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Colby Caldwell’s affection for film is transparently obvious. He loves the stuff—not just the photographs and video he produces but flimsy film itself—and “small game,” his first solo show at Hemphill since 2003, reads very much like a valentine to the medium. At turns he is saccharine, almost regrettably so: (t) here, an enlarged photograph of the first frame of a roll of celluloid film, shows sprocket holes and all but makes short use of Caldwell’s considerable darkroom talents. Those are best showcased by the photographer’s landscapes and portraits. For these, Caldwell projects still images from Super 8 films (some of which are on display); he then re-photographs these projections and applies to the results a series of digital filters, burns, and other tweaks to achieve his signature effect. It amounts to a nostalgia lens: a soft, sympathetic gaze that fixes his subjects in time, whether it be the smell of ozone after a rain in after nature (33) or the wind wisping through a hunter’s hair in gestus picture (12). Having returned to still photographs after dabbling in Super 8 for several years, Caldwell picks up right where he left off. Fans of his previous work will be especially happy to know that he’s returned to one series: the dark backward (4), a Gerhard Richter–esque abstraction snipped from a corrupted film file—one he’s examined like a piqued naturalist for years. The abstractions reveal a rule that applies to all Caldwell’s photographs: His love for the process rivals his affection for his tenderly depicted subjects. The exhibition is on view from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, to Saturday, Feb. 24, at Hemphill Fine Arts, 1515 14th St. NW. Free. (202) 234-5601. (Kriston Capps)

Thursday, Jan. 18

Exhibits come and exhibits go, but the African bush elephant in the rotunda of the National Museum of Natural History has been scaring 2-year-olds witless since Eisenhower was president. In today’s museum scene, though, predictability is the endangered species. From face-lift candidate the National Museum of American History (which old timers still call History and Technology) to whiz kids such as the International Spy Museum, D.C.’s museums are finding new ways to attract and connect with visitors who’d rather be home playing Wii than queuing up to see old pages of the Bible. Archivist of the United States Allen Weinstein and National Archives Experience Director Marvin Pinkert are joined by pooh-bahs from the National Portrait Gallery, the National Museum of African-American Culture and History, and the Newseum for the panel discussion “New Culture: The Museum Renaissance”—where, presumably, no one will address why the Seinfeld “Puffy Shirt” is on display at the National Air and Space Museum. The discussion begins at 7 p.m. at the National Archives’ McGowan Theater, Constitution Ave. between 7th & 9th Sts. NW. Free. (202) 357-5000. (Andrew Beaujon)

Friday, Jan. 19

Decades ago, the Brothers Quay used chunks of meat, dismembered dolls, and stop-motion animation to plunge into the depths of the id. Following in their footsteps is Corcoran graduate and local artist Melissa Ichiuji, whose “Nasty Nice” features 17 installations of doll-like sculptures—each a Frankenstein-caliber stitch-job of bulging panty hose, cloth, animal bones and, in one instance, Ichiuji’s father’s hair. Their activities are decidedly antisocial—shredding butterflies and bleeding rabbits. It’s a world (and one room) away from the panoramic photographs of Nicholas Kahn and Richard Selesnick. Their “The Apollo Prophecies: New Photographs” portrays a moon mission in an alternate reality: from the spacemen in fur suits and beaked helmets to rockets filled with Victorian-era piping, it’s like a National Air and Space Museum exhibition conceived by Tim Burton and Jules Verne over a bottle of absinthe. The exhibitions are on view from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and by appointment, to Sunday, Feb. 18, at Irvine Contemporary Art, 1412 14th St. NW. Free. (202) 332-8767. (Nick Kolakowski)

