Holed up in scrubby apartments throughout the District and Brooklyn, you’ll find a breed of artists that didn’t live in either city five years ago. Among those who did live here, the question wasn’t whether to leave town, but when. That older track took many artists directly from classes at the University of Maryland or the Corcoran College of Art to Carroll Gardens or Williamsburg without so much as a summer off. Greener pastures invariably meant Brooklyn (and dreams of Chelsea).
Now, it’s the same old story—except artists are laying claim to a more cross-pollinated identity. There’s strong evidence for that in “Natural Fallacy,” the D.C. debut of the 229Collective, an intercity effort to show artists nurtured along I-95. Launched by two recent Corcoran graduates, Brooklyn-based Emilia Olsen and D.C.-based Amy Hughes Braden, the 229Collective had its first show in Brooklyn. Its second exhibit, at a studio in Bloomingdale, comes less than three months later, hinting at an ambitious pace.
Chandi Kelley is one of just a few straight-up D.C. artists in the exhibit. Her images depict mixed scenes: manmade environments that feature photos or other representations of the natural world. “Photosynthesis” is a large color photo of a landscape image offset in a space that might be an attic. Sara Diamond offers an elegant inversion of this work in an untitled collaged photo of a desert scene overlaid with pyramids of various colored foils. Both of these artists execute the natural-fallacy theme, as does Eames Armstrong, whose installation comprises seashells wired to play the actual sounds of the ocean.
The 229Collective show bears all the hallmarks of a DIY D.C. production: exceedingly low prices, a hanging system that varies with every work on the wall, Adrian Parsons. (The artist-cum-hunger-striker did unconscionable things to Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe” in an ear-splitting opening-night live performance.) There’s even a zine on display, by Corcoran student Jordan Sanders. The studio space is way too small to fit works by 15 artists, and the larger tension between natural and artificial environments gets lost in so much buzz.
While it’s a touch overzealous, the show does hammer at a secondary theme: that creative people who leave D.C. still find something magnetic about the city. Most of the artists cite more than one locale for their base of operations, and the 229Collective is itself a kind of mutual admiration society (if one originally founded here). Almost all the New York-based artists work somewhere in addition to that city. Only Marina Litvinskaya, who contributes a mixed-media portrait, claims New York alone. It’s not too clear what it means for an artist to embrace a hyphenated D.C.-NYC identity; maybe it simply reflects a leveling between saturated Brooklyn neighborhoods and gentrifying neighborhoods in D.C.—and Philadelphia and Baltimore, too. But those who rep D.C. even after they leave the city signal something that the art scene hasn’t always shown: confidence in a creative market.