Mary Coble, Source, 2010. View of Washington, DC, water map.

Mary Coble

Washington, DC

Conner Contemporary

Water and endurance: in Mary Coble’s recent exhibition “Source,” what might have conjured images of torture instead generated an engrossing meditation on purification and renewal. The show embraced three short videos, a wall drawing, a mixed-media installation, and a live performance. Shot from a distance, the videos Stand, Fall, and Swim featured only a platform on an isolated lake, the weather, and the artist. The spare storyline was deceptive. Through extended repetitions of standing, falling, and swimming, simple acts of personal discovery became moving feats of mind over body. Slight variations in action induced a kind of trance and evoked the human potential to overcome seemingly futile and uncertain circumstances.

By contrast, Coble’s opening-day public performance explored our communal relationship with water and posed troubling questions about water purity and availability. Staged in the gallery courtyard, the installation had three main components: a water “library” consisting of plastic water containers hooked to a gridded steel wall, a mixed-media water purifier, and two steel ladders. Not an object-maker, Coble worked with an engineer to create a tri-level device that resembled a fountain with alchemical overtones. As background, she went door-to-door to selected locations in Washington, DC, and collected 200 samples in 2.5-gallon containers. Taken from 127 neighborhoods of varying wealth across the city’s eight wards, the containers listed addresses only. Inside the gallery, a large drawing documented the entire process. Pencil marks mapped the city’s boundary lines, key roads, and water sources, while pins indicated the collection points…see the entire review in the print version of September’s magazine.