Lick, by Jessie Lehson
Lick, by Jessie Lehson

In “Consume,” curator Angela Jerardi presents five artists having a bit of fun with the world of personal obsession, commodified desire, and slick, prepackaged experiences. Of course, “slick” isn’t the first word that jumps to mind when contemplating these works; fit and finish throughout the show are decidedly scruffy. For example, Jessie Lehson’s Lick (pictured), a constellation of drooping, brittle balloons of blown sugar hanging from monofilament at eye level, do succeed in looking like creepy sacs of flesh. But their strangeness fades a bit when one looks up and notices that each clear thread has been unceremoniously tacked to the ceiling with a staple gun. In a similar fashion, Heidi Neff almost persuades the viewer with her dutiful, page-by-page rendering of a porno mag—Hustler Extreme Sex Volume 78. And though she claims to intend for her monoprints to sit between grotesque exploitation and high-art elegance, her actual drawing style looks hurried and perfunctory, making use of big loose passages of cross-hatching and uninflected contours—more like quickie comic-book doodling than high art. Bits of furniture hastily spray-painted with flat black enamel, ramshackle cubicles improvised out of torn canvas and bits of wood for housing video monitors—all of this makes the show feel like a goofy art student romp. Granted, conceptual art is often all about the idea—execution need rise only far enough to communicate the artist’s intent. But here that intent is to blur boundaries and defamiliarize the viewer with their own desires—and that’s a delicate operation. Ultimately, shoddy presentation threatens to short-circuit works that are otherwise pretty clever. “Consume” is on view from noon to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, to Saturday, Jan. 6, 2007, at Flashpoint Gallery, 916 G St. NW. Free. (202) 315-1305. (Jeffry Cudlin)

Thursday, Dec. 14

Scrapping the traditional evolutionary rule book, Joshua Levine rearranges the woodland world by radically revising the features of fauna. Symmetry and redundancy are Levine’s favorite first principles, expressed in the artist’s sculptures—mock game busts, mounted on the wall as trophies—through twisting antler arrangements, hybrid heads, conjoined features, and an awful lot of replica eyeballs. Levine’s sculptures aren’t so much unnatural as re-natural: Trophy Head (JarvalinaMultiHorned) depicts the bust of a long-eared, boarlike creature whose stony tusks and antlers project from its face like the spiraling arms of Shiva. Levine’s exaggerated colors hasten to warn that the conditions that may give rise to such a beast might not lie in an impossible past but in the near future: radiation disasters, genetic manipulation, and other such horrors are all implied. But for freakshow game trophies, the works present a fairly staid sculptural vision. Levine’s magical-realistic resin sculptures don’t look real in the right fake way, a limitation that might owe to the artist’s reluctance to examine his material to the same degree he’s trekked through his imagined alien frontier. “The Trophy Room” is on view 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays and by appointment to Sunday, Jan. 7, 2007, at Irvine Contemporary, 1412 14th St. NW. Free. (202) 332-8767. (Kriston Capps)

Friday, Dec. 15

As far as retro-rock is concerned, contemporary bands have pretty much mined the past four decades to exhaustion. However, musicians with an affection for yore have found that there’s a surprising amount of merit in reaching further back for your influences—even into a time beyond memory. As the leader of Garland of Hours, Amy Domingues doesn’t quite reach as far back as bands like OM, whose work suggests the 13th century—Garland of Hours looks back only as far as the Renaissance. The group’s modal melodies are equally haunting and hooky, using piano, cello, and Domingues’ melancholy voice to evoke an eerie timelessness—as well as Baltimore’s Lungfish. Get medieval when Garland of Hours performs with Fern Knight and Ilya Monosov at 10 p.m. at the Warehouse Next Door, 1021 7th St. NW. $7. (202) 783-3933. (Aaron Leitko)

Working after-dark trades in a neon-painted Asian city, a solitary taxi driver and an upscale prostitute build a friendship that can’t, or won’t, develop into romance—as, all the while, old-fashioned romantic ballads seep from the radio. This sounds like unrequited romance as envisioned by a Wong Kar-wai wanna-be, and anyone who skips from Midnight, My Love’s first half hour to its last five minutes may think that’s just what the film is. But veteran Thai screenwriter Kongdej Jaturanrasamee—who even has a credit on action star Tony Jaa’s latest vehicle, The Protector—packs a lot more than urbane melancholy and garish tints into his second feature as a director. Round-faced cabbie Bati (comedian Petchtai Wongkamlao) loves classic songs and bygone ways for a reason: He knew happiness once, but it vanished in a moment that makes for lurid flashbacks. After he becomes the nightly chauffeur for beautiful hooker Nual (Woranut Wongsawan), Bati dreams of making her dream come true. She wants to open a bridal salon, a business that trades in love rather differently than her current profession. Yet boomtown Bangkok has more scams and muggings than legit opportunities for a “hick” like Bati to turn his modest earnings into the capital Nual needs. Jaturanrasamee’s story line echoes those of the corny old soap operas Bati relishes, but the culture-clash details continually shock Bati with the new: FM radio, cell phones, the first taste of a Big Mac. The film shows at 7 p.m. at the Freer Gallery’s Meyer Auditorium, 12th St. & Jefferson Dr. SW. Free. (202) 357-3200. (Mark Jenkins)

