As By Digging features three artists—Jaime Alvarez, Olivia Jia, Michelle Marcuse—working in distinct media, whose works suggest an archaeological position to their subjects. Materials are used to draw out contradictions in our relationships to things and spaces with unclear origins: Photographs pronounce their subject with a different accent; paintings reflect on tangible objects without pointing us in the direction of where exactly we are; cardboard is put together to seem like lumbering parts reclaimed from a shipwreck. Split personalities can be sensed in the work, and each of the artists use their medium to collapse the distance between what we expect something to be and our fantasies of how it actually performs. The Indiana Jones franchise is a useful comparison in popular culture, in which the medium of film is a bridge between an intellectual’s quiet scholarly pursuit and their alter ego’s perilous adventure.
In contrast to an action movie, the excavations here unfold more quietly and without black and white good and bad guys. Jaime Alvarez’s photographs of small, synthetic figurines appear giant and alive; Michelle Marcuse’s bits of cardboard and glue take on machinic obscurity; Olivia Jia manipulates paint illusionistically in an idiosyncratic approach to cataloging personal documents and art history fragments. Amidst these approaches, we become conscious of our connection to a vast lineage of human remains, and the strange moment when our distance to these emergent totems is both closed and accentuated.
Jaime Alvarez’s work introduces us to some of the fundamental poles of the photographic medium. His large prints of uniformly painted figurines, trinkets, and other left-behinds, in either jet black or white, offer a sumptuous version of familiar things while they remain at the distance imposed by their singularity and iconized stature. Amidst these delectable yet cold memento mori, there appear straightly documented rooms of an empty, crumbling home. In their quiet, irreversible decay, we find we can pay attention.
Olivia Jia calls on the sleight of hand in painting to place us into an object’s space. Curious specificity meets ambivalent setting. Busts of classical, familiar statues are captured in a moment of focus, and provide little context for their inner fracturing. Fragments of personal ephemera, art historical reproductions, and more abstracted yet referential piles of historic matter are similarly reverent yet concise in what they appear to describe.
In the cardboard and glue sculptures of Michelle Marcuse, we encounter flexible understandings of reverence and delicateness. That which is flimsy is not necessarily weak; lightness in weight is not bound to a lightness in being. Her objects, while small in stature, imply something grand, aged and important, and indeed heavy. Each one is a space that is found out, by a process of physical conflicts and resolutions with the material. We come to detect them, not by a definitive allegation from their author about their personalities, but by the clear relationship between the object and the hands constructing it.