Washington, DC

Anne Rowland

Anne Rowland grew up in an unassuming modernist house commissioned by her parents in 1963. The building was located in then-rural northern Virginia, and remained in the family until 2000. To the new owners it was a “tear down,” and the surrounding forest, now in the hands of developers, was similarly ill-fated. For Rowland, house and land were inextricably linked and fraught with meaning, and in her elegiac body of work “Private Property” (2000–), they become quietly iconic. Across thirteen photographs (executed as archival pigment prints), Rowland chronicles her home’s demolition, meditating on the strength of memory and offering a cautionary tale about the impermanence of place. Most of the photographs appear to be single-exposure, but each is actually a montage of dozens of images, suggesting an accumulation of mental impressions. Rowland’s immersive and evocative sequence skillfully intertwines the attempted objectivity of documentary with the necessary subjectivity of personal recollection.

“Private Property” features three distinct though related groups of images. “The House,” the smallest and most straightforward, shows the house before and during demolition, while the second, “Artifacts from the House,” features somewhat larger, full-scale “portraits” of salvaged, mostly architectural relics. “Other Properties,” the final and largest sequence, depicts nearby parcels of land destined for development. Most of Rowland’s prints are inscribed, sometimes just with longitude and latitude, though more often with deadpan commentary. Teardown (Hitachi in action), 2001, for example, incorporates the words THIS IS OUR OLD HOUSE BEING TORN DOWN SO THAT THE NEW OWNERS CAN BUILD A LARGER HOUSE IN ITS PLACE. JUNE 2001.

Rowland’s somewhat flattened perspectives and muted color impart a sense of resignation, while her use of montage softly fractures each image, suggesting partially recalled memories. The technique brings to mind David Hockney’s ’70s experiments with photography, though the younger artist’s feel more restrained. Interior shots of the house, in particular, appear at first lifeless and uninviting, but the discreet insertion of text renders them accessible and evocative. Drawers and cabinets in the partially destroyed Kitchen, 2001, for example, are labeled JUNK DRAWER: PENCILS, NOTEPADS, PHOTOS, WADS OF CASH, SCISSORS, WAXED PAPER, TIN FOIL, PLASTIC WRAP, LOOSE CHANGE; BAKING AND ROASTING THINGS; and RARELY-USED CHINA, fully humanizing the abandoned scene. Similarly, the dusky white walls and bland wood flooring of Hallway, 2001, become more welcoming when we read a notation (all are handwritten) that begins FAMILY PHOTOS HUNG ON BOTH SIDES OF THE HALLWAY. By reanimating these vacant spaces with her memories, Rowland prods us to recollect scenes from our own past.

The midsize photographs that depict remnants salvaged from the demolished home are shot against a white wall in her New York studio. They feel at once reverential and matter-of-fact, their frontal presentation investing each object with a sense of authority without sacrificing its emotional heft. Linen closet door, 2002 (both the object itself and a photograph of it are included) has the totemic presence of a John McCracken plank sculpture, but the small pencil markings on the wood’s surface, which chart the growth of the Rowland children, ground it in real family life.

Rowland’s large-scale landscape photographs, such as Sycamore, 2003, attempt to convey the combined acuity, haziness, and dislocation of memory. Some compositional elements are in soft focus, others look crisp, while still others, including some tree branches, appear suspended in space, disconnected from a linear narrative but linked to the overall scheme. Though these landscapes are spaces for leisurely contemplation, they harbor a sense of foreboding. The artist’s shadow in Marmota (winter), 2001, for example, is as permanent as the landscape on which it’s cast. Rowland avoids heavy-handed sentiment and effectively highlights the perilous state of our ancestral heritage. When the bulldozers are gone, the asphalt laid, and the McMansions erected, just memories—the only true “private property” we possess—will remain, and those for only so long.

Nord Wennerstrom