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In the galleries: Photos at new SOCO Gallery, Prison Zoo at McColl

Mona Kuhn’s “Acqua 1” from the series “Venezia,” chromogenic print, 2010 on view at SOCO Gallery.
Mona Kuhn’s “Acqua 1” from the series “Venezia,” chromogenic print, 2010 on view at SOCO Gallery. Courtesy of SOCO Gallery

‘A Fluid Journey’

Named after a film about surf culture, “A Fluid Journey” is about life at land’s end. Many of these photographs will put you in a summery mood, but the show goes beyond escapism.

Two of the eight artists – Will Adler and LeRoy Grannis – depict the world of surfing. Grannis died in 2011 at age 93; Adler was born in 1984. Although both document a world apart, their work has tender contrasts – Grannis is exuberant; Adler, working 40-plus years later, is more restrained.

Massimo Vitali’s images of vacationers are awash in pastels as if bleached by the sun. But the initial charm of “Malcesine Sail” gives way to the understanding that this is not a cheery scene, but instead a collection of dissatisfied people.

In Mona Kuhn’s ominous “Venezia” series, the city appears to be inundated by water. To get these shots, Kuhn was lashed to a boat. These images feel like warnings about a future far different from the idylls depicted elsewhere in this impressive show.

SOCO Gallery; soco-gallery.com, 704-266-4211; through Aug. 22.

‘Prison Zoo’

While this exhibition by 2014 McColl Center for Art + Innovation artist-in-residence Alix Lambert includes prints, sketches and other works, the heart of the show is the title work, a short, powerful claymation video Lambert created and directed.

A television writer whose credits include “Deadwood,” Lambert is also an artist with a longstanding interest in prison culture.

A Web series pilot, “Prison Zoo” is set in a cell. It consists of a monologue by the chatty, profane Fennec Fox, who lies on the bottom bunk as his depressed cellmate, Dave the Sloth, tries not to listen. Fennec Fox is filled with justifications and excuses for the crime that sent him to prison. He chalks it up to being in the wrong place at the wrong time, compounded by his own foolishness. “That’s America,” he says.

“Prison Zoo” is tough and witty. It bears watching several times, because the lies Fennec Fox tells himself mutate into something else – the sheer bewilderment and desperation he feels, including the admission that even his own mother won’t visit him anymore. It also hammers home the idea that, for individuals trapped in hellish environments, conventional good behavior does not guarantee a way out.

Lambert initiated this project during her McColl residency, working with Damien Baldet, who wrote and performed the dialogue; puppet maker, animator and director of photography Tim Grant; Nick Vitelli and Moira Geer-Hardwick.

“Prison Zoo” is well worth seeing, but this is a small exhibition in a large space. Some exhibitions are intentionally spare, but that doesn’t seem to be the case here. Instead, the gallery merely looks empty. Perhaps McColl is still adjusting to its recently renovated gallery, but in a time of dwindling exhibition opportunities for deserving artists, it’s strange to see so much valuable space unused.

McColl Center for Art + Innovation; mccollcenter.org; 704-332-5535; through Aug. 14.

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