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Swedish artist Maria Friberg likes to show male bodies adrift—somewhere between wakefulness and sleep, suspended on water, piles of leathery books, or stacks of crushed cars. This time around, Friberg has tucked her subjects in for the night: In each of the three simultaneous videos in her current show, “Embedded,” at Conner Contemporary, four men in black leotards lie on a low platform bed under high piles of white sheets. Their eyes are closed; their bodies undulate, slowly writhing with what looks like labored breath or pent-up sexual energy. As each video progresses, the men shift their bodies out from under the covers and off the bed, gradually migrating to the four corners of the screen and, eventually, off-screen. Embedded #3, a large Cibachrome print of the same subject, looks slick and commercial, like a Metro advertisement, until one notices the beveled edges of the plexi behind which the print has been mounted. These make the piece seem more like intimate home décor—a decorative mirror, maybe. In another large print, Still Lives #5, a stack of crushed cars in shades of white, silver, and bluish-gray fills the lower two-thirds of the image. A man sleeps atop it, surrounded by blank white space—suggesting that this is a studio construction. But as unnatural and dreamlike as this setting is, it’s actually natural: A few stray patches of distant green trees, peeking out here and there between cars, confirm it. These sorts of small, particular touches enrich Friberg’s work and keep it from seeming too pat or too broadly conceived. The exhibition is on view from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and by appointment, to Saturday, Feb. 24, at Conner Contemporary Art, 1730 Connecticut Ave. NW, 2nd Floor. Free. (202) 588-8750. (Jeffry Cudlin)

Thursday, Jan. 25

Jonathan Harris may have, as his bio claims, “pasted dead insects” into his childhood sketchbooks—but, these days, the Internet artist’s raw materials are virtual rather than organic. By continually plumbing the blogosphere for the words “I am feeling” and “I feel,” Harris’ “We Feel Fine” Web site determines that Naples, Fla., is the guiltiest-feeling city; Boulder, Colo., is the loneliest; Townsville, Australia, the sickest; and so on. Not to ignore traditional media, one of his other creations, “10×10,” scours RSS feeds from select major news organizations and—using “weighted linguistic analysis”—determines 100 important words from current news dispatches. The words are linked to images from their stories, which are presented in a 10-by-10 grid (updated each hour). It may sound more like collation than creation, but judging by the mishmashed contemporary world on display on a recent Tuesday afternoon (tennis star Maria Sharapova bordered deposed Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra), the results take on a life of their own. Harris speaks at 6 p.m. at the Koshland Science Museum, 6th & E Sts. NW. Free. For reservations call (202) 334-1201. (Joe Dempsey)

Friday, Jan. 26

Brooklyn-based dance company Urban Bush Women seeks to produce “bold and life-affirming” work “based on women’s experiences, African-American history, and cultural influences of the African Diaspora.” The troupe, led by founding artistic director Jawole Willa Jo Zollar, does all of those things, but it also does something that isn’t as publicized as its broader mission: UBW knows how to throw a party. The 20-year-old troupe’s “Hair Party,” performed on campuses around the country, was an arts-based project using personal hair experiences to spark dialogue about the crowning glories of women of color. Their latest playful/political effort is “Batty Parties.” Named for a word that describes “buttocks” in the Caribbean, the Batty Parties also aim to encourage audience participation and discussion around the female form—because any time you can mix dance, booty-shaking, and learning, it’s a good thing. Urban Bush Women performs at 8 p.m. Friday, Jan. 26, and Saturday, Jan. 27, at Dance Place, 3225 8th St. NE. $20. (202) 269-1600. (Sarah Godfrey)

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There’s a great deal of text in Cara Ober’s multimedia drawings, much of it scrawled in that searching, cursive script so familiar to lovelorn diarists. Every piece in the Baltimore artist’s solo show at Flashpoint is fairly dripping with the stuff: snippets of emo-sounding lyrics, half poems, and fey aphorisms. Ober’s also fond of Courier, the “typewriter” typeface—lowercase letters only, of course—that has graced a million twee album covers. The block of free-association serif text (“filled with helpless letters”) that hovers in space in one piece is so saccharine, so conspicuously placed, that there’s no mistaking it for heartfelt expression. In Untitled #5 (the fourth of july), she even includes a typo in one poetic turn of phrase (“water, like light, forms it’s own edge”)—a gentle dig at the self-seriousness of confessional writing. Ober’s definitely being cool but not ironic. The images she paints, prints, and collages onto her canvases—letterbox stamps, illustrated flowers, fleur-de-lis designs, sketched bunnies, sketched hearts, sketched cakes—all draw from the same tween-to-teen iconography. These elements rarely gel in her blocky compositions, which are uniformly characterized by stiff images set adrift against khaki atmospheres. Patches of abstraction don’t give the pieces any motion, either—though Ober does have a way with washes, as evidenced by the Ed Ruscha–esque slice of words in Untitled #1 (priceless). While there’s a degree of arbitrariness to Ober’s execution, the concept itself is sound. She’s not exactly investigating girlhood, womanhood, or the state in between, but rather the artifacts that state inspires—the mark-making itself. Prayers & Joking: New Works by Cara Ober is on view from noon to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and by appointment, to Saturday, Feb. 10, at Flashpoint, 916 G St. NW. Free. (202) 315-1310. (Kriston Capps)