At first glance, it looks as if Curator’s Office is showing the work of an introductory graphic-design class—and the students aren’t exactly gifted. Artist, critic, and independent curator J. W. Mahoney’s current show of ink jet prints, “Stella Maris,” appears hobbled by technical difficulties. Each fuzzy print combines a few disparate images and texts on a neutral ground and is presented unframed, attached to the wall with a few small magnets. Many of the images have pixilated edges; Quality in Motion has long horizontal streaks, suggesting a print cartridge giving up the ghost, midprint. Strange color shifts abound: one formerly black-and-white photo bleeds sickly shades of pale green and mauve. Of course, none of this is accidental: Mahoney has deliberately cultivated this look, often digitizing and re-digitizing images in order to lower their resolution, making pristine, hands-free objects look more handmade. The words and pictures he’s brought together in these posters are wide-ranging—snippets of everything from Tibetan symbology to Victorian photography to the occasional jpeg of Condoleezza Rice. The names of Southern streets and businesses—Beam Boulevard, Harvest Grill—adorn these pictures in blocky serif typefaces. Impossible as it might seem, none of these choices are random; every fragment has obscure personal associations for the artist—all of them leading to his deceased mother. Mahoney makes the viewer work for those associations, imposing additional distance with his distortions. Luckily, Mahoney’s a clever puzzle master, and his strategies of inversion and obfuscation nicely mirror the strange, imperfect workings of human memory. “Stella Maris” is on view from noon to 6 p.m., Wednesday through Saturday, to Saturday, Feb. 17, at Curator’s Office, 1515 14th St. NW. Free. (202) 387-1008. (Jeffry Cudlin)

When the new Iranian cinema was introduced to the West about 15 years ago, it seemed like the second coming of Italian neorealism: documentary-influenced tales of peasant life, emphasizing the struggles and dreams of little boys. The director who embodied that paradigm was Majid Majidi, whose Children of Heaven and Baran were among the most successful Iranian films in American art houses. His latest drama, featured this weekend in the Freer’s Iranian Film Festival 2007 showcase, has a different sort of protagonist. Like the young hero of Majidi’s The Color of Paradise, The Willow Tree’s Youssef is blind. But he’s a middle-aged poetry professor who faces not lifelong acceptance but a second chance at vision when a specialist manages to restore his sight. Blind for 38 of his 45 years, Youssef is overwhelmed by being able to see. His initial wonder soon turns to bitterness at what he’s missed, and his marriage to faithful but not especially pretty Roya is threatened when he starts noticing more attractive women. While Majidi is not the most complex of Iranian directors, The Willow Tree benefits from his decision to relinquish his usual child’s-eye view. Upcoming weekends offer A Little Kiss, a parable of two dying writers who take a final trip home together, and Stray Dogs, a harrowing account of two Afghani children’s tenuous existence while their mother is jailed. The Willow Tree shows at 7 p.m. Friday, Jan. 19, and 2 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 21, at the Freer Gallery’s Meyer Auditorium, 12th St. & Jefferson Drive SW. Free. (202) 357-3200; see asia.si.edu/events/films.asp for a complete schedule. (Mark Jenkins)

Saturday, Jan. 20

There are plenty of dancers who are in the same age bracket as Lindsay Lohan and Britney Spears. But Up the Stairs in the Attic, a new work from the Arlington-based Jane Franklin Dance, is a piece performed entirely by women 45 years old and up. The work examines the experience of cleaning out the attic of a childhood home, what is kept and what must be let go. Not exactly an exercise for a bunch of artists just out of their teens—who wants to watch some youngster rifle through boxes of bongs and high-school yearbooks stashed in storage at her parents’ house? Up the Stairs in the Attic is just one of the pieces running in celebration of the 10th anniversary of Jane Franklin’s company, co-presented by Dance Place. Also included in the program are the premiere of Found, which centers around found objects, and a restaging of Scape Vietnam, which features dancers from the original production. Support your local seasoned dancers—and seasoned dance company—when the performances begin at 8 p.m. at Dance Place, 3225 8th St. NE. $20. (202) 269-1600; see City List for a complete schedule. (Sarah Godfrey)

If the United States trails the industrialized world in math and science know-how, it’s no wonder—American culture revolves around television, and the left brain was never as camera-ready as the right. With The Physics of the Buffyverse, Jennifer Ouellette dolls up science-phobic teens’ least favorite subjects by finding teaching moments in the adventures of “the Scoobies” (Buffy-speak for Sarah Michelle Gellar and her vampire-slaying posse). Thus, a discussion of vampiric night vision turns into a treatise on light and atomic energy, shape-shifting is deemed inconsistent with a conservation of mass, and Hellmouth (the portal by which demons enter Buffy’s Sunnydale) becomes a wormhole worthy of Einstein’s exploration. Ouellette isn’t the first writer to dissect creator Joss Whedon’s singular cultural phenomenon, and essays from the well-combed Buffyverse don’t pack the emotional punch of pop science at its best. Still, by having a bit of fun with physics, Ouellette makes the discipline accessible, and her detailed explanations of uncertainty and temporal folds transcend the lightweight science writing endemic to airport bookstores. Smart enough not to condescend but friendly enough for a college gut course, The Physics of the Buffyverse proves that time spent with a certain box set does have some, ahem, “relative” value. Ouellette discusses and signs copies of her work at 1 p.m. at Politics and Prose, 5015 Connecticut Ave. NW. Free. (202) 364-1919. (Justin Moyer)

