelon employ them with ambition and impact.

Robles-Gordon, a D.C. native, is known for hanging strands of textiles and other found objects in intricate arrangements. The pieces in her “Third Eye Open” are wall-mounted rather than suspended, and feature circular drawing-collages orbited by smaller rounded objects, some partly covered in bits of garments. The forms suggest zygotes and planets, as well as eyes, but at the heart of each of the larger circles is a leafy motif. Whether seen as cosmic or botanical, the artist’s circling compositions exalt natural cycles.

Freelon’s technique began with what her statement calls a “beautiful accident”: finding colored tissue paper stained by water from a leaking pipe. From this discovery, the North Carolina artist developed a method of bleeding pigment from moistened colored tissue onto sheets of white paper, which are so thick they hang as if they’re fabric.

The larger works in “Rebirth/Rebound” were made with a pottery wheel, so the transferred hues spin with verve and grace. The dominant color is often magma-dark red, framed by black and green and white bubbles that evoke the images’ aquatic origins. The most direct print, “Suspension,” is mostly orange and yellow, which flow with the exuberance of a classic abstract-expressionist canvas. Freelon’s accident yields pictures that are assured and bold.

Maya Freelon: Rebirth/Rebound and Amber Robles-Gordon: Third Eye Open Through May 15 at Morton Fine Art, 1781 Florida Ave. NW. 202-628-2787.

Maryland MFAs

Nature, industry and technology contend and sometimes dovetail in two sets of work by University of Maryland MFA students. In a dimmed Stamp Gallery, “Media Lux” includes Gina Takaoka’s perforated box, which emits starry dots, casting a milky way on the wall. Among the organic forms are the bubbly, leafy shapes of Irene Pantelis’s projection and the wooden spikes worn as a sort of cloak in Monroe Isenberg’s performance video. Mason Hurley translates moire patterns — the wavy effect caused when two similar grids overlap — into witty steel sculptures and a chamber where visitors can actually enter the oscillation.

Shades of white, black and gray monopolize the palettes of the three artists in the University of Maryland Art Gallery’s “MFA Thesis Exhibition.” Jessica van Brakle combines drawing, collage and archival photos to evoke water and memory. Beki Basch’s mountain photos are the most direct representations of nature, but she also abstracts natural objects such as branches. Hugh Bryant’s seemingly battered steel sculptures evoke monumental water damage, and two of them incorporate volcanic ash from Mount St. Helens. These asymmetrical constructions hint that man and nature are forever out of balance.

Media Lux Through May 19 at Stamp Gallery, Adele H. Stamp Student Union, University of Maryland, College Park.; 301-314-8492

MFA Thesis Exhibition Through May 25 at University of Maryland Art Gallery, 1202 Art-Sociology Building; College Park. 301-405-1474.