Tuesday, June 22nd, 2010

The mirror stage: Heather Rowe’s latest installation

Heather Rowe: Trouble Everyday at D’Amelio Terras

May 8 – June 19, 2010
525 West 22nd Street
New York City, 212 352 9460

installation shot of Heather Rowe: Trouble Everyday at D’Amelio Terras,  May 8 - June 19, 2010
installation shot of Heather Rowe: Trouble Everyday at D’Amelio Terras, May 8 - June 19, 2010

A placard advises visitors to Heather Rowe’s installation to “Please be aware of your surroundings as you move through the space.” It seemed at first glance like a practical request considering the narrow, winding passages of the sculptural modules.  The mirrors’ dizzying and duplicating effects invoke disorientation. But unlike the delicate sculptures in Anne Truitt’s exhibition across 22nd Street, the advisory was less for the safety of Rowe’s robust work than that of its viewers. This is where I read the statement as ironic because Rowe’s installation invites the opposite experience—an intense dislocation of surroundings and place, blurring interior and exterior space. It is impossible to experience the installation without negotiating its narrow passages, where you confront your reflection (with all associated visual and psychological baggage) among steel planks that simultaneously frame other visitors’ craniums—or more disturbingly suggest their decapitation.

Initially, the structure, made up of modules of skeletal scaffolding, resembles uniform floating pieces of furniture such as bookshelves or desks. An eye-level shelf becomes the perceptual locus, containing rhomboid-shaped mirror pieces and fragments of decorative moldings. This installation is less architectural than Rowe’s previous works though still fused to the architecture’s space.

While Rowe’s current exhibition characteristically incorporates sculpture, installation and architecture as an experience, it attempts to grow farther from her well-noted influences. Although the disorientation of surroundings (Dan Graham’s perceptual pavilions), displacement of space and material (Gordon Matta-Clark’s building cuts) and temporal and perceptual dislocation (Robert Smithson’s mirror displacements) are all still elementally present, they’re less apparent in the material language of the work than the sum interaction of the piece.

Rowe’s choice of materials (wood, steel, plexiglass, drywall, wallpaper, carpet, molding, paint) are not as apparent as components and, as a whole, unlike Matta-Clark’s building chunks, are overly refined and suggest aggregation of material rather than their disassembly. The mirrors, like a miniature Kurt Schwitters Merzbau, generate a framing of static/cinematic views as well as a more domestic sense of self-reflection, like looking at yourself in a vanity set. The mirrors also displace views inside and outside the gallery, suggesting an interpretation of Smithson’s dialectic of site/non-site.

installation shot of Heather Rowe: Trouble Everyday at D’Amelio Terras,  May 8 - June 19, 2010
installation shot of Heather Rowe: Trouble Everyday at D’Amelio Terras, May 8 - June 19, 2010

But by reducing architectural space to component, fragmented, almost Minimalist parts, what does Rowe say about the interior? Do the mirrors and curvaceous decorative moldings allude to a commentary on domesticity? In Rowe’s world, because these details are sequestered within the gray matter of the installation, inviting one to burrow deeply into the micro-spatiality of her piece, these ideas are often difficult to access or account for.

Rowe has always been one to revel in material details: the unbalanced plexiglass footings in this installation, for instance, or the decorative moldings and carpets, are visually enticing, yet they also point to a sense that her work is beginning to be too carefully considered, even though these particulars also reveal palimpsests—pencil marks, rough cuts and elements of process. The higher the refinement in Rowe, the less risks seem to have been taken.  She is at her strongest when she allows a looseness that breathes with your experience of her work.