“Juke,” a set of video installations by Jefferson Pinder, is predicated on a familiar formula: the gotcha. The artist has videorecorded 11 black individuals as they lip-sync to songs by a Grammy-worthy array of musicians. The disorienting feeling comes when the viewer dons the headphones that accompany each screen: All the music, see, is by white artists. More than the sum of its parts, the show finds a nuanced pitch through repetition. Several videos make the case that the songs Pinder appropriates are “white music” per se: for example, Kumasi (Bullet Proof) features a handsome, dreadlock-framed face mock-crooning Thom Yorke’s vulnerable paean to resignation. Pinder balances faces and songs to maximum effect: The pseudo-singer in Roy (Brick) impressively musters a single, sympathetic tear toward the end of the searching Ben Folds Five song—a gesture as saccharine as the song itself but not an obvious parody. The artist succumbs to easy association by pairing an ancient black doyen with Joni Mitchell’s gentrification ditty (“Big Yellow Taxi”), and including Patti Smith’s “Rock n’ Roll Nigger” is a relevant but overpowering move. Pinder himself appears in one video, a tweedy figure whose inscrutable reading of Bowie’s “Space Oddity” underscores the gap between androgynous and black culture. Make that: within the media. Each paired portrait contributes to an overall notion that there is a range of narratives unexamined in popular media representations of black people—and ostensibly unavailable to black people themselves. The exhibition is on view from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, to Saturday, Jan. 6, 2007, at G Fine Art, 1515 14th St. NW, Suite 200. Free. (202) 462-1601. (Kriston Capps)

Saturday, Dec. 16

Christmas may have Kwanzaa (and every other religious or secular holiday on the planet) beat when it comes to material excess, but Kwanzaa wipes the floor with Christmas when it comes to dance moves. The overgrown rats and soldiers stiffly prancing about in The Nutcracker could learn a few steps from Coyaba Dance Theater: Since its inception in 1997, the resident company of Dance Place has performed traditional and contemporary West African dance and music on many of the same D.C.-area stages graced by productions of Tchaikovsky’s ballet. As part of its “Kwanzaa Celebration”—which will feature singing, drumming, and dancing—the troupe will also open the stage to some of Dance Place’s African-dance-class students, including the adorable pupils of the children’s program. Though the kids’ performance isn’t likely to be as practiced as, say, the “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy,” it’s all but guaranteed to be much cuter than a bunch of grown-ups dressed as toys parading around the stage. The performance begins at 8 p.m. at Dance Place, 3225 8th St. NE. $20. (202) 269-1600. (Sarah Godfrey)

Sunday, Dec. 17

“Geek is the new cool,” says Jonathan Coulton, author of the cool-geek anthem “Code Monkey,” a hummable summation of cubicle life among the programming class. The song’s brutally funny verisimilitude is due to Coulton’s former computer-jockey life. Now the Brooklyn-based singer-songwriter is a traveling musician, but the clock-punching mind-set remains in the form of his “Thing a Week” series—“things” being newly written songs every seven days. One such tune, “Re: Your Brains,” an interoffice memo as sung by zombies, is a current Dr. Demento fave. But Coulton’s melodic sense is as substantial as his comic chops, making songs such as “Christmas Is Interesting” (“like a knife in your heart”) extra-catchy. And if you only hear the plaintive high-lonesome melody of “Womb With a View,” the song is heartbreaking; if you grok the lyrics, it’s heartbreaking and satisfyingly odd. Coulton opens for fellow funny songwriters and Demento regulars Paul and Storm at 8 p.m. at Jammin’ Java, 227 Maple Ave. East, Vienna. $12. (703) 255-2566. (Dave Nuttycombe)

Monday, Dec. 18

A peculiar thing about the Teutonic is that, for them, the line between light and dark is thin to the point of disintegration. I’m reminded of this delightful duality every time I recall a freshman-year German professor, dressed in red jeans and purple socks, cheerfully endorsing fatalism. So it’s somehow perfect that the Goethe-Institut’s latest exhibition, “Lichtbogen/Arc d’Light,” should include not only Nicola Stäglich’s brightly brushstroked plexiglass but also Wulf Kirschner’s lumbering steel sculptures. Stäglich’s color-wash stripes allow light to pass through, creating additional dimensions on the wall behind and assaulting the viewer with luminosity. But Kirschner applies stripes of melted metal to arc-welded forms, allowing the reflected surrounding light to determine the piece’s texture; the technique reveals endless hidden glimmers that depend on the viewer’s perspective—and a heart of darkness. The exhibition is on view from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Friday, to Wednesday, Jan. 31, 2007, at the Goethe-Institut, 812 7th St. NW. (202) 289-1200. (Anne Marson)

