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By Mark Jenkins
It’s not easy being green, chides Rives Wiley in “How to Be Photo-Synthetic,” her Hamiltonian Gallery show. The D.C. artist bases 3-D installations on digital imagery, creating spaces that appear recognizable yet slightly eerie. Her sourcefor this simulated place is stock photography of spas that turn the spare Zen aesthetic into something of hospital-like sterility. Mocking the cult of wellness, she places pots of plastic grass and cups of fake green tea amid large white stones that are actually painted plastic foam.
The piece, as Wiley explained in a recent artist’s talk, was partly inspired by her distrust of new-age phenomena such as Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop. But she also seeks to replicate the experience of looking at photos, even covering some surfaces with gel so they appear unfocused. What some people perceive as “natural” is presented here as profoundly alienating.
Also at Hamiltonian is work by Ellen Xu, a China-born artist who received her MFA in Seattle. The fragmented narrative of her video, “Chimerical,” turns on a wedding dance by a couple, the man Western and the woman Asian. The latter character may be a figment of the man’s — or the artist’s — imagination. The video plays near a gray jigsaw-puzzle sculpture with pieces missing. Xu seams highly attuned to things that aren’t there.