DC performance artist Sheldon Scott is not known for lying down at work. Ritualizing the role of black labor in US history, Scott performed difficult tasks that both tested his endurance and represented the hardships of his exploited ancestors. But he took a more laid-back approach during the June performance that inaugurated “Altar of Rest: I’m going to lay down…” his Connersmith show: He lay all day on a stretched hammock in the front yard of the gallery.
Where to See Art Gallery Exhibits in the Washington Area
Inside the building are seven handmade hammocks that symbolize relaxation, but also craftsmanship, tradition and, of course, hard work. The pieces are mostly made of white rope that the artist has made partially black by burning, tarring, painting, or – in one piece that obliquely references renowned African-American performers – embellished with sequins. Also dark are the shadows cast by the intertwining ropes, which draw intricate, mutable webs on the white walls of the gallery.
For all pieces, Scott drew inspiration from the braiding techniques of his birthplace, South Carolina’s Lowcountry known for its African-rooted Gullah Geechee culture. Two of the assemblages have other sources: “I’m Coming Up”, which wraps several hammocks around a pole to give an arboreal whole, was partly inspired by “Ladder for Booker T. Washington”, a sculpture in wood by DC-rooted Black sculptor Martin Puryear. The biblical tale mentioned in its title sparked “Jacobs Ladder, A Leisurely Stroll to Heaven for Black Folx,” in which three hammocks are slung horizontally to look like steps. But the hammocks are too far apart to climb easily. Scott started “Altar of Repose” with the idea of rest, but his art still includes callbacks to struggle.
Sheldon Scott: “Altar of Rest: I’m going to bed…” Until August 6 at connersmith1013 O St. Open by appointment.
Originally presented at the Irish Arts Center in Manhattan, “The Space We Occupy” was not designed for the space it currently occupies: a soaring atrium in the futuristic former Intelsat headquarters, which recently housed the Whittle School & Studios. Just before the opening of the show, which is sponsored by local Irish arts group Solas Nua, Whittle announced he would be closing the DC site, a development that ironically complements the six Irish artists’ focus on change, decadence and possible rebirth. It seems unlikely, however, that the site will soon fulfill contributor Katie Holton’s prophecy, which uses its own tree alphabet to spell the phrase “This Will Be Forest Again”.
Holton is among the pieces mounted or hung dramatically in the tiered bedroom. “You Are Made of Stardust” by George Bolster is a mobile of stylized celestial shapes in shimmering silver and gold. Bolster also offers “Extinctioneering: Soon Available Only in Museums,” a set of banners printed with photographs of natural history dioramas in the most artificial shades of pink, green, and purple.
Closer to eye level are Colin Crotty’s almost neoclassical paintings of blurry people with just streaks of faces; Fiona Kelly’s woodcuts and constructions with images of bits of nature; and Ailbhe Ní Bhriain’s photographic collages of people, fabrics and damaged quarry walls. These walls resemble the 3D surfaces of Neil Carroll’s large collages, which are abstract but suggest abandoned buildings and shop windows lined with graffiti. Placed in the immaculate atrium, Carroll’s constructions appear both incongruous and a bit ominous, as if the artist had advanced rapidly towards the building’s eventual ruin.
The space we occupy Until July 31 at Whittle School and Studios3400 International Dr. NW.
One of Jenny Singleton’s main inspirations is Islamic art, which generally forgoes representation, so it’s no surprise that her paintings are abstract. And yet, there are images of nature, as well as embedded messages, in “Do It Anyway,” the Maryland artist’s Touchstone Gallery exhibit. The extremely complex “SOS (there is no planet B)” places simplified blue waves in the center of what could be an aerial view desert landscape, and telegraphs “SOS” in dots and dashes in Morse code on the picture basis.
Other paintings, most of which include metallic pigments, contrast watery or vegetal tendrils with ornaments reminiscent of fabric patterns or Persian illuminated manuscripts. “Shabaka”, which suggests a microscopic cosmos, is covered with a delicate light blue watermark. Such gestures may be derived from calligraphy, but they also evoke a world written by forces more powerful than a pen or a brush.
Also at Touchstone is a show, titled with eye emoji, an easel and an image, of sculptural paintings by Jenny Wu. The DC artist, who frequently exhibits her work, begins by layering several layers of latex paint; when the fields are dry, she cuts them into small shards and arranges them in geometric patterns. The resin-coated assemblages resemble mosaics, with multiple layers that sometimes open up to reveal a solid color at the bottom of the stack. The 3D collages appear both decorative and primal, like man-made tectonic plates teetering toward the making of a new continent.
Jenny Singleton: Do it anyway and Jenny Wu: Eyes Easel Picture Until July 31 at Touchstone Gallery901 New York Avenue NW.
Broad, black brushstrokes meander through space – and, metaphorically, time – in Emon Surakitkoson’s recent mixed-media paintings. The Thai-born DC artist’s exhibition at Y Gallery, “What Was & What Will,” abstractly recounts a particular interval in recent history. Unsurprisingly, this period was the peak of the covid-19 pandemic, when isolation encouraged artists to withdraw into themselves. The gallery’s statement also lists “economic insecurity, political instability and violent hate crimes” among the motivations for this work.
Surakitkoson’s style is austere and geometric, but with a wealth of detail. The black-on-white pigment is arranged in tight curves that interlock or interlock alternately. Backdrops are usually white, but sometimes include large areas of thickly textured black, and sharp shapes can be contrasted by drips or cracks. All of these elements feature in “No. 32122,” in which twisted black ribbons divide the circular plane of the image between a parched white top and a mottled black base. There is a landscape glow, and more than a small drama, in this depiction of the arrow of time on a loop-to-loop trajectory.
Emon Surakitkoson: What Was and What Will Happen Until August 5 at Gallery Y, YMCA Anthony Bowen, 1325 W St. NW.