Clouds are ready-made metaphors for nature, ephemerality and the world we imagine above and beyond our daily lives. Jayme McLellan’s “Jealousy of Clouds,” a photo and video installation at Heiner Contemporary, conjures all those ideas but has a specific agenda.
The artist, also an art teacher and the proprietor of Civilian Art Projects, has named the exhibition after “The River,” a parable by Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh. The story, which McLellan has handwritten on the wall, is about a stream that wants to be a cloud but comes to realize that “what she had been looking for was already in herself.”
McLellan has positioned the images so they float on the wall; most are at eye level, but one is higher, drifting toward the troposphere. Although white-on-blue is the dominant color scheme, a few pictures feature orange or gray skies. In a video piece, “The Big One,” the heavens turn from placid to stormy.
While clouds are the focus, sometimes McLellan grounds them by placing human-made objects in the foreground. These are not ordinary things that illustrate the gap between the earthly and the celestial but appealingly exotic ones, mostly from beachfront resorts. In “Satchmo,” a colorful Ferris wheel and a portrait of Louis Armstrong on an amusement-park sign offer serious visual competition to the sheets of white vapor behind them.
At the rear of a gallery is a box where visitors can deposit slips of paper on which they’ve revealed their petty jealousies. The monk’s parable aside, though, envy isn’t the only issue here. One photo is titled “The Nature of Impermanence,” but these images are, of course, permanent. Even the video loops, which better convey clouds’ motion, are now fixed — pinned like butterflies in a collection. Achieving non-attachment to nature and its beauty, it seems, is not as simple as wandering lonely as a cloud, camera in hand.
On view through July 27
at Heiner Contemporary, 1675 Wisconsin Ave NW; 202-338-0072; www.heinercontemporary.com
D.C. artist Sam Scharf uses a variety of media, from video to clear rubber, in two shows on opposite sides of the 900 block of G Street NW. The principal building blocks of “Nothing is the Same” and “Growth” are commonplace building materials, including wood, concrete and particleboard.
“Growth” stands jaggedly in the lobby of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library, rebelling against that building’s rectangularity. The construction is made of drywall panels to which photos of a marble-like texture, mimicking that of the lobby’s floor, have been affixed. The panels are of various sizes and shapes, and have been assembled to create an unfunctional enclosure. Some of the gaps between the pieces are large enough to reveal the interior, an illuminated emptiness of exposed wooden beams. It’s a peek “backstage” at what is literally a set piece.
Across the street at Flashpoint, Scharf has erected a concrete pillar that’s the full height of the room and made a drywall sculpture with interior red light, suggesting magma beneath the surface. The most striking piece is “Torn Down,” a stack of particleboard whose jagged edges suggest decay but also violence, like the edge of a weapon. The artist’s outlook is indeed combative, as is demonstrated by “The Beholder,” a short video loop of flies on excrement. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, the saying goes, although Scharf seems less interesting in beholding than subverting.
On view through July 27
at Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library, 901 G St. NW, and Flashpoint Gallery, 916 G St. NW; 202-315-1305; www.culturaldc.org/visual-arts/
Artisphere’s annual survey of local photography and video is not a look at the Washington region. All the participants in the juried selection are from the D.C.-Baltimore area, but the images show the workaday Midwest, the mountain West and far beyond: Evan Hume’s stark abstractions include one made in Mexico, and Katelyn Partlow’s arresting, implicitly violent vignettes seem to depict Africa. Several photographers observe places they are known for documenting: Mark Parascandola shows the bright red and orange facades of southern Spain, and George L. Smyth revisits Braddock, a declining town near Pittsburgh.
Smyth uses the bromoil technique, which yields a high-contrast, old-timey look. He’s one of several artists who explore long-abandoned photographic modes. Daniel Afzal makes silvery, low-contrast portraits via the ambrotype method, which involves glass negatives; Adrienne Azhderian-Kelly employs selenium toning to give a reddish tint to her striking black-and-white shots of architectural details.
Most of the photos are cool and detached, even to the point of mystery. But Caitlin Teal Price’s pictures of sunbathers have a fleshy immediacy, and Patrick McDonough actually enters the frame (although in assumed roles) in two photos from his tribute series to Mark Linkous, the late singer-songwriter. The most engaging of the videos is also personal: Barrett Jones’s “40 Seconds of My Childhood” is a stop-action animation of paintings made as a kid. It’s a journey into youth conducted with grown-up artfulness.
On view through July 27
at Artisphere, 1101 Wilson Blvd., Arlington; 703-875-1100; www.artisphere.com
At Hillyer Art Space, Stephanie J. Williams renders fleshly shapes into surreal paintings and sculptures, while the one-named Rofi focuses tightly on faces. Williams’s “Uncommon Bodies” suggests a less turbulent Francis Bacon; her deftly painted oils arrange bodily tubes and sacs, mingled with other images of everyday life in ways that seem surprisingly nonviolent. All of the Arlington artist’s paintings are in a series titled “Anomaly,” which has the proper air of detachment. Rather than presenting their subject as disturbing, these works view the corporeal as . . . interesting.
Rofi’s show is titled “Psyche,” but he seems most interested in the surfaces of the human countenance. The Singapore artist boldly divides faces into a series of planes, although he doesn’t distort their geometry with cubist vehemence. The starkest aspect of his work comes from mixed-media additions, including metal shards, barbed wire and the newspaper that obscures the top of one subject’s head. The menace in these works comes not from Rofi’s palette knife, but from external forces the artist doesn’t (or perhaps can’t) fully depict.
On view through July 26
at Hillyer Art Space, 9 Hillyer Court NW;
Jenkins is a freelance writer.