Arts Desk

Reviewed: Lindsay Rowinski at Transformer

Slop Stair, archival inkjet print, 44 X 63 inches, 2011

Lindsay Rowinski's current show at Transformer does not live up to the promise, contained in a recent e-blast sent by an organizer of the upcoming But Is It Art? fair, one the gallery was not aware had been sent out, "that you will feel reinvigorated about how contemporary art relates to the way we live our lives." But what could?

What her show, "Trying to be There," does do is make you take a second look at that eye-sore clinging to your neighbor’s façade, and aestheticize it.

At a quick glance, the exhibition seems limited to two photographs. But those familiar with Transformer's P Street NW space will quickly notice the artist has constructed a doorway beneath the office balcony. Other bits of faux remodeling embellish the space. The window’s ledge has been extended with drywall—and because someone sat upon it and broke it during the opening, the gallery’s signs immediately (and unfortunately) call attention to it as a work of art. Another addition slopes down from the ceiling at a 45-degree angle, complete with a pseudo dormer. It is also constructed of drywall, with clumsily taped seams. From a distance, it looks as if it might have always been there, and tenants past and present put up with the unsightly veins in the drywall skin—like tenants in an apartment who accept a landlord's decision to paint over wallpaper rather than remove it. However, considering it's in an art gallery, it can't help but feel artificial.

The augmentation of the space does provide a context for the two photographs, which are not about the way we live our lives, but rather the things we choose to ignore as we live our lives. In one photograph the artist documents her sculpture in situ against the median of a road; the sculpture juts from its side like a concrete cancer. Off-color, it simulates the contours and craft used by professional pavers, indicating she is at least concerned with the trade craft of cement forms, if not drywall and carpentry. The photograph is a bit of a one-liner: an ironic appendix commenting on the function of objects in civic spaces.  However, much like her pseudo-dormer, she put the addition there, distracting from the question she wants us to ask. Instead of asking what the function of a median is— a utilitarian object used to contain and guide traffic—we instead ask why this functionless addition is there. Placed in a broader context, we could associate Rowinski’s addition with the unsuccessful solutions city administrators sometimes apply to problems, like the roundabout at the intersection of Florida and New York avenues NE. But that association feels like a bit of a stretch.

On the opposite wall is a photograph of stairs, whose concrete sides slope into the runs of the steps, limiting the space where feet can safely fall. It’s the sort of crummy do-it-yourself job that a homeowner might take on to avoid being fined by the city for a crumbling stoop. However, taking into consideration that this documented craftsmanship is not Rowinski’s—it's something she found and photographed—that DIY scenario might in fact be the back-story of the steps. Rowinski is highlighting the choices of an unskilled laborer. Because of its genuine nature, the image of the stairs becomes more compelling.

Rowinski’s work finds kinship with the photography of Bernd and Hilla Becher: an art experience of the ignored everyday. And, there is greater strength in her documents of convenient, inexpensive, unskilled solutions. It is unfortunate that in this exhibition we cannot see more of them.

"Trying to Be There," part of Transformer's ongoing "E8: Sculpture" series of shows, closes on Saturday.

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