to july 29

For their current show at Conner Contemporary Art, collaborators Bradley McCallum and Jacqueline Tarry take their own marriage as their subject. McCallum is white; Tarry is African-American. The sociopolitical edge this contrast of colors adds to the two videos here is obvious; the effect it has on the formal qualities of each video, however, is both subtler and more visually compelling. In Cut, each spouse shears off the other’s hair with a straight razor. The footage runs in slow motion; the scratching and hacking sounds have been amplified, making them genuinely unnerving. The cutting recalls images of World War II French collaborators whose heads were shorn in retribution—but it also becomes a sort of psychosexual ritual, balancing intimacy and violation. Each pulls handfuls of hair, sawing at them with a none-too-sharp blade—eliciting pained winces from McCallum and real tears from Tarry. Yet this footage is sandwiched between scenes of languid caresses. The second video, Topsey Turvey, references two-headed, reversible, Civil War–era race dolls. In it, the artists are attached to an armature, one upside-down, the other right side up. Acrobatically, they flip the arrangement, spinning again and again. They wear a single, joined garment—half simple dress, half tuxedo with cape—and when they flip, the lower half of the garment falls, concealing the upside-down spouse. Shot at night in slow motion, this balletic turning looks darkly magical, like a silent-era vampire movie. Whereas the couple’s earlier works—including collaborations with at-risk and homeless youth—ventured out into the world, these new pieces find expressions of shared or repressed cultural memory closer to home. “Bradley McCallum and Jacqueline Tarry: Cut” is on view from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday to Saturday, July 29, at Conner Contemporary Art, 1730 Connecticut Ave. NW. Free. (202) 588-8750. (Jeffry Cudlin)