The living end: Death becomes Second Street

John Grant, "Birds of a Feather."
John Grant, "Birds of a Feather."

As once green leaves shrivel and fall and daylight dwindles, the world sends our summer-hazed selves a wake-up call to smell the wilting roses of our own mortality. It's no accident that Halloween and Dia de los Muertos, when the dead come calling, coincide with fall's decay.

Appropriately, Second Street Gallery's walls this month are awash with death. Like a phoenix rising from the ashes, SSG has recovered its mojo after a dismal September to present three noteworthy exhibitions: Georgianne Stinnett's "Daemons," John Grant's "Fairy Tales and Reveries," and Marko M€etamm's "Happily Ever After."

In the Main Gallery, Stinnett's oversized images of taxidermists' armatures-the internal forms that give the hides of dead animals the illusion of life-prompt viewers to try to make sense of what they're seeing. Stinnett shoots the ivory-colored forms against black backgrounds, playing with focus to provide enough information to make the objects seem familiar yet not quite recognizable, literally blurring the lines between this world and an unknowable realm.

Her compositions are graceful and luminous, printed on aluminum. Particularly compelling is "Dog," in which a white canine form stretches languidly across the frame. The image seems peaceful, yet a closer look reveals waxen drips and pockmarks on the body-as if the anguished dog preserved in Pompeian ash has finally awakened to an afterlife.

On the other side of the gallery, John Grant also uses glossy surfaces-this time created with resin-to imbue his digital montages with a seeming internal radiance. Grant, known for his lush and evocative photographs of flowers, combines scanned images of flora, insects, and other organic matter with camera-shot landscapes to create dreamlike compositions that examine the passage from life to death.

Grant's layered images are rich with color and nuanced symbolism, and he subtly incorporates visual cues-such as the impression of hand tinting or photographic decay-to create an aura of nostalgia. In "Samurai Summer," wilting pink wildflowers and brilliant green stems frame the mottled shell of a rhinoceros beetle against a darkened, soft-focus panorama of Virginia countryside.

Far less romantic, Marko M€etamm fills the Dov© Gallery with dollhouse vignettes, photographs, and videos that offer a darkly humorous view of domestic frustration and familial resentment. His short films, featuring animated paper cutouts, are particularly clever (not to mention bloody). Even the X-rated, Kama Sutra-esque  "All We Have is Love"- yes, paper-doll porn!- continues the death theme by celebrating la petit mort.

John Grant's "Fairy Tales and Reveries," Georgianne Stinnett's "Daemons," and Mark M€etamm's "Happily Ever After" are on view through October 31 at Second Street Gallery. 115 Second St. SE in the City Center for Contemporary Arts. 977-7284.