Exhibition investigates ways in which humans categorize, prioritize information

Elaine Buss' “Excavate” installation, which appears at Sean Christopher Gallery through the end of June, has an otherworldly quality to it. At every turn, the viewer engages with the work in physical, intellectual and emotional ways. In some respects, the work is not so much installed in the gallery, but rather the gallery space has been transformed into the work.

As one might guess, “Excavate” resembles an archaeological dig, although perhaps not on Earth, or at least not in the present. But the work, Buss said in an interview at the gallery, is not intended to replicate an excavation site.

“I'm borrowing from the visual language of archaeology, but it's not literal in any sense,” she said. “It's more about the practice of uncovering information and the compulsion humans have to understand.”

So immersive is the installation that the artist has provided gallery visitors with a site map. Buss, whose practice began in ceramics, intends the work to be experienced in a particular order, with sections titled “Extraction,” “Categorization,” “Distinction” and “Divulgence.” She agrees that the viewer is indeed uncovering information of their own throughout “Excavate,” but that that information is not prescribed and varies from person to person.

Buss' central concern is not what information is uncovered, but rather what is done with that information.

“I'm not commenting on or questioning the information uncovering process. [It's] more like a looking at and thinking about how much we miss because we're limited in our ways of organizing and distinguishing. We're human, so when it comes to determining what is the value of any information, it's pretty much an arbitrary decision.”

“Excavate” makes clear that the artist has followed this four-step process, but Buss allows that the viewer may have made different choices in how the gathered information was categorized and, thus, prioritized. Buss said she had particular ideas about how the information is organized, and that she was concerned with symmetry, balance and harmony.

How Buss' choices impact the distinction and divulgence of that information is also open to interpretation. Indeed, that's pretty much the heart of the matter.

“Divulgence means to reveal a secret. That unites all forms of study,” she said. “Art totally has a role in uncovering information. It's the way we understand ourselves as humans, and that is itself an uncovering.”