Children believe that a hole dug deep enough in their backyard could go all the way to China. For Oreen Cohen, the metaphorical antipodes of the earth go from Bull Run, Va., to Israel instead. Cohen’s “Running Drill,” a site-specific sculpture that hangs precariously in Transformer’s tiny space, connects one conflicted land with another through the red earth and violence that binds them.
Cohen’s sculpture, a large drill pieced together from old car parts and farming equipment, hangs from an I-beam in Transformer’s tiny space. Below it is a water-filled basin Cohen cast from a hole she dug in Bull Run’s red earth, surrounded by the dirt she exhumed from the battlefield. It’s the 150th anniversary of that battle next week, but Cohen didn’t have to look that far back to forge a connection: The red soil she saw in Virginia reminded her of Israel, where she once lived, and where land is also scarred by territorial disputes.
The work is the first in the series “E8: Sculpture,” three 10-day solo exhibitions for emerging artists to take over the tiny gallery in intervals throughout the rest of the summer. Cohen’s work will be followed by that of recent MICA graduate Lindsay Rowinski on July 21, who in turn will be followed by Sean Lundgren on Aug. 4. To support the artists in their preparations for their first solo exhibitions, Transformer has prepped them with three months of mentoring sessions from local ceramic sculptor Joe Hicks.
Cohen’s drill — with wires hanging loose and a fan blade that looks as though it could easily slice a finger off — should inspire caution and wariness. But its danger been tempered by the corrosion of its parts, culled from junkyards and old farming equipment. It is rusty and impotent, and because of that, visitors have no problem getting close to it, walking across the bed of dirt Cohen has walled in with pieces of pipe, tracking their red footprints across the gallery. The drill, like the battlefield, is an artifact of power and fear.
But when you drill down, you usually bring something up — and Cohen’s work, in this regard, only scratches the surface. In her statement, she says that “Running Drill” only accepts what is concealed by the dirt, rather than surfacing new conflicts or reviving the past. It’s an archaeological dig that only turns up more dirt, and one wishes that Cohen could have drilled a little deeper.
“Running Drill,” on view through July 16 at Transformer, 1404 P Street N.W. 202-483-1102.