With Reed College's Cooley Gallery closed through August, the campus' focus on art has shifted to Hauser Library's Case Works exhibitions. This summer's installment presents Jacinda Russell's Strange and Mundane Objects. Formally, Russell's project is easily described: She has photographed a number of objects, printed the images on canvas, and encased them in a variety of makeshift "frames." However, it's the execution of this formula—the disparity between her subjects, the antiquated ephemera that serve as containers—that charges these pieces with an evocative mystery that's less easily articulated.
There's a musty and weathered quality to Russell's "objects." The frames are discarded containers, resuscitated for her purposes: a tiny suitcase, a gutted wall clock, a hand mirror, and a frame with a doodled portrait on its reverse side. And many of the objects she documents conjure a similar sense of extinction and decay. Images of dentures or a doll's cracking face seem to point exclusively backward; they are connected to the present as artifacts, grotesque remnants of unrecoverable time. Russell's other subjects are more overtly symbolic, from a mountain of keys to a junk drawer's contents of dice, marbles, and a padlock. They wriggle into a viewer's brain precisely because they pose questions that remain unanswered and insist on meanings that very much exist, but remain out of reach.
Russell's previous work has explored collecting as a psychologically precarious pastime, veering from healthy interest to compulsive accumulation. Strange and Mundane Objects is shrouded in that same preoccupation, but with an autobiographical slant. Most obviously, the objects are tied to memories and relationships; they are the possessions of the artist and her friends and family. And while many of her subjects are distant, even iconic, this suite of images becomes most engaging when they depict objects that clearly hold a stake that is personal, not aesthetic. These photographs—a pair of velcro Roos or a gray wig with a Gap tag exposed—draw viewers further into the project. They are still enigmatic, but they remind that there is a singular presence behind this seemingly disjointed memorabilia. These objects' significance is never readily apparent, but their documentation insists that they are meaningful—if only for the artist herself.