One of the cleverest bits in playwright Mario Baldessari’s collection of comic vignettes and sketches Fear Itself involves an airline company executive dismissing a catastrophic plane crash as a “service interruption”—that’s exactly the kind of semantic entanglement that greases the wheels of the federal government. Pointed topical satire proves most cathartic here, as a pair of Homeland Security inspectors reminds the audience that theaters are No. 3 on the list of common terrorist targets and suggest an elevated threat level for the evening. The program itself even comes with its own disclaimer: “Charter Theatre not responsible for paper cuts or ink stains obtained while reading or handling.” Baldessari occasionally fails to incubate one of his premises and strays too far away from the show’s theme. Still, magnificent chemistry between performers Jim Helein and Renee Calarco and crack timing make even the weaker material seem like it’s newly minted. Helein is sure and steady as the show’s straight man, while Calarco sports a little more moxie in her portrayals of the fringe characters. There’s also a fair bit of warmth in both of their performances, proof that socially minded commentary doesn’t have to be dismissive or mean-spirited to engender a reaction—it’s difficult to affect a moderate tone when our entire society teeters on the brink of collapse every minute of every hour of every day. The performance begins at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, to Saturday, Jan. 27, at the National Conservatory of Dramatic Arts, 1556 Wisconsin Ave. NW. $20. (202) 333-7009. (Nick Green)

Saturday, Jan. 27

Like a surrealist Martha Stewart, Joseph Cornell made his reputation with decorative nostalgia. But instead of pressed flowers, Cornell’s medium of choice was the box: The artist spent much of his career arranging diverse and seemingly unrelated junk into poignant assemblages that paid tribute to memories, movie stars, or whatever else was on his mind. However, Cornell did some of his best work when he thought outside of the box—or, at least, the literal three-dimensional box. As a filmmaker, Cornell emphasized the pleasure of looking. Avoiding plot and narrative, his short films often concentrated on prolonging fleeting, everyday moments—birds resting on a rooftop, an afternoon at the cemetery, and people standing in a park are all images that Cornell attempted to sustain and preserve in his films, much like the objects he placed in his assemblages. The films show at 2 p.m. at the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s McEvoy Auditorium, 8th & F Sts. NW. Free. (202) 275-1500. (Aaron Leitko)

Sunday, Jan. 28

If the “five young African-American dom lesbians form a ’60s R&B group” premise behind Shi-Queeta-Lee’s lip-synched drag musical, The Five Heartbeats, doesn’t immediately grab your attention, the director’s résumé is certainly enough to warrant a double-take. After nine years in the business—including multiple stage shows, roles in independent films, and renowned brunch performances—the D.C.-based, self-described “female impersonator in the illusion of Tina Turner, Whitney Houston, [and] Diana Ross” won the Washington Blade’s award for “Best Drag Performer” in last year’s “Best of Gay D.C. 2006” issue. Her largest venture to date, The Five Heartbeats follows the rise of an aspiring music group as they deal with the trials and tribulations that come with success. Watch hair and paint make a man what he ain’t when the performance begins at 8 p.m. at the Warehouse Theater, 1017 7th St. NW; see City List for a complete schedule. $30. (202) 421-6581. (Matthew Borlik)

Monday, Jan. 29

At Kibbutz Hulata, the cows are being sold, the fruit trees cut down, and the dining room closed. Most tellingly, there’s a new sense of privacy: High hedges are being cultivated, and one woman even ripped out a sidewalk next to her place. Such is the backsliding on display in “End of a Myth: Two Documentary Films on the Israeli Kibbutz Experience.” Once an ambitious fusion of pragmatism and idealism, Israel’s communal farms were designed to reclaim the soil and reform the soul. But only a few old women lament the changes observed by Racheli Schwartz’s Kibbutz. Ironically, one shift they don’t regret is the abolition of the child-care system that separated kids from parents. Graduates of that discredited innovation appear in Tamar Feingold’s The Children’s House, turning their memories into an art project. Today, it seems, the kibbutz inspires not dreams for the future but reveries of the past. The films show at 7:30 p.m. at the District of Columbia Jewish Community Center’s Goldman Theater, 1529 16th St. NW. $8.50. (202) 777-3248. (Mark Jenkins)

