Come into the light

Pasatiempo - - PASATIEMPO - CSI: Crime Scene In­ves­ti­ga­tion, for the Light Be­tween is Look­ing Glove #1,

What is hid­den gets re­vealed in Al­bu­querque-based artist Alivia Ma­gaña’s ex­hibit Look­ing for the Light Be­tween, on view at Ellsworth Gallery through Nov. 18. Her pho­to­graphs of ob­jects sprayed with lu­mi­nol cap­ture images of a do­main that is in­vis­i­ble to the un­aided eye. Her work as an au­topsy tech­ni­cian gives Ma­gaña ac­cess to the per­sonal pro­tec­tive equip­ment and foren­sic tools she has cho­sen as her sub­jects. Glow­ing with an oth­er­worldly blue, these ster­il­ized ob­jects still show trace amounts of blood, and in them Ma­gaña finds analo­gies to the bar­ri­ers con­tem­po­rary so­ci­ety places be­tween it­self and death. In be­tween, she finds a se­cret realm of preter­nat­u­ral beauty. On the cover is Apron, an archival inkjet print from 2018.

popular tele­vi­sion shows have launched as many spinoffs as

which pre­miered on CBS in 2000. There’s some­thing com­pelling about watch­ing crime scene in­ves­ti­ga­tors re­ly­ing on sci­en­tific anal­y­ses to solve crimes and lu­mi­nol to de­tect ev­i­dence. Lu­mi­nol, a sol­u­ble crys­talline com­pound used to re­veal blood stains with an eerie blue chemi­lu­mi­nes­cent glow, is just one of the many fas­ci­nat­ing tools avail­able to crime scene units.

Alivia Ma­gaña, an Al­bu­querque-based au­topsy tech­ni­cian found an­other use for the spec­tral glow of lu­mi­nol: art photography. It isn’t so sep­a­rate from her ca­reer in foren­sics. In fact, Ma­gaña also makes use of all the pro­tec­tive equip­ment and stain­less-steel tools used in med­i­cal au­top­sies, which she chooses as her sub­jects. Al­though they show the hid­den blood, even on washed and ster­il­ized gar­ments, the images are evoca­tive and at­mo­spheric rather than mor­bid. The la­tex gloves, aprons, scrub suits, and im­per­vi­ous gowns re­late to her post­mortem ex­am­i­na­tion work, but graphic and sen­sa­tion­al­is­tic images of ac­tual death are some­thing she avoids. “I’m very mind­ful not to com­ment about death and em­pha­size that dis­turb­ing qual­ity be­cause I don’t see it that way,” Ma­gaña said. “I have a very cu­ri­ous fas­ci­na­tion with it. I find it re­ally en­gag­ing but I’m also mind­ful of mak­ing it more taboo than it is.” Her ex­hi­bi­tion Look­ing for the Light Be­tween cur­rently on view at Ellsworth Gallery.

Af­ter re­ceiv­ing her BFA at Kansas State Univer­sity in 2015, Ma­gaña re­lo­cated to Al­bu­querque and is cur­rently pur­su­ing an MFA in photography at the Univer­sity of New Mex­ico. Art, she said, was al­ways her in­ter­est. She be­came in­volved in foren­sics while she was work­ing at the Of­fice of the Med­i­cal Ex­am­iner through hap­pen­stance. “They had an open po­si­tion for a foren­sic pho­tog­ra­pher. I got in that way and I just stuck around long enough that when other op­por­tu­ni­ties opened up, I got to move up the food chain. I don’t have a back­ground in anatomy or phys­i­ol­ogy or any­thing.”

The pho­to­graphs on view at Ellsworth are all from a body of work cre­ated this year. For Ma­gaña,

re­flects so­ci­ety’s be­hav­ior to­ward death and the fear of en­gag­ing with it di­rectly in any emo­tional way. In her au­topsy work, for in­stance, she’s shielded by pro­tec­tive gear from the bod­ies un­der­go­ing the pro­ce­dure. “There’s all these lay­ers and lay­ers,” she said. “To me, I kind of see that as a metaphor; there’s so many lay­ers be­tween our­selves and death in this cul­ture. The gowns are this phys­i­cal bar­rier. We have five lay­ers of gloves or an apron over a gown over some­thing else.” But the ti­tle of the show it­self stems from a phrase she heard when train­ing in au­topsy pro­ce­dures. “One of my col­leagues was teach­ing where to cut to evis­cer­ate. He pulled some tis­sue apart and said, ‘Look for the light be­tween and that’s where you cut.’ I thought, in the weird­est way, it was so po­etic.”

Much is re­vealed by the chemi­lu­mi­nes­cence, so much so that an ob­ject as sim­ple as a pair of la­tex gloves proves a re­tainer for what it pre­vi­ously came into con­tact with. The his­tory of the things it has touched re­mains a part of it, etched in blood. But blood is doubt­less not the first thing one no­tices. For in­stance, in her a sin­gle glove is aglow with a life of its own, not so much ap­pear­ing coated in light be­cause of the lu­mi­nol, but pos­sess­ing a light­filled in­ner di­men­sion. In an­other im­age, an apron tied at the waist more closely re­sem­bles a frag­ile thread­bare gar­ment rav­aged by time and use than it does the apron of a med­i­cal ex­am­iner. The ster­il­ized stain­less tools such as hooks and scalpels are oddly free from all traces of blood. The pho­tos of these ob­jects look like neg­a­tive images or sil­hou­ettes against the deep blue hue. Only