Michele Jaquis: Shelf Life
June 1-30, 2023
In her second solo exhibition in the Proxy Gallery, Michele Jaquis continues her practice of foregrounding symbol, process and labor through the deconstruction of the seams of a US flag. The stars and stripes of flag (unpicked with a seam ripper, not torn) are then stuffed in the Proxy Gallery, in a way both reinforcing and undoing its institutional status: It is a gallery, and it is a wooden box, and it is a convenient shelf holding sewing-in-process. The flag is a national symbol, and it is also pieces of fabric sewn together in a particular manner.
In this way, Jaquis re-enacts modernist ideas about art: the flag is a picture, a representation, a symbol, and also in its material reality it is tri-color fabric held together by thread. Similarly, Shelf Life helps us to think about labor: both of the machine sewing of the flag in a factory, and the undoing of the flag by the artist. The final gesture is the stuffing of the pieces in the gallery in such a way that some strip(e)s, drip-like, exceed the frame of the gallery.
This undone but not destroyed flag (perhaps waiting to be re-assembled at some point) also rubs against the idea of the readymade and the emptying of labor and craft in the conceptual tradition. While the flag is a ready-made, Jaquis’s taking-apart labor also speaks about the fragmented free time of a teacher and parent, and the conditions of making work in a home studio in-between meetings and other tasks. Nevertheless, it is important to Jaquis that she does not outsource this labor and instead does it herself.
What about the identification of the flag with right-wing politics? Surely, the undoing of a national symbol implies a critical stance. We can argue that the resulting installation calls attention to the labor involved in both making and unmaking: the pieces of fabric used to be a flag, and they could possibly be re-made into a future flag. Its shelf life is indeterminate, as is perhaps the state of our democracy.