Just as dour young German actress Julia Hummer is no Anne Hathaway, Ghosts is no Princess Diaries. As the plain and awkward orphan Nina, Hummer develops a crush on an older ragamuffin (Sabine Timoteo) and follows her through the vacant streets of Berlin, stealing, lying, and embracing general shiftlessness. Hope springs up when a wealthy Frenchwoman spots Nina and is convinced that she has at last located her long-lost daughter. A fairy-tale ending isn’t anywhere in the cards, however—unless you count a night spent in the comfy home of a lascivious film director. Ghosts isn’t really the heartwarming stuff that will be getting Hummer a guest spot on The View—although she probably wouldn’t have it any other way. Hummer is one of a number of young German actresses who have decided to shun the glitz, glamour, and shallow opulence of the film community to concentrate fully on developing their craft. Seeking difficult roles that reflect their actual bodies and make use of their minds, the women of the Goethe-Institut’s “New Women in German Cinema” film series display their talents in emotionally daring films that probably wouldn’t be a first pick for Angelina Jolie. In addition to Ghosts (6:30 p.m. Monday, Dec. 18) the series also includes 3° Colder (at 6:30 p.m. Monday, Jan. 8, 2007), in which an old lover suddenly returns to the life of a happily married woman, causing her whole community of friends to question the nature of their relationships. The series runs to Saturday, Jan. 8, 2007, at the Goethe-Institut, 812 7th St. NW. $6. (202) 289-1200. (Aaron Leitko)

Tuesday, Dec. 19

On-screen, D.W. Griffith’s aptly titled 1931 film, The Struggle, tells the tale of a Prohibition-era alcoholic whose addiction to booze jeopardizes his marriage. Off-screen, the making of the low-budget talkie has its own sordid story: The final directorial effort of the highly controversial “Father of American Cinema” was fraught with studio problems, so harshly criticized upon its premiere that it never received a general release and such a financial failure that it drove Griffith’s company into bankruptcy and the director into exile for the remainder of his days. Even decades after Griffith’s death in 1948, The Struggle continues to find itself in the middle of a tug-of-war—between film nerds who insist that it’s an underappreciated work of realism and film nerds who maintain that it’s the self-indulgent work of an accused racist who had completely lost touch with his audience. Sneak in a bottle of hooch when The Struggle shows at 7 p.m. at the Library of Congress’ Pickford Theater, 101 Independence Ave. SE. Free. (202) 707-5677. (Matthew Borlik)

Wednesday, Dec. 20

The stories told by classic French cinema tend to transpire during Gallic society’s abundant downtime: at a cafe, on the beach, or in the bed of somebody else’s spouse. It’s only recently that French (and Belgian) filmmakers have discovered everyday work, but they’ve seized the subject with unexpected intensity. Like Laurent Cantet’s Human Resources, which preceded it by a few years, Jean-Marc Moutout’s 2003 Work Hard, Play Hard is the story of a man in the hapless middle: Young management trainee Philippe is assigned to audit a company and soon realizes that this is no academic assignment. The firm is about to be purchased, and Philippe’s assessment will be used to thin the ranks after the takeover is completed. While the employees’ jobs are at risk, for Philippe it’s his soul that’s at stake; it’s a no-win situation that makes the film a work of realism. The film shows at 8 p.m. at the Avalon Theater, 5612 Connecticut Ave. NW. $9.75. (202) 966-6000. (Mark Jenkins)

Thursday, Dec. 21

A small group of people wanders into the depths of Virginia, holes up in an old house, and emerges with a piece of art. The setup has all the makings of a modern-day Thoreau tale, but though the resultant album, In Fields We Will Lie, appreciates the great outdoors, it’s more fun than Walden. Nethers, featuring former members of the Carlsonics, have found a sound that is as difficult to classify as finding your way out of a dark Virginia forest. Whether traversing country or pop, Nikki West’s transcendent voice will make you want to kick your feet up on a deck railing and rock the day away. Song titles such as “Migratory Birds” and “Breastfeathers” may give the impression that the band’s a little too head-in-the-clouds naturalistic, but other numbers such as “Hung Herself in a Birdcage” show that the band is as grounded as, well, a dead canary. Try to decide between your country flannel and your hipster armband when the Nethers play with Page France at 9 p.m. at the Black Cat, 1811 14th St. NW. $8. (202) 667-7960. (Kim Gooden)