TO AUG. 27

In her series “Underworld,” Canadian photographer Barbara Cole doesn’t document La Cosa Nostra. Rather, as befits her turn years ago as a cub fashion writer for the Toronto Sun, Cole sticks to stylish swimwear and lithe bodies, blurred by motion when photographed underwater. (Incognito is pictured.) Unfortunately, this approach fails to impress, especially in the exhibition’s 20-odd photographic prints: Though beautiful and technically adept, these images are empty of emotional weight and insight. Where Cole’s work really shines, though, is in her light boxes. These large-format, backlit transparencies allow Cole’s pieces a greater illusion of depth, which adds visual interest to her raw material. Her work also benefits from a move toward abstraction. Ghost, for instance, shows difficult-to-resolve, gray monochrome shapes with just a hint of architectural detail identifying the setting as a swimming pool; it’s something a viewer can easily imagine seeing upon climbing out after a swim. In Five Feet Under and Surface Tension, Cole mimics what it’s like to look upward from just beneath the surface; in both images, gorgeous blue sky and green foliage are bent and mutated by light filtered by the uneven water surface, creating a multilayered, hallucinogenic vision. Given her success with light boxes, one can only imagine what Cole could do with video; indeed, one must imagine, because her 2002 video loop Underworld wasn’t functioning on a recent visit. The show is on view from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays through Fridays, to Friday, Aug. 27, at the Embassy of Canada, 501 Pennsylvania Ave. NW. Free. (202) 682-1740. (Louis Jacobson)

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