Not all exhibitions have beginnings, but some exhibitions have music. Lindsey Dorr-Niro’s recent solo show, “object / coda” at Regards began with “chorus.”
The piece is a raised platform containing objects isolated from their contexts and arranged on the table. These include chips of orange paint, tree bark, rocks, a piece of torn bright blue fabric, a leaf, paint swatches and a sliver of sky. Resting on this large bed in the company of neighbors, they are plucked, perhaps, but it would be wrong to call them specimens. They are active, alive and connected to every part of this room. They sing not in isolation but as a chorus.
The way these pieces fill the room is nonlinear, non-narrative and atmospheric. We recognize them as they reappear. But the forms in which they do so are often disorienting.
Photographic elements appear in multiple ways throughout the show to further defamiliarize the vocabulary presented. Small digital prints appear in “chorus” but are also presented in their own right. In one alcove, on a wall painted blue, there are three digital prints arranged in a neat row. They each re-present a different element from “chorus.” The first, “blue rock | 1,” shows the rock over a blue plastic flag over a white paper; the second, “blue stick | 2,” shows the long stick over a commercial paint swatch over another white sheet; the third, “orange | 3,” shows a crumpled orange piece of plastic trash on a white paper. The three pieces themselves are hung on the same blue wall, extending the gesture of superimposing outside of the frame of the print. Where does the layering end and where does it begin? What is the background and what is the foreground? How is the blue of the wall different from the blue of the flag that the rock sits upon? What I am contemplating is how to see this presentation of objects. It’s akin to the moment when one angles two mirrors against each other just so and then stare into an infinite repetition. The image of the viewer herself within the frame is not what holds the sight and is caught there only incidentally.
The blue in this show is nonspecific yet pervasive. It’s a blue-blue kind of blue. Pure in the sense of its identifiability. Blue like the sky. Blue like the ocean. Blue like a projection screen. Blue like Chase Bank. Blue like IKEA. It’s the same blue, and yet, which blue is it?
It’s hard to know exactly which word to use when describing Dorr-Niro’s multiples. Repetition? Appropriation? Imitation? Mirroring? Representation? It is and is not all of those things. But it is always near them. Dorr-Niro’s work doesn’t comfortably situate itself with any of these verbs because they all imply an origin. And, by fragmenting and layering the elements extracted from the world, Dorr-Niro shows us that the recognition comes from the viewer and not from the form. These objects are instructive of how we see and not of things as they are.
No surface is stable in the show. A large “screen” creates a boundary between “chorus” and the rest of the exhibition, but it is a porous polyester boundary that brings everything into view, including what’s outside the large open windows at the front of the gallery. The only opacity offered is that of a long gray diagonal line, tracing the beam behind the object, which exists to offer stability, bringing the background to the fore, twisting the linearity of the object, but also of looking. One does not need to stand behind it to see behind it fully.
There is another screen in the exhibition that plays a short film, “refrain.” The gestures of layering or resting atop are recreated in the closeness of the camera to the forms presented to us again. The camera grazes the edge of the stone, the edge of a vinyl sheet with flecks of dirt, the edge of a twisted wooden object with flecks of something—perhaps also dirt or just the remnants of a patina now lost. Against a backdrop of that same blue, we see pieces of a wooden platform being arranged and rearranged. There’s a figure, the artist, doing the rearranging. Indications are that it’s cold outside. Her hands reluctantly leave her coat pockets and her hair flaps in the wind. Diligently, she reconfigures the object during these interstitial moments. Then she walks out of the frame. The reconfiguration of the object is always changing, but this is always the same—the figure leaving and returning. From time to time, you can see the platform wobble. These acts are delicate, but they are continuous and intrinsic.
“Refrain” is echoed in “re/frame” in which a thin walnut frame stands on its side. Against the frame are white nonspecific fragments of an unassembled furniture object. The incomplete frame made up of these white pieces recall that of the walnut they are resting against, but they also recall putting together cheap furniture that many of us have. But perhaps the walnut frame only reads as furniture in the presence of this other, similar object. A sculpture like this functions in how it exceeds its object-ness. The plastic is not a representation of the wood, and the wood is not a “purer,” “better” form, more connected to an ideal of nature. Instead it is like the flecks of soil covering the surface of the neon-orange fabric—working in concert and in undeniable closeness to create the visual world in which we live.
In the other major sculptural work, “everything / nothing can grow here,” a pile of gravel rests on a bed of plastic furniture with fluorescent lighting and color gels suspended above. I can’t recognize the found objects that comprise this work, but I know I can buy them at Home Depot, among many other rows of decontextualized objects and in the midst of the same hue of orange. The moment of recognition is powerful, but paired with this unspecificity, and lack of a container, it propels the site of meaning away from the object itself and lodges it into the viewer. In this way, the title of this work is perhaps the most telling. Everything/nothing can grow here is not a statement of fact, but an insistent demand. Everything and nothing can grow here not simply because it can’t but because that growth must not reside in the formal world.
Lindsey Dorr-Niro’s work thus presents us an ethic. Her work encourages malleability not onto the world itself—twisting and stretching its forms into that which we desire or deem to be “better.” Rather, she uses material exploration as a method to twist and stretch the viewer. If anything, it is we who must be “better.” This gesture is as profoundly political as it is subtle. It provides a framework for responsiveness. Dorr-Niro’s work presents a way to use the material world as a site for reconfiguration, exploration and reframing within ourselves. (Fulla Abdul-Jabbar)
Lindsey Dorr-Niro: object / coda, Regards, 2216 West Chicago, through February 22.