Even before you enter the front door to the Howard County Arts Council in Ellicott City, you know that nature has been altered in the group exhibit "Interference." The husband-and-wife artist team of Howard and Mary McCoy has a collaborative art installation titled "Holy Hollies" that involves taking colorful strips torn from used clothing and hanging them from the branches of two living holly trees planted on the arts council's front lawn.
By the time you're inside Gallery I, you will be confronted by other examples of natural and man-made objects that have been brought together. Although this multi-media exhibit sometimes could be more cohesive in its themes, it amounts to an invigorating display of artists pushing the envelope in one way or another.
The most direct stylistic link between what's outside the gallery and what's inside can be found in three sculptures by Howard McCoy. "Prayer Branch," "Sacred Eight" and "Twin Trunks with Prayer Flags" all have small Tibetan prayer flags hanging from tree branches or trunks. Whether mounted on the wall or on the floor, McCoy's sculptures are spare creations in which the natural tree shapes support prayers that presumably take us from the natural to the supernatural.
Installed nearby are Mary McCoy's "A Gathering of Wishes" and "Over the Hill," which both utilize "escaped" party balloons that deflated and then landed on the artist's farm. These shriveled bits of plastic that fell to earth are now tightly packed together as creatively recycled works of art.
Interaction with nature also is on the mind of Brooke Sturtevant-Sealover, whose "Separated Siamese Tree" and "Birdcage" both have slender dead tree trunks rising up from small pots. The delicate branches cast shadows against the gallery wall, and the upper branches of "Birdcage" have been woven so that they enclose what surely would be a bird-tempting strand of millet.
The other two artists in this exhibit work in video. Chris Basmajian's "Mother" combines fragmentary and fluttery images from Alfred Hitchcock's "Psycho" with your own image captured on a gallery-installed camera. It's kinda creepy and kinda neat to be pulled into the world of Norman Bates.
This same artist's "The Dawn of Man" has recurring sped-up images of an ape bashing a bone from Stanley Kubrick's "2001: A Space Odyssey." And Basmajian's "Challenger" has variously altered video images of the ill-fated space shuttle Challenger.
Just as the above-mentioned videos rely on constantly repeating images, Robert Ladislas Derr's "Six of One — Half Dozen of Another" shows the repetitive moves of somebody digging into the sand on a beach. Derr's second video, "Oil City," uses a fixed-position camera to establish contrasts between foreground vegetation and buildings in the background.
It's possible to think up various ways in which intervention or, if you prefer, interference operates in the video art and thereby link it to the sculptural pieces. If these thematic connections seem conceptually fuzzy, it's still possible to enjoy these artworks based on their individual merits.
In Gallery II, a two-artist exhibit titled "Paper Redux" features works by Jaime Bennati and Jene Laman in which paper has been shaped in unusual ways.
Laman takes handmade paper, paints it in earth tones, and then crafts it into bowls, boat-evocative forms and other shapes. This artist is doing with paper what one conventionally would expect an artist to do with ceramics or wood.
Bennati takes newspaper pages and binds them so tightly and skillfully together that the resulting wall-mounted forms have a sculptural quality as they project out into the gallery space. These newsprint-derived artworks are so densely formed that you're no longer able to read any of the original news stories, but your eyes still have plenty to look at.
"Interference" and "Paper Redux" remain through Oct. 21 at the Howard County Arts Council, at 8510 High Ridge Road in Ellicott City. call 410-313-2787 or go to http://www.hocoarts.org.