Tuesday, Jan. 30

The opening words of the U.S. Marine Corps’ official hymn, “From the halls of Montezuma/To the shores of Tripoli,” are more than stirring lines—they’re a reminder of America’s long history in the Middle East. And “long history” means much farther back than the first Gulf War, the Camp David Accords, and even the founding of Israel. Michael B. Oren’s latest book, Power, Faith, and Fantasy: America in the Middle East, 1776 to the Present, traces that history, including the day in 1805 when Marines indeed stormed the shores of Tripoli during the First Barbary War. Certainly, Oren spends plenty of time on America’s role in the post-Israel Middle East, but his most fascinating stuff concerns the all-but-forgotten era before oil and religion began complicating things. That includes the Civil War’s impact on the Egyptian cotton trade, the fates of early-19th-century Christian missionaries, and the gangs of pirates and brigands that established the region’s reputation in American minds long before terrorists got involved. Oren discusses and signs copies of his work at 7 p.m. at Politics and Prose, 5015 Connecticut Ave. NW. Free. (202) 364-1919. (Mike DeBonis)

Wednesday, Jan. 31

Don’t look to Matthew Barney to clarify his obscure films—he’s notoriously reluctant to decode his sculptural cinema for an audience. And if you’re looking for gossip about his elfin muse, Björk, you’re bound to be disappointed. But do expect Guggenheim curator Nancy Spector to heap nigh-inflammatory superlatives on one of the most divisive artists working today: The Guggenheim has all but given Barney the keys to the institution, having stamped the artist with its imprimatur when it granted him its first Hugo Boss Prize—not to mention the massive artistic subsidy the museum gave Barney when it allowed him to film a segment of Cremaster 3 inside Frank Lloyd Wright’s Manhattan atrium. The Deutsche Guggenheim has gone even a step further, with an exhibit comparing Barney side-by-side with his cerebral forebear, Joseph Beuys. Don’t believe that all art lovers will take the linkage with a grain of salt when Spector and Barney speak at 7 p.m. at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden’s Ring Auditorium, 7th St. & Independence Ave. SW. Free. (202) 633-4674. (Kriston Capps)

When Cris Beam visited Eagles Academy eight years ago, she wasn’t looking to adopt. The author, who now teaches creative writing in New York City at Columbia University and the New School, had come to the Los Angeles school for gay and transgender teens as a new volunteer. There, Beam met 15-year-old Christina, who still grudgingly answered to “Eduardo.” Christina would eventually become part of Beam’s chosen family and one of the antiheroines of Transparent: Love, Family, and Living the T With Transgender Teenagers, Beam’s chronicle of the years they spent together. Beam set off on a winding road, recording all of the failures and successes—Christina’s and her own—that accompanied their difficult relationship. In an oddly touching moment, Beam recalls Christina and her friends preparing for a night out clubbing, filling condoms with water to stuff into their bras. “[They] would soon transform into slinky nightclub women…but at that sink they looked like children at an open hydrant.” Christina’s journey through a rocky adolescence is, in some ways, typical for a poor Latino kid from east L.A.: As young Eduardo, she learned young to accept gangs, crack, and homelessness as a matter of course. Transitioning into a woman didn’t make matters any easier; now there were the added dangers of illegal hormones and silicone “pumping parties,” as well as the threat of facing lockup with breasts. Still, a teenage girl is a teenage girl, with or without a penis. As they begin dating, Christina and her friends struggle with the pros and cons of sex-reassignment or “bottom” surgery—an expensive and permanent commitment that might make prospective boyfriends more comfortable but would also mean sacrificing a hard-won trans identity. “I am not trapped [in a man’s body],” rails Nina, a transgirl wise beyond her 17 years. “It’s you all who are trapped. My body is just fine—it’s the rest of y’all who can’t deal with it.” Beam discusses and signs copies of her work at 7 p.m. at Politics and Prose, 5015 Connecticut Ave. NW. Free. (202) 364-1919. (Shauna Miller)

Thursday, Feb. 1

In May 1999, art critic Robert Hughes was severely injured in a car wreck in western Australia, and his pugnacity during the ensuing trial led many in the media to tar Hughes as an elitist. To hear him tell it in his recent memoir, Things I Didn’t Know, the accident did more damage to his respect for his native country than it did to his body. Chronicling his life until 1970­—when he moved to America to become Time’s art critic—­Hughes uses the book to take aim at Australian provincialism, the shallow culture of ’60s swinging London (which drew his first wife into a severe drug addiction), and bad art. (He dismisses much of Jasper Johns’ work as a “leaden and overvalued bore.”) But in the book’s more generous passages, Hughes captures the rapturous feeling of being a young critic free to travel to the world’s great museums, where he’s constantly seduced by masterpieces. Hughes speaks at 6:30 p.m. at the Corcoran Gallery of Art, 500 17th St. NW. $40. (202) 639-1700. (Mark Athitakis)