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Close-knit ‘Sweater’ teamwork

Special to The Times

“Sweater” is a collaborative installation organized by Gallery 825, directed by sculptor Tim Hawkinson and created by six of the L.A. Art Assn.'s member artists: Michele Jaquis, Arthur Pembleton, Sharon Kagan, Meeson Pae Yang, Neil Fenn and Sophia Allison, none of whom has worked with one another before. The second in an ongoing series of collaborative projects designed to foster mentorship opportunities for LAAA artists, it sounds like a good time.

It also sounds like something that, with so many cooks in the kitchen, could easily degenerate into chaos. I can’t speak to the nature of the process, but the final result is just the opposite: a strikingly harmonious creation that, though physically sprawling, leaves a singularly refined impression.

The unlikely material is cream-colored industrial spray foam. The artists used it to produce a series of large, flat, rectangular grids that were subsequently strung together and draped from ceiling to floor around the gallery. The effect is that of a massive fishing net -- or, as the title suggests, a very loosely woven sweater. An audio component, which feels less than essential but doesn’t particularly detract, strings together snippets from instructional knitting tapes.

With a nod to Eva Hesse and a distinct (though not overpowering) echo of Hawkinson’s own convoluted contraptions, the piece has a weird, organic delicacy that encourages exploration, drawing the viewer into its fold. The material is strong enough to hold its shape (with the help of a few wires and some monofilament) but looks like it would crumble to the touch, as if produced in some fantastic growth spurt but now on the verge of deterioration. The fact that it is shifting over time -- responding to fluctuations in temperature and sagging under its own weight -- underscores its air of organic vitality.

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In the season of the sprawling group show, with individual artists thrown into jostled competition on crowded gallery walls all over the city, a community effort as thoughtful and focused as this comes as a refreshing alternative. It’s art for art’s sake, in the best possible sense.

The three solo shows that accompany the installation -- Lana Shuttleworth, Robin McCauley and Dori Atlantis -- embody a similar range of formal concerns and are also well worth a look. Especially notable is Shuttleworth’s “Rock Bottom,” a fantastic multipaneled landscape made entirely (like all of the works in her show) from the rubber of road construction safety cones, sliced into hundreds, perhaps thousands, of tiny slivers and disks. It’s always thrilling to see so banal an object transformed into something beautiful, but this is a particularly impressive stretch. Who knew that this humble, road-battered fixture contained such an astonishing range of tones and textures?

Gallery 825, 825 N. La Cienega Blvd., Los Angeles, (310) 652-8272, through July 21. Closed Mondays and Tuesdays. www.laaa.org.

Viewing L.A., for a limited time

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David Lamelas’ “Time as Activity (Los Angeles)” at MC Gallery is an elegant cinematic haiku, condensing a vastly multifaceted city into three brilliantly simple shots.

In the first, the camera gazes over the shoulder of an unidentified man to contemplate the surf crashing on an empty beach, presumably in Santa Monica or Venice.

The second begins at the top of a hill in Culver City, looking out across a quintessentially bleary, palm-spiked stretch of urban terrain. A woman steps into the frame, pauses to look, and steps out. The camera, apparently fixed to the hood of a car, then begins to roll down the hill and into the traffic of Venice Boulevard, where it proceeds steadily through several stoplights.

The third shot, again static, focuses on a swimming pool, with the lower half of the frame filled like an aquarium with vividly illuminated blue water and the upper half by the black night sky. A female swimmer crosses periodically from one edge of the frame to the other.

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A graceful reprise to Lamelas’ 1968 film, “Time as Activity (Dusseldorf),” which follows a similar structure, the work approaches the profound by way of the ordinary. The title is significant; in isolating not only these three particular (and particularly characteristic) views but emphasizing, in each case, a particular duration, Lamelas encourages the contemplation of time and space simultaneously. To give yourself over to the film is to enter into a sort of meditation in which the subtlest details excite tremors of curiosity and appreciation.

MC, 6086 Comey Ave., Los Angeles, (323) 939-3777, through July 22. Closed Sundays and Mondays. www.mckunst.com.

Complexity from a familiar formula

Brian Wills works within a strikingly narrow set of parameters, producing sleek abstract compositions that consist solely -- as far as I’ve seen, since first encountering his work several years ago -- of very thin vertical stripes, typically arrayed over a succession of plank-like horizontal registers.

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There are those who gravitate to repetition out of complacency and those who do so in the interest of rigor. Wills, judging from the solo show now at the Happy Lion, appears to be one of the latter. Employing the same basic compositional formula to explore a variety of media, he achieves an impressive degree of nuance and complexity.

All six works are composed on medium-to-large wood panels whose surfaces Wills has divided into 1- or 2-inch horizontal registers. In two of these, the ground is a vivid turquoise, with slender, multicolored lines painted at uneven intervals along each register.

Another piece involves subtly varying shades of iridescent white and pearl. And another has thin strips of paint-brushed vinyl tape wrapped around each register, like so many rubber bands.

The most spectacular work, however, moves away from paint altogether and uses different types of wood to create a variety of shades among the registers. The stripes in this case are made with dental floss, suspended luxuriously in multiple layers of varnish. It’s a beautiful piece -- stately, even majestic from a distance and utterly absorbing at close range.

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The Happy Lion, 963 Chung King Road, Los Angeles, (213) 625-1360, through July 29. Closed Sundays through Tuesdays. www.thehappylion.com.

An installation wired to engage

Ray Rapp’s “Human Locomotion Los Angeles,” at Fringe Exhibitions, is a new-media installation turned inside out, with the cords, cables, wires, electrical boxes and DVD players that are typically stashed out of sight stretched across the walls in giant, spiraling configurations that the gallery’s press release refers to as “drawings.”

The installation is striking at a glance. The imagery on the miniature LED screens that dangle from it -- manipulated footage of individual figures engaged in some athletic or gestural action (riding a wave, shooting a gun, dancing and so on) -- is also sufficiently engaging. Beneath the entertaining gadgetry, however (which itself owes much to such pioneers as Alan Rath and Tony Oursler, and suffers by comparison), the substance of the work is rather thin, making it easy to breeze through with little more than an appreciative nod.

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“Lower Level,” an installation by Jake Lee-High in the basement of the gallery, is subtler -- so subtle you could miss it if you didn’t know it was there -- and considerably more evocative. The piece consists of a small, bare, carpeted room, low-ceilinged and windowless, that Lee-High has built at the base of the stairs.

Step inside and you’re enveloped by the smell of fresh paint, then by a faint, muffled cacophony: ringing telephones, television chatter, distant conversation, a baby’s cry. Though entirely manufactured -- they come from 18 speakers hidden behind the room’s walls -- the sounds create a world around the tiny room, simulating with startling accuracy the peculiar experience of being alone in a new apartment for the first time, before your brain has had a chance to sort through the ambient noise and decide which threads to block out.

It’s a simple concept but remarkably affecting, drawing up a vivid range of emotional responses, including loneliness, fear, curiosity and empathy.

Fringe Exhibitions, 504 Chung King Court, Los Angeles, (213) 613-0160, through July 29. Closed Sundays through Wednesdays. fringexhibitions.com.

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