a super fragile callous mystic hexed by halitosis.
So reads a “punch line” that arcs across the surface of Alivia Zivich’s piece Natural Flavor with Other Natural Flavor. The text lingers next to, overlapping just slightly, a photograph of a plump red plant—a pepper perhaps—with an anthropomorphic head-nub and fayly raised, arm-like appendage. The entire piece is suspended so that it spills over the edge of the wall. So floating, the components (frame, surface, subject, speech) layer and slip; the piece is funny, nonsensical.
Similar combinations of imagery and language dot Fat Hacker, Zivich’s solo exhibition at Cave, an artist run exhibition space in Detroit. These elements have been seen, read, and overheard by the artist—an archive of the world encountered in all its banality and levity. In The Customer is Always Right, a photograph of a workspace, showing a clipping of the titular slogan tacked up on a spare wall, is face-mounted to an acrylic sheet covered with dripped, sprayed, and spattered paint. The application of the paint is vague; it oscillates between appearing intentional, off-handed, and inconsequential (the residue of some other process). In Mad, a one-word snippet of text floats against a bed sheet hand-painted with pixilated forms that make up a mandala-like pattern. (Zivich shared in conversation that the type was drawn from a printed quote of Norman Bates’s famous line, “We all go a little bit mad sometimes.”) Both the clipping and the word in the two aforementioned pieces were found in an abandoned print shop, littered with the detritus of labor. This inkling of a pre-digital/post-industrial time warp subtly underpins Zivich’s exhibition, with other tidbits of language pointing towards economic vagaries: the words “FINANCIAL PEACE” run alongside a photo of a grocery aisle and shopping cart, in which a child sits, with a plastic bag over his or her head. “GLOBAL APOLOGY / you can’t get this brand here” shares space on an acrylic sheet with a circle made of thickly applied strokes of translucent olive green paint (the material and the shape connect back to Zivich’s activities as co-founder, with Nate Young, of the lathe-cutting label AA Records). Both phrasings are ambiguous, equivocal: there are notes of sarcasm, hope, anxiety, buzz.
Throughout the exhibition, thinness is a critical element. Each work includes white bed sheets and/or clear acrylic, which reveal or blend into the substrates and walls; cheap and “blank,” they have a sort of tedious freshness. However quick as this spare materiality might seem, something slower creeps through. This emptying out, this clarity, makes the work “catchy”—a swift delivery with unhurried, lingering recall. Hours/days/weeks later, in moments of absent reflection, that chubby vegetable pops to mind. In this way Zivich parlays to the viewer something of her original encounter.
Several works in the exhibition consist only of black, hand-painted forms on sheets. Frosty Shopper looks like a standing figure adorned in psychedelic or ceremonial costume. In Native Funk & Flash a strange thing (flower? insect?) hovers above a sleek tentacle, which makes another appearance in The Unlikely Event, pulling away from (or advancing towards?) a large orb with a small, pointy nick. The perplexing nature of Zivich’s imagery renders it disarming.
In her recent solo show Bottomless at Night Club in Chicago, Zivich engaged similar materials and strategies: photographs of fruit, food, and everyday objects, snippets of funny language, and black paint on white sheets. The titles of these exhibitions suggest endless consumption; but in both instances that dark undertone is very delicate. Night Club’s domestic setting (the exhibition space is a small room in a lived-in apartment) gave the work a personal touch, the sheets treated more as casual architectural elements than surfaces. Cave’s barren industrial space, worn concrete floor, and cinder block walls produced a colder cast, a distance at which the work feels more resolved.
The pieces in Fat Hacker may come across as obscure, but such are the objects and experiences of life and thought (softened though they are by unmindfulness). There is poetry in the bareness of Zivich’s work. Things aren’t meaningless per se, but the possibility that they might be is oddly pleasant.
Rose Bouthillier is Associate Curator and Publications Manager at the Museum of Contemporary Art Cleveland. Her writing has been published in C magazine, frieze, esse, and Art Criticism & Other Short Stories. View more articles by Rose Bouthillier.