The windows of Conner Contemporary are swaddled in heavy curtains. A sign on the door informs visitors that, yes, it is in fact open — the window treatment is just there to turn the gallery into a theater for the video works by New York artist Janet Biggs and Washington-based artist Mary Coble.

Biggs has taken over the front room with a massive screen against the wall, showing “Fade to White.” The 12-1/2-minute video traces an Arctic landscape, following a crew member of a two-masted schooner as he works on the boat or kayaks through the ice.

“Her work is muscular in a sense, as she’s doing these things as well,” says gallery owner Leigh Conner. Biggs pairs her romantic shots with sorrowful music by John Kelly, adding a melancholic tone to the exploration of the stark landscape. (See selected works of Coble here and Janet Biggs here)

Coble shows her own stamina, though of a different sort. Her videos depict her standing on, (repeatedly) falling off or swimming around a floating dock on a lake. But the most challenging work by Coble is “Source,” an installation and performance piece in which she collected 200 water samples from the Washington area in plastic containers, hanging each with tags of their corresponding address from a metal structure in the gallery’s courtyard. Since she erected the piece in May, the water has changed, discolored and grown tiny critters in some cases.

Such evolution stands as a reminder to what sustains D.C. communities and what is often taken for granted.

» Conner Contemporary, 1358 Florida Ave. NE; through July 3, free ; 202-588-8750.

Written by Express contributor Danielle O’Steen
Photo courtesy Conner Contemporary Art