Visual art: Science as art, from environment to robots

Arctic Utopia

“Arctic Utopia” is Charlotte-based artist Marek Ranis’ personal response to global calamity.

Combining installation, video, photography and sculpture, the exhibition is a meditation on native communities displaced by environmental change and exploitation of natural resources. Many of the images and ideas emerged from Ranis’ two-month Rasmussen Foundation residency in Alaska and additional research in Greenland.

Especially dazzling are two huge wall installations. “Survey,” composed of declassified military maps, places the Arctic, rendered in gold leaf, at its center. “Republika” is a “glacier” made of mylar, studded with fake fur and anchored by trash bags filled with shredded currency.

In the show’s title works, seven Plexiglas mirrors with digital photos, the viewer sees a composite image – his or her own body, topped by a tribal parka hood – a dramatic reminder of our planet’s smallness and how environmental change imperils all of us.

McColl Center for Art + Innovation; www.mccollcenter.org; 704-332-5535; through Nov 22.

Re/Presenting HIV/AIDS

This 12-artist exhibition explores the science and stigma of HIV/AIDS, as well as the logistics of living with it. It covers the epidemic from its terrifying start in the 1980s, to the 1990s development of the pharmceutical cocktail that made HIV/AIDS a more manageable condition, to the present day.

Some of the artists use the messy materials of disease and treatment to make work that is meticulous. These include Andrew McPhail’s Band-Aid covered objects that reflect what he calls the “obsessive hypochondria” of living with HIV/AIDS, Robert Sherer’s delicate works on paper made with blood instead of ink, Shan Kelley’s text rendered entirely with needle perforations, and Laura Splan’s installation that combines representations of doilies, medical supplies, viruses and more to illustrate the collision of Southern gentility and the reality of living with AIDS.

Jessica Whitbread’s “Space Date” photographs, hilarious and disconcerting commentaries on safe sex in the era of HIV/AIDS, feature two women dressed in astronaut suits.

Two videos by Mike Hoolboom, “Positiv” and “Buffalo Death Mask,” address the seismic shift that happened when the cocktail arrived and HIV/AIDS no longer meant certain death. These videos require patience, but it is worth hanging in there, because they provide a remarkable perspective on what it’s like to make peace with your impending death – and then realize you’re not about to die.

Van Every/Smith Galleries, Davidson College; www.davidsoncollegeartgalleries.org; 704-894-2519; through Oct 5.

Oil to Water

Oliver Lewis spent 1.5 years building and tweaking his art-making robot, Michael.h, which you can now see making paintings at Twenty-Two, Plaza Midwood’s inviting art gallery and bar. Michael.h also burns images into wood, many of which are on display here – skulls, a guitar, women and bees against elaborate floral and paisley backgrounds.

Jon Prichard is represented by work in a variety of media, including a series of beautiful ink on paper pieces that are like doodles on steroids. The images can be subtle, hinting at birds, machinery, landscape, textiles, ritual, architecture, weather and more. Prichard aptly characterizes them as the momentary alignment of chaotic parts.

Twenty-Two; gallerytwentytwo@gmail.com; 704-334-0122; through Oct 5.

British Invasion

This show of 11 British artists, drawn largely from the Bechtler’s permanent collection, is enlivened by several loans. Davidson College provided David Hockney’s “Brooklyn Bridge,” one of his “joiner” collages, created from about 150 Polaroid photographs. From the Estate of Lynn Chadwick in London come some of the most refreshing works in the exhibition, several of Chadwick’s elongated abstracted human and animal figures, inspired in part by early 1960s London fashion.

Bechtler Museum of Modern Art; www.bechtler.org; 704-353-9200; through Feb 18.