Lindsay Rowinski @ Transformer

Lindsay Rowinski’s Trying to Be There is a short-term show that stages itself as both intervention and discovery, and demonstrates an art that is necessarily only part of the larger multi-human systems in which it finds itself.

Two wide-carriage prints of landscape details tell the main tale of Lindsay’s idea: stuff has been left everywhere, stuff that sublimely and sneakily teaches us how to act in the world despite ourselves. One print stages discovery: a fabricated bloom of curbwork has grown out of the side of a sidewalk, a polyp appearing overnight on the body of a parking lot.

The second print brings the parking lot home. A carelessly-finished concrete stoop has been embalmed in traffic-lane yellow paint, as if to stabilize with color steps that almost want to slump down to the street.

Of course, values like intervention and discovery are tentative and plausibly reversed; Rowinski could have found that strange little bubble of a curb already poured in place, and/or decided to brighten those stairs with an indelible industrial yellow. The two prints, facing each other across a few feet of Transformer’s P St. space, trade and share values just as they blend their hybrid means of photography, sculpture and high concept.

They remind me of Robert Smithson’s work, which usually “occurred” in open spaces, but inevitably came to us in the cropped and limited forums of the gallery and the catalogue. Here I especially think of Smithson’s poured works, documented aftermaths of pouring a 55-gallon drum of glue or oil down the slope of an industrial middens. Smithson was not an easy environmentalist, and using degradation to talk about degradation means we may end up in bed with the real thing when all the time we thought we were just on a chat.

Staging and/or finding her subject in disused or misused public space, Rowinski plants a flag for the republic of art in a hostile territory. And yet the expedition transforms the captain, too — the vector of force has more than one head. The effect going native has had on the artist is embedded in two architectural flourishes that frame the gallery space. The first encloses the end of the gallery, a diminutive doorway of clapboard and whitewash that looks for all the world as if Li’l Abner left Dogpatch and built a little cabin in Hennepin County, down the road a piece from the Browns and that weird dog.

Overhead, Rowinski has fabricated a memorial to the kind of architecture that needs no preservation. It’s a mysterious buttress whose function is vague but implacable, and whose form is palpable but untouchable. It looks like a mistake, but one that has been so well-integrated into the world that we must admit it has a use.

The incidental public spaces where we spend so much time are not barren; they are overloaded when it comes to meaning. Some part of us wants to bring that overload under control, or failing that, deny its existence, its power. But Rowinski’s work makes it clear that this overload of meaning is meant for us. It is what we live for.

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