An art show on U Street encourages viewers to think about the difference between shelter and the outdoors. Whether you’re outside or inside, your place in the built environment depends on your perspective.

Exhibit-goers take a look at Theaters of the 13th Dimension by Mars Tokyo at Outside-In’s opening reception. All photos by the author.

Outside-In is showing at the Joan Hisaoka Healing Arts Gallery on U Street NW. This group exhibition of four artists “explores the dwelling from various points of view,” according to the show notes.

The gallery’s front window houses Modern Colossus, a work of wood, acrylic, and gouache paint by DC artist Carson Murdach. At once simple and complex, the artwork depicts a city skyline of gray low-rises and skyscrapers towering over an anarchistic assembly of white wooden houses of varying sizes, some with red rooves.

Modern Colossus by Carson Murdach.

The houses cohabitate with other indeterminate residents. White wooden rectangles are painted red on one side, visually and materially identifying with the houses even as they play an unclear role in the urban construct.

Pure white houses, squares and rectangles are speechless about their raison d’être. A few upwardly mobile figures have summited the high-rise buildings, perched on rooftops at precarious angles. A few others have strayed off the grid. The landscape is devoid of people.

In his artist statement, Murdach says his work seeks to “narrate cautionary tales of humanity’s pattern of civilization.”

New Metropolis by Carson Murdach.

Artist Michael Nakoneczny creates three-dimensional structures in the form of houses. “My inspiration and ideas often come from observing and interacting with the funky, decrypted, abandoned buildings, shacks, and houses I seek out while riding my bike up and down alleys and industrial areas,” wrote Nakoneczny in his artist statement. He surveys the grounds to collect “whatever catches my eye and can fit in my backpack.”

Small Talk, Big Talk by Michael Nakoneczny.

The other two Outside-In artists speak to the urban experience more indirectly. Mars Tokyo creates three-dimensional miniature theaters so small that only one person can view the art at a time. Perhaps equipped with a magnifying glass for a closer look, viewers see universal situations and emotions played out on an urban stage.

Mars Tokyo’s Theaters of the 13th Dimension. This is an accidental metaphor for the theme of perspective: you see reflections of me and the opposite wall of art. It’s an interesting case of “the medium is the message.”

Though he may not be a household name, artist Lee Wheeler is familiar to DC nightlife patrons. His work inhabits popular bars such as the Big Hunt and Lucky Bar on Connecticut Avenue NW, as well as Hill East local favorite Trusty’s. He designed the H Street Country Club golf course and his handiwork appears in Rock & Roll Hotel and other H Street NE Corridor hotspots.

Wheeler’s contribution to Outside-In is mixed-media birdhouses, “metaphors of things that can threaten, enhance, challenge or transport,” said curator Dolly Vehlow.

Is art imitating life or vice versa? Those verbs universally apply to the real-life housing and transportation issues we write about here at Greater Greater Washington.

Crowd at July 29 opening reception.

Outside-In shows at Joan Hisaoka Healing Arts Gallery, 1632 U Street NW, through September 2. There’s an artist and curator talk on August 20 from 3:30 to 5:30 pm. Want to meet up? I’ll be there, wearing a fluorescent bicycle lapel pin! If we get a group, we can go for dinner or drinks afterward if there’s interest.