Remarkable Presence: Commemorating the Victims of COVID-19

Remarkable Presence: Commemorating the Victims of COVID-19

January 24 through April 16, 2023

In this Community Corner Exhibition, multi-disciplinary artist Jen Urso provides a visual reflection on the process of grief and loss. During the pandemic, as her sister was dying of cancer, Jen began reflecting on the thousands of people in Arizona who were also experiencing grief and loss. Her project, Remarkable Presence, features an array of small paper suitcases, each representing a COVID death in Arizona. Remarkable Presence provides a space for collective grieving, and a way to honor and remember all those who have died.

Learn more by visiting Jen online: Project Website | Main Website

About the Community Corner

The Mini Time Machine Museum of Miniatures’ Community Corner is exhibit space dedicated to featuring the work of Arizona artists working in miniature. Exhibits are selected to demonstrate the diversity of miniature artwork that is being created in our community.

Exhibit Overview

Remarkable Presence: Commemorating the Victims of Covid-19, an immersive installation by Phoenix-based, multi-disciplinary artist Jen Urso, captures both the intimacy and magnitude of losses to Covid here in Arizona through the power of art and objects.

The exhibit includes approximately 1,200 small paper suitcases of the original 20,000 honoring Arizona lives lost (numbering 32,182 at the start of the year) as well as 36 pop-up versions of the original 60, which expand to reveal contents crafted from specific obituaries and other remembrances.

As the global pandemic unfolded, Urso was inspired to create the project while visiting her sister Tina, diagnosed with ovarian cancer two years earlier, in Seattle. When treatment was no longer effective, Urso visited her sister to spend time together and to make decisions about getting Tina’s affairs and belongings in order. As the sisters unpacked, sorted, packed, and purged a life's accumulation of possessions, Urso thought of “tiny paper suitcases” and wrote the phrase down, a possible idea to explore later.

“I can't say exactly why 'tiny' had come to mind,” Urso recalls. “Thinking back to it, I would say I wanted something I could hold in my hand, but also something that could be expansive.” Indeed, the sheer number of paper suitcases testifies to Covid's enormous impact while each pop-up distills the essence of single life lost to Covid into something the size of an index card. The work provided Urso with a sense of purpose and connection as she dealt with her profound loss.

Though the suitcases cannot convey the breadth and fullness of a person's life, they serve as a tangible metaphor for the way a life — one's activities, attachments, and aspirations — expands beyond its seeming boundaries. As interim TMTM director Jennifer Tersigni explains, “We were moved to host Jen's project not only because it fits our vision of using miniatures to tell important stories, but also evokes a shared experience of grief and loss. Everyone has been touched in some way by Covid.”

The pop-ups illuminate that point all too well in the range of lives lost, some in pairs — the parents of a close friend of Urso’s; a father with dementia and his son who took care of him. There is the farmworker who recently became a citizen and the pastor who supported community members coping with addiction. As Urso says, “They were people with family and friends, children and pets — people who mentored others and changed lives.”

Remarkable Presence pays homage to all the impressive and everyday aspects of a life, each one unique, cherished, and meaningful. “I’m looking for small, private moments of discovery that are a counter to the vast spectacle,” says Urso. “We all have these revelatory moments…often triggered by passing or mundane occurrences.” In conveying how present our loved ones are, even when they are no longer with us, the exhibit offers visitors a place to honor their loved ones and acknowledge our collective grief.