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With an endless run of not-to-miss art exhibits, Ian Sweet headlining Songbyrd, and the kickoff of the National Park Service’s 50th anniversary of Fort Dupont Park shows, we once again offer further proof that: If you’re bored in the District, well, that’s on you.
Thursday through Sunday: 👀🎨🏜 at Touchstone Gallery
Across video-based platforms, there is a popular subset of “soothing” or “oddly satisfying” clips of everything from sidewalks getting power washed and cakes getting frosted to pottery being thrown. Local artist Jenny Wu’s process videos, which she often posts on her Instagram, scratch this particular itch. The artist pours layer upon layer of latex paint into trays, creating a thick buildup of colors and textures. She then meticulously cuts the layers to pieces and arranges them in interesting formations, covering the whole thing in a gleaming layer of resin. A roundup of her work at the downtown Touchstone Gallery gives viewers the time and proximity to get a zoomed-in look at these detailed compositions. The titles are as lively as the works themselves: “Taking a Break from My Mental Health to Focus on My Career” is a particularly evocative one, and “I Will Not Get Bit By Capitol Fox” is fitting for a flaming orange sculptural painting. Also included in the show is “Art for the People,” an ongoing interactive project of Wu’s in which she gives away tiny sculptures, cut from the same colorful layers as her paintings and looking like itty-bitty petit fours. In exchange, recipients share photos of where they’ve installed their teensy totems, and they’ve ended up in potted plants, on the ends of walking sticks, and among a Lego town. A pedestal of these is available for the taking (while supplies last, presumably). Jenny Wu’s exhibit runs through July 31 at Touchstone Gallery, 901 New York Ave. NW. Wednesday through Sunday, noon to 5 p.m. touchstonegallery.com. Free. —Stephanie Rudig
Friday: Ian Sweet at Songbyrd
Unlike many indie musicians, Jilian Medford (stage name Ian Sweet) doesn’t come off as an inscrutable, artistic type. Instead, she freely admits that she pays the bills working for a firm that makes music for movie trailers (honest work!) and that Avril Lavigne is the performer who got her into music. Coldplay is her favorite band, and she’s seen them five times. So what? Medford also talks openly about her struggles with mental health, not in a stage-managed way that glamorizes the suffering, but in a manner that frames it as the common, cumbersome health problem it is. Her most recent album, Show Me How You Disappear, was partially written while she received outpatient treatment for anxiety. Some of the treatment-mandated writing exercises even turned into opportunities to crank out new lyrics. A native Californian, Medford is based in Silver Lake, the same Los Angeles neighborhood that produced Silversun Pickups. Also like the Silversuns: You can hear shades of The Pixies in her quiet-loud vocals and the sparkly melancholy of her music. More contemporary references include Jack Stauber, Penelope Scott, and Japanese Breakfast. Medford worked with Chris Coady, a producer who has a history with Beach House, on parts of the new album. Coady’s influence definitely shows up, but Medford does a better job of articulating what her music sounds like than comparisons to other musicians can. In an interview, she recently told music writer Mimi Kenny why Show Me How You Disappear sounds the way it does. “I’d have … glimmers of clarity, but it was always fleeting,” said Medford. “And it’d be overtaken by anxiety and depression, and that’s where the distortion and saturated sounds come in … It reflects how I’m feeling.” The musician comes to Songbyrd with her latest songs on July 29. The show starts at 7 p.m. on July 29 at Songbyrd, 540 Penn St. NE. songbyrddc.com. $15–$17. —Will Lennon
Friday through Sunday: Caribbean Transitions and The Quest for Tranquil Space at American University Museum
If the 90-degree D.C. days and air so humid you practically have to swim through it aren’t steamy enough for you, take an excursion to two tropical exhibits currently on view at the American University Museum, safely in the comfort of air-conditioning. Caribbean Transitions features work by Caribbean American artists, some born in the U.S. and some who settled here. A variety of countries and artistic mediums are represented in the exhibit, and this rich array provides insight into the connections and contradictions between the two regions. Though their work takes different forms and centers different subject matter, themes of identity, ritual, and travel abound. Though it shows up in different ways, decoration is plentiful, and scarcely a surface is left unadorned. Several ingenious sculptures feature found or transfigured objects, like Miguel Luciano’s “RUN-A-BOUT,” a tricked-out bicycle rigged with a machete, multiple nation’s flags, and several horns, and Pepón Osorio’s “Lonely Soul,” in which a house is held up by a pile of crutches while a face screams inside. Paintings by Renluka Marahaj and Edouard Duval Carrié showcase ancestral figures, lush florals, and intricate patterns, all intricately rendered and shimmering on the canvas. Upstairs, The Quest for Tranquil Space: Paintings and Photograms spotlights the works of Josef Achrer, most of which are large, dreamy landscapes. Large