remarkable presence

Suitcase made by artist Jen Urso, honoring a man who owned his own glass business and served as pastor to help recovering drug addicts. 73 yrs old.

Jen contacts me in April: Hi Monica, I’ve been meaning to write to you. First, I’m so sorry about your brother passing, and I believe your father as well? I know you and I can probably relate on all the strange feelings that come along with this loss. I believe I remember you posting that your brother’s death was related to COVID and since you mentioned he was your dad’s caretaker, I made the assumption that this is what claimed your dad as well. I mention this because the project I’m working on is about grief and COVID deaths. Although I’m focusing on Arizona, with your permission I’d like to create a suitcase for your brother and dad to give to you, as a remembrance and way to honor them. You may have seen some of my posts about this project but if not, I can share some imagery of what I’m doing. I can give the suitcases directly to you or first include them in the exhibit at Walter Art Gallery in September.

I should note Jen lost her sister Tina, to ovarian cancer, this last December of 2020.

We keep in touch. I watch as Jen shares on social media, her careful and thoughtful process of folding (with the help of family and friends) and installing over 18,000 suitcases, including a display of pop up suitcases, utilizing COVID-related obituaries.

I recall sending dad’s and Chacho’s obits to her. Not having looked at them in a while, I see new photos my brother’s friends added. I reread them and feel my sisters and I captured their individual qualities well. Jen tells me about writing her sister’s obituary. We share our individual experiences of losing a sibling and especially in this unusual time of physical distancing. I could see she related to things I was saying and vice-versa. We laughed as we shared some stories of our loved ones and cried as we shared others.

I know this was not easy for Jen, but she moved through all the various parts of this work with what felt like complete openness and care. Today she sends a ↓ photo and writes, your brother and dad, together. I’m touched as I recognize the words we wrote.

Thank you Jen, for holding space for life lost to Covid. Thank you for remembering my dad and my brother. Thanks for sharing your sister with me. I will remember her.

Public exhibition opens this Friday and your presence is welcomed.
WHO: Jen Urso
WHAT: Remarkable Presence
WHERE: Walter Art Gallery
6425 East Thomas, Scottsdale, AZ 85251
WHEN: September 17 with a collective grieving event from 6:30pm-8:30pm
Facebook Invite  Masks required!

Three more collective grieving events will be held across the valley: Sept 25, Oct, 9 and Oct 15.  For information about Jen Urso, her installation and event details/locations visit the website REMARKABLE PRESENCE

Postscript: Jen and I have talked about various rituals connected to death including the writing of the obituary and burial/recomposing rites. I want to make note we also lost my father-in-law to Covid-19. He does not have an obituary. Every family, each person, handles grief in their own way and in their own time. 
The experience of losing numerous family members is difficult, to say the very least. We manage because we know we are not alone. Across the planet, people’s lives are forever changed because of this pandemic.
#yourremarkablepresence #wemissyou 


mesa contemporary art, artist reception


The installation.

Lots of activity since I last posted in 2012.
Our exhibit Creature Man Nature opened January 11th. And a week from last Friday, on the 25th, we had our Artist Reception at Mesa Contemporary. It was one busy evening – with family, friends and many fine-art appreciators.

I slept all day on Saturday.


This framed image greeted our guests at the front entrance of the gallery.

I’m including a few photos from the event. If you want to see more visit our exhibition blog → Formal Exhibit and Informal Blog.

I’ll just say the last few weeks – have been full.


Our grand exhibition banner sits on the side of the building.


Detail of Mary’s work in the foreground with one of my drawings in the background.


Mary’s center sculpture strongly connects all of our work. It repeats the vertical trees in Carolyn’s work below, and it connects to the figures and the line work in mine above. carolynm


This is my wall in the gallery space.

Yesterday we spent the afternoon with press. I learned a few more things about Mary and Carolyn.

What’s next? We have plans to continue. For now we’ll enjoy the run of the show. You have until April to catch it.

lament and acquiesce

I alway get confused for Melissa Martinez. It’s the last name and the first initial.  Melissa is blue-eyed and blonde – I’m not. She designs installations and sculpture – I don’t.  She’s smart – okay, we both are.
We did both have work in the Local’s Only exhibition, at the Phoenix Art Museum, last year.

I receive an invitation to an art show, a simple dark card with the words lament and acquiesce in handwritten white text, along the center.  Melissa Martinez’s name is at the bottom of the card.  Direct, simple and beautiful.

Saturday afternoon, I decide to drop into Five15 art space.
I feel like I’m going into another world as I enter the dark, sparsely lit, bottle speckled environment.  Five15 is long and narrow. I grab the door jamb, I want to hold back a moment to get  grounded before I completely enter and get caught up in the experience.

Bottles hang from the ceiling. Lots of them. The room is a dark cobalt blue.

I hear something, but it doesn’t get my full attention right away.  Back to the bottles hanging, I follow the line down to see the floor is laid out with glass jars, containing water.  The water in the hanging bottles drips and fills the  jars. Some of the jars have overflowed and there’s water on the floor surrounding them.

Melissa greets me. We talk…about the installation first, and then about many other things including our last name, SB1070, and art.   I never stop looking at the work, because it really has caught my attention. We pause from our conversation, and then I hear…the drips. In the short silence the dripping gets louder.  Loud.

I understand why people go down to Roosevelt Row on Friday nights…crowds, excitement and fun…. But in this case, I certainly think the quiet time is best for the full experience.  I am  mesmerized by the installation.

I naturally gravitate to the floor. She allows me to sit among the bottles as we talk about her process and materials.  Idea comes first and then the parts, she says. She uses bottles and jars, plastic and glass, and cable to string the bottles.  And a small device from an outdoor drip system.  She times the drips, steady.  Some bottles drip and empty slower and some faster. She explains the first day she set it up they all dripped too fast.

I  want to do yoga in the space, because of the water element and the sound.  The whole thing…is womb like. Though it’s not warm and comfortable. It’s more meditative and allows for alertness.  I am very conscious of space and time.  The work is emotional, that’s part of the element of water. It’s probably why I instinctively wanted to get grounded as I entered.

In a nutsell, here is what I think…
Visit the installation. Get quiet. Be with whatever gets stirred. Take that in.
Melissa has created something poignant and worth experiencing.

The exhibit runs to the end of the month.  And don’t forget the 3rd Friday reception.

What: Lament and Acquiesce, an installation
Who: Melissa Martinez
Where: Five15, a contemporary art space
515 East Roosevelt
Phoenix, AZ 85004-1918
When: January 7-29th
Third Friday reception January 21, 5-9

For more info visit
or contact Melissa at

I’m happy to say…Melissa is the newest member of eye lounge, expect to see more of her there.
I did jokingly mention to her, I was the first M. Martinez in that space…