Sunday, Jan. 21

After a few hours—or days—audiences at Robert Wilson’s protracted theater pieces may be too overwhelmed to contemplate the avant-garde director’s early years. But the child is the father to the art, according to Katharina Otto-Bernstein’s Absolute Wilson, a new documentary that traces its subject from unhappy Waco, Texas, boyhood to his later life as a globe-trotting stager of such works as Einstein on the Beach and The Black Rider. An erstwhile stutterer and slow learner, Wilson has an affinity for people with “disabilities” and a preference for movement, image, and music over language. Everything is potential inspiration for Wilson, who’s perhaps the only former resident of a Texas mental institution and a Greek jail who endorses those institutions’ “aesthetics.” Other interpretations are possible, of course, but this film makes a persuasive case that Wilson’s seemingly abstract work is in fact deeply personal. Otto-Bernstein will introduce the film at 5 p.m. at the National Gallery of Art’s East Building Auditorium, 4th St. & Constitution Ave. NW. Free. (202) 737-4215. (Mark Jenkins)

Monday, Jan. 22

One remarkable thing about The Judgment of Paris, Ross King’s history of the iconoclasts of impressionism and the breath of plein-air they brought to painting: the book wasn’t published two decades ago. The late ’80s saw a number of the great impressionist collections assembled—or rearranged—at a time when the reaction of both the market and critics to the French Revolution could be described as reverence, if not abject awe. Nevertheless, the popular appetite for impressionism seems impossible to sate, and King delivers with portraits of the artists, their works, and their Napoleonic personalities. Naturally, he lingers on beloved works such as Manet’s Olympia and Bar at the Folies-Bergére but gives some love to lesser-known-yet-crucial works such as The Balcony. King speaks at 7 p.m. at Politics and Prose, 5015 Connecticut Ave. NW. Free. (202) 364-1919; and at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Olsson’s Books & Records, 2111 Wilson Blvd., Arlington. Free. (703) 525-4227. (Kriston Capps)

Tuesday, Jan. 23

Pinebender’s songs almost seem deliberately unfashionable: They’re long, slow-building, and packed with riffage—and they’re overtly manly at a time when indie-rock’s tastemakers are championing the quirky, the exotic, and the vulnerable. “No one asks for mercy here, we’re all willing to die,” sings vocalist/guitarist Chris Hansen at the height of “She Destroys the Light,” from the Chicago band’s largely overlooked 2006 disc, Working Nine to Wolf. Somehow Hansen manages to sound agitated and cryptic at the same time—but unlike, say, your average neo-emo prettyboy, he’s not looking for a pity party. Expect plenty of tension and release when Pinebender performs with Des Ark at 9 p.m. at the Black Cat, 1811 14th St. NW. $8. (202) 667-7960. (Joe Warminsky)

Wednesday, Jan. 24

If Al Gore and the scientific community are right, the end of the world is being brought to you by capitalism 1.0. It would seem that the best way to prevent this self-destruction is for society to order industry to stop engaging in the practices that contribute to it—but since when has humanity listened to common sense? Peter Barnes, co-founder of Working Assets, a “socially responsible” phone-and-credit-card company, has another idea. (Disclosure: Working Assets denied this reporter a credit card.) His new book, Capitalism 3.0: A Guide to Reclaiming the Commons, is an expansion on a theme he first laid out in his 2001 book Who Owns the Sky? His answer then and now is that we do, and that the government should charge corporations who pollute it; the money we make from renting the sky can then go toward all sorts of environmental and social goods. What’s more likely, Barnes worries, is that we’ll just flat-out give the sky away, like we’ve given pretty much everything else to corporations. Worry with him when he discusses and signs copies of his work at 6:30 p.m. at Busboys and Poets, 2021 14th St. NW. Free. (202) 387-7638. (Ryan Grim)

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)