acrylic canvases of backlit palms seem to sizzle and steam with their shock of colors, giving the effect of being in a humid heat haze. Geometry and grids underlie many of these compositions, suggesting the tensions between the untamed chaos of the natural world and our urge to control it. The photograms are breathtaking, printed on the largest photo paper available. Achrer collages different photographic prints and textures and obstructs parts of the exposure with found objects. Dust flecks become swirling snow storms or night skies, long strips of paper become buildings, bits of thread become tent posts or kitestrings. Each of these works is easy to get caught up in, a roomful of them is practically a vacation from the world. The Quest for Tranquil Space: Paintings and Photograms and Caribbean Transitions are on view through August 7 at American University Museum, 4400 Massachusetts Ave. NW. Friday through Sunday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. american.edu. Free. —Stephanie Rudig
Saturday: Be’la Dona, Sirius Company, and the Soul Searchers at Fort Dupont Park
Free summer concerts return to Southeast’s Fort Dupont Park on Saturday, July 30, with a go-go triple bill to kick off the National Park Service’s 50th anniversary of shows in the park. In 1972, NPS added Fort Dupont, with its wide stage and long, sloping lawn, to a list of city-wide, outdoor stages that already included Fort Reno Park and Carter Barron Amphitheatre. (According to the Washington Post, the Summer in the Parks series began in 1968 in response to Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination and the subsequent uprisings, which greatly impacted many D.C. neighborhoods.) At Fort Dupont, the genres of music offered and the amount of concerts each summer has varied over the years: In the 1970s, the Ward 7 location featured music every Friday and Saturday night from Memorial Day to Labor Day. In the 1980s, the series spotlighted jazz stars like Sun Ra and singer Betty Carter. In the 2000s, the hired promoter regularly brought in legacy soul acts like the Dramatics and the Delfonics. Some acts played the park every summer. Jazz-funk artist Roy Ayers loved playing Fort Dupont so much that he named a song after it. This year’s 50th-anniversary program, however, includes just five shows, and lineups for Aug. 13 through Sept. 3 have yet to be announced. Saturday night’s kickoff will showcase the all-women go-go act Be’la Dona, along with Sirius Company, and The Soul Searchers featuring trumpet player and vocalist Donald Tillery, who was in the original Soul Searchers with Chuck Brown. Count on plenty of timeless funky D.C. rhythms, soulful vocalizing, and call-and-response interplay with the audience from all the acts including DJ Rico. For 50 years this spacious, comfortable locale surrounded by trees has drawn crowds ranging in size from several hundred to 25,000. The music, the community spirit, and the park’s charm will please both those who have grown up with it and newcomers alike in its golden anniversary. The music starts at 7 p.m. on July 30 at Fort Dupont Park, Minnesota Ave. SE. nps.gov. Free. —Steve Kiviat
Saturday and Sunday: Timeless: Historic Photographic Processes in the Digital Age at Photoworks
Timeless: Historic Photographic Processes in the Digital Age is an exercise in time travel, offering evidence that several archaic photographic techniques still have some life left in them. Sebastian Hesse-Kastein uses a pinhole camera and a platinum-palladium printing process developed in the 1870s to make gently distorted images of rustic scenes. Using a crisper version of the platinum-palladium process, Rodrigo Barrera-Sagastume documents residents and architecture in Guatemala. William Shelton harnesses the obscure Ziatype process to capture maritime scenes—including a riot of crab shells—using a range of tones. Redeat Wondemu’s portraits offer contrasting portrayals of skin—reflective in platinum-palladium prints, flatter in cyanotypes, which are produced with an iron-salt process invented in the 1840s that create the mesmerizing Prussian blue shade of blueprints. Scott Davis uses palladium printing to document church architecture in Europe, including a strikingly precise rendering of the facade of Florence’s Duomo. But the most voracious efforts to leverage old techniques can be seen in the works of Mac Cosgrove-Davies and Paige Billin-Frye. Cosgrove-Davies’ works range from tiny, jewel-like images to impressive larger ones made with the dreamy gum-bichromate process, including an Art Moderne-influenced photograph of stems in a vase and a hazy, extreme-horizontal landscape of the Hudson River Valley that looks like it was made in the 19th century. Billin-Frye, meanwhile, uses specially toned cyanotypes to document flora and fauna, including a pleasingly sharp image of a spherical sea urchin, several tender renderings of seed pods, and some startlingly modern-looking snapshots captured in a full-color variety of cyanotype. Ultimately, in this exhibit, the subject matters less than how eccentrically it is rendered. Timeless: Historic Photographic Processes in the Digital Age runs through Aug. 14 at Photoworks at Glen Echo Park, 7300 MacArthur Blvd., Glen Echo. Saturdays 1 to 4 p.m. and Sundays 1 to 7 p.m. On July 30, the gallery hosts a free sun printing cyanotype workshop. glenechophotoworks.org. Free. —Louis Jacobson