A sort of shipwreck is the centerpiece of Sue Wrbican's exhibition "Well Past the Echo." Heavy ropes and sail-like swaths of fabric, in carefully plotted disarray, fill most of the main gallery at Greater Reston Arts Center. The installation was inspired by the damage hurricanes inflict on tents and sailboats, which Wrbican observed during a few coastal trips. But the artist also emulates the paintings of Kay Sage (1898-1963), a Corcoran-educated American surrealist. Sage's little-known canvases depict imaginary architectural forms and enigmatic draped objects.
Wrbican, who teaches at George Mason University, is a Washington-based poet, photographer and conceptual artist whose work hasn't been seen much locally. When not riffing on Sage's art, Wrbican has a neo-surrealist's enthusiasm for the random, serendipitous and dreamlike. Thus she made a series of photos of an acrobat partly or entirely wrapped in cloth, prompted by her temporary studio's proximity to the gymnast's when both had residencies at the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation on Captiva Island, Fla.
This show includes drawings and maquettes, some featuring clothespins in sizes that range from miniature to immense. Among the pictures are straightforward shots, manipulated and rephotographed ones, and simulations of Man Ray's photograms, which he made by placing objects on photosensitive paper. The images are precisely rendered yet mysterious, combining nature imagery with hidden elements. What's under the cloaks can only be imagined, or dreamed.
Sue Wrbican: Well Past the Echo On view through Nov. 18 at Greater Reston Arts Center, 12001 Market St., Reston. 703-471-9242. restonarts.org.
Among the landscapes, portraits and extreme close-ups in "Abstraction/Representation" are few images that are fully abstract. But the eight-photographer show at Studio Gallery doesn't include any documentary shots — unless you count pictures that document an idea, moment or feeling.
Steven Marks's photos are among the most vivid, as well as the furthest from representation. Made without computer manipulation, they emphasize pattern and color, notably a bright orange semicircle that floats like a setting sun over a green-black void. Although Rania Razek's subjects are immediately recognizable as leaves, the photos succeed as pure composition; intricate arrays of dark veins contrast bold yellow, red or green. A yellowish tint of that last hue dominates Iwan Bagus's "I, Eye," shot with a green gel over a strobe backlight. Bagus covers one of his eyes in the round-format self-portrait, which dynamically memorializes his surgery for retinal displacement.
Other conceptual works include Leena Jayaswal's photograms, which are political in theme and experimental in form, and Alexandra Silverthorne's seemingly submerged pictures of local intersections likely to be underwater by 2100. Jayaswal, the show's curator, uses Indian bridal Barbies to symbolize the 23 million girls who face child marriage in that country. The camera-less pictures were made by placing the dolls on photo paper and exposing it to UV light. The results are sepia toned, with brilliant whites, evoking early photography while offering a stark contrast to the hot colors of a typical Hindu wedding.
Abstraction/Representation: Deconstructing the Photographic Index On view through Nov. 18 at Studio Gallery, 2108 R St. NW. 202-232-8734. studiogallerydc.com.
The title of Sara May's Leica store show, "After the Crisis," refers to a terrifying event just a few years ago: the Ebola epidemic. Made in Sierra Leone in 2016 and '17, the photographs show survivors at work and play. Several of the pictures focus on a boy who was adopted by his uncle and his seriously ill aunt after losing his parents to the disease.
The Seattle photographer's richly hued, deeply shadowed images tell individual stories and a larger one: how West Africans returned to communal activities after an outbreak that made human contact potentially fatal. Among the activities documented are soccer, a school talent show and gymnastics practice on the beach. The emphasis on children gives the project a hopeful air and exemplifies May's humanitarian approach. Proceeds from print sales will benefit Sierra Leone's Yone Child Foundation, which provides care and education to impoverished children.
Sara May: After the Crisis On view through Nov. 13 at Leica, 977 F St. NW. 202-787-5900. www.leicastoredc.com/events/in-the-gallery-sara-may-after-the-crisis.
The photographs in "Feminine Transitions" recount a narrative that is simple yet sweeping. The 20 Alyscia Cunningham pictures on display at VisArts depict 21 girls and women — there's one set of twins — between the ages of 2 and 103. Each one shows just face, neck and bare shoulders, embodying unbridled spirit and inherent beauty.
That's evident even without reading the note that identifies Cunningham as a member of Stop the Beauty Madness, a national campaign against the glamour biz. Each photo is accompanied by comments by or about the subjects, but those aren't really necessary. Cunningham conveys all the necessary information in their forthright gazes.
Alyscia Cunningham: Feminine Transitions On view through Nov. 19 at Common Ground Gallery, VisArts at Rockville, 155 Gibbs St., Rockville. 301-315-8200. visartscenter.org.
The four Mid-Atlantic artists in the "Denatured" exhibition at District of Columbia Arts Center contemplate the relationship of nature and technology and use technological products to do so. The most pristine examples of this are Ryan Hoover's sculptures, made with computer-driven 3-D printers. The devices generate white-plastic models of trees and mountains that are contrasted by expanses of real wood. Messier in origin, but just as carefully crafted, are Fabiola Alvarez Yurcisin's "landscapes." Each hides an unseen object behind a facade of tape woven from obsolete audio- or videocassettes.
Joanna Platt's "Phantom Limb" is a slab of plywood with a knothole that allows a glimpse of video of a pine tree in the wind — a "memory of the tree itself," in the words of curator Sarah Burford. There is also video in Rachel Schmidt's two pieces, which pit model cities against an elephant who represents the threat of mass extinction. Alone in the collapsed metropolis of "Future Myth," the animal appears to be the last mammal on an urbanized planet.
Denatured: Technology and the Natural World On view through Nov. 12 at District of Columbia Arts Center, 2438 18th St. NW. 202-462-7833. dcartscenter.org.