A World in Miniature: Lindsey Dorr-Niro Interviewed by Jared Quinton

Creating an enmeshed exhibition.

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Lindsey Dorr-Niro, mapsource, 2019, digital print, 9 × 11 inches.

Lindsey Dorr-Niro’s work responds to site with great care and attention. I initially came to know her through our shared interests in land and the constructed nature of landscape. Her Chicago exhibition This Land Again in 2017 translated into a storefront space sites around the city and the rural Midwest. For her exhibition object / coda at Regards in Chicago, Dorr-Niro has created an installation of objects, images, and architecture that render her world in miniature, encouraging viewers to consider different forms of knowledge and perception outside of the Western standard.

—Jared Quinton

Jared Quinton When you have an opportunity to exhibit work, you usually devise a scheme with its own internal logic. The objects and images you make are derived from the world and gesture back toward it, but meaning seems to cohere more in the relationships you facilitate between them. Can you talk a bit about the importance of structure and how you conceptualize its role in your practice?

Lindsey Dorr-Niro Structure is incredibly important in my practice, and it takes a lot of different forms. Lately I’ve been thinking about notions of worldmaking and Hakim Bey’s idea of the Temporary Autonomous Zone (TAZ). The shaping of a believable world requires the repeated deployment of an internal logic, whereas in the TAZ, structured systems are anathema to emancipation. Here, any attempt at permanence is said to deteriorate into a structured system that circumscribes individual creativity or agency. Instead, what is pursued is a space, a kind of temporary utopia, in which radical openness can be experienced.

How does one build a world that is not a rejection but that exists conterminously and is made of the “stuff” of this world while being redistributed or re-presented in such a way that allows us to see it—its physicality, history, organizational logics that appear so innocuous and fade gently into the background but shape and limit the political imaginary—and in turn perceive its malleability, facilitating this experience of radical openness? In my own work the answer to this looks something like a hallucinatory version of our everyday neoliberal built environment. It is decidedly not anarchist in appearance, but where one ends up might be deemed “anarchical.” 

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Lindsey Dorr-Niro. Everything / nothing can grow here, 2020, found furniture components, acrylic paint, plexiglass, gravel, fluorescent light, lighting gels, 31 × 60 × 42 inches. Courtesy of the artist and Regards, Chicago. Photo by Brian Griffin.

JQ So it’s anarchy not so much as a political strategy but more as a way of reorienting our relationship with the material world and how we negotiate and understand it?

LDN I think so, yes. Traditionally, in the West we think of logic as a linear process that will bring us to some kind of concrete conclusion, something to hold onto, something we can name and know. Knowing, in this sense, operates as a form of control wielded through processes of separating and categorizing.

On a more elemental level, we know that labels do not automatically apply to or spring forth from their objects. In Eastern thought, there is an understanding of “emptiness” which suggests that there are no objects, only processes; we exist continuously with all that is arising in our experience. As such, the structure of the work is actually operating in the service of bringing the viewer through a process of unknowing or estrangement from the desire to know. The viewer is guided into a prelinguistic space such that they might experience a different kind of knowing—an embodied understanding of the openness, potentiality, malleability, and interdependency of things. What appears initially to be familiar or mundane is defamiliarized.

JQ How do you get at processes like this by making art? It’s clear you aren’t interested in representation or didacticism, but you also aren’t trying to create some sort of “experiential” art for your viewers either.

LDN You mentioned how the meaning of the work seems to cohere more in the relationships that I facilitate. Ideally, yes, the work is constellated, functioning elliptically so that meaning builds relationally, with each individual work acting as a kind of pause or portal into another kind of seeing where one is able to engage things on a more elemental level. Within this space, ideally one is able to shift the apprehension of a given thing, feeling, or thought from fixed object to dynamic process. Architect and theorist Keller Easterling has been helpful for me, particularly her recent book Medium Design (2018) wherein she discusses the liberatory potential of “designing interdependencies.”

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Lindsey Dorr-Niro, blue circle / layered, 2020, digital print, 31.25 × 29.75 inches.

JQ I like this last idea. It seems like a humble, honest way to think about what art can actually do in this moment, when there is so much pressure to operate almost propagandistically, to engage with political issues in a direct, moralizing way that demands an immediate, affective response. By facilitating these provisional networks of interdependencies between objects and images, it’s almost like you are taking a sidelong approach, making us think more about the structures by which we create meaning and by which meaning is transmitted to us, rather than accepting informational or visual content at face value.

Can you talk me through the organizing principles of your exhibition, object / coda?

LDN For me, designing an installation requires allowing the space and existing architecture to participate in and direct an exhibition just as much as the content. In thinking about the space, which is a peculiar one, I noticed that it has a kind of “ascendant” character. Walking in, one notices stairs in the back that take us up to a second level. Underneath them and visible to the public through two square openings is the gallery’s office, which is accessed by two sets of descending stairs. Once on the second level, one can look back down into the space and achieve a very different sort of synthesizing perspective.

I wanted to work with this ascendant character of the architecture but make it operate more elliptically. The exhibition begins with a table-like structure, on top of which are various ephemeral compositions that form a larger constellation or landscape. The largely found materials that compose this constellation include traditional framing materials, commercial packaging, organic matter, and digital prints of video stills. This planar surface acts as a kind of source from which two primary moments are extracted, recomposed, and expanded upon throughout the space through acts of remediation and reframing.

One then navigates around two partitions and encounters individual sculptures composed of augmented fragments of prefab furniture, molds generated from packaging, and colors and materials one might see at the bank, an office supply store, or a construction site. Reaching the upper level of the space, viewers find themselves situated between two floor pieces and looking back down into the space can watch a video that sits just below the architectural frame of the space below. This video samples, collapses, and reframes various elements from the show, some of which can be seen simultaneously behind the video, reinforcing the enmeshed nature of the exhibition.

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Installation view of Lindsey Dorr-Niro: object / coda, 2020. Image courtesy the artist and Regards, Chicago. Photo by Brian Griffin.

JQ Can you talk a bit about what it does to have objects and moving images of those same objects occupying space together? A lot of artists use this as a perceptual “trick” that rings pretty hollow to me, but your approach seems richer, weirder, and less resolved.

LDN In my case, there is both a video and a series of digital scans, some manipulated, that will share physical space with materials that are the “subjects” of the video and scans. My motivation is to draw attention to processes of mediation, which have such a dematerializing effect, as material processes.

In the case of the scan, we see the failure of the scanner to fully capture the object; we see its physicality. In the video, we see the inability of the lens to focus in certain moments, so objects start to appear or operate as their own landscapes. Their materiality inheres but operates differently. And with moving images, one can establish relationships between things that are not possible in physical space. So one object might be collapsed with another or “become” another thing.

Rather than establishing some kind of hierarchy or binary relationship between the source material and its mediated form, I am interested in how, by situating the two together, it actually opens up the “original” object and how we attend to these mediating processes as the transformative material processes that they are. So where these pairings are elsewhere employed with, as you say, “hollow” results, I am precisely interested in pursuing the inverse—the physical depth of perceived immateriality.

Lindsey Dorr-Niro: object / coda is on view at Regards in Chicago until February 22.

Jared Quinton is a writer and curator based in Chicago.

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