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"Janice Jakielski: Constructing Solitude" Janice Jakielski's work somehow manages to feel both futuristic and Victorian at the same time. Her colorful headdresses on display at the Houston Center for Contemporary Craft are quite photogenic, embroidered prettily with birds and adorned with paper flowers. They also feature some curious fashion choices: coffee mug halves that surround the eyes, wide ribbons that obscure the ears and even a bonnet made for two, each separate headdress connected by a striped portal in a way that forces each wearer's back to the other. These dozen or so hats are purposefully exaggerated, their impracticality meant to enforce a sense of isolation on the wearer. The exhibition is even titled "Constructing Solitude," and sets out to explore how a minor change or two from the norm can radically alter our view of the world. Or something like that. It all can be a bit of a leap. You have to go from merely admiring the skill and craftsmanship in these headdresses to imagining wearing them and how that might feel. It doesn't help that the headdresses are placed at varying heights on the walls, and the taller they are, the harder it is to really examine them. Some key references are also unclear and don't seem to readily serve the piece. The flowers are meant to signify floriography, a Victorian-era practice in which flowers were used to send messages, while the birds are a reference to auspicium — a form of divination that looks to the flight patterns of birds for signs. That's nice, but to what end? Jakielski does give museum-goers the chance to experience, rather than imagine, her work by setting up an interactive installation in the middle of the gallery space. In "Across the Divide," three pairs of handmade binoculars look upon these miniature porcelain nature scenes, which include a pile of leaves and what looks like a cornfield and some weeds. The idea is that when you look through the binoculars, someone else has the opportunity to look through the other pair and you can experience this act of viewing together. Of course, that only works if there's another person there to look through the binoculars with you and you both somehow know what to do. Otherwise there's little to guide you through the intended experience of this piece, which can lead you to look on in confusion or ignore it all together. Through May 5. 4848 Main, 713-529-4848. — MD

"John Cage: Prints, Drawings, and a Music Box" If there's one word John Cage is associated with, it's chance. It's crucial to the experience of his signature work, the silent composition 4'33", as well as his process in a variety of mediums. Cage relied on chance in the composition of both his music and his visual artwork, something he turned to mid-career with his first piece, Not Wanting to Say Anything About Marcel (A + B), which consists of two color lithographs, and explored up until his death in 1992. His very last piece, Extended Lullaby, a neat row of a dozen music boxes, was completed posthumously in 1994. Hiram Butler Gallery has both of these works on display in its current show, a collection of prints, drawings and that interactive music box installation. Cage was famously known to consult the classic Chinese text the I Ching during each step of his process, whether he was writing a song or making etchings on paper. And though it isn't obvious just from looking at them, this influence is behind the construction of the prints and drawings on display at Hiram Butler. Cage made The Missing Stone, for instance, by asking the I Ching questions on the type of brush he should use, the color of the paint and the thickness of the brushstrokes. The resulting etching is sparse and looks loosely like calligraphy. A similar process is also behind the making of his "edible drawings" — paper composed of various herbs and plants. Cage used the book to sort a variety of herbs into recipes, and through the papermaking process, they were randomly scattered in his drawing. Again, what may come across as deliberate choices is pure happenstance. Cage almost seems to be taking the easy way out with these drawings, freeing himself of the burden of choice and letting the I Ching make his decisions for him. But in the end, it's a much more laborious process that belies the light, easy manner of the drawings. Plus, Cage has to know what questions to ask in the first place. His seeming non-intentionality makes you think about how many choices go into a single piece of art, as well as all the happy accidents that come about because an artist did something not with intent but rather by mistake. The possibilities are almost paralyzing; consulting the I Ching seems like a pretty good solution. Chance plays a major role in his music box installation, but rather than rely on an ancient classic text, Cage needs your help to complete the work. In Eternal Lullaby, 12 music box mechanisms are contained within an acrylic tube, each designed to play random notes. With a gentle tap on a lever, you can start the music box's non-melodic tune. You can choose to get as many of these music boxes going as you like (some may need to be wound), but two or three at once gives you a chance to really listen. The resulting lullaby won't likely be one that you'd want to lull you to sleep — the discordant tones can get pretty eerie — but sometimes, amazingly, they strike a pleasant chord. By chance, of course. Through March 30. 4520 Blossom, 713-863-7097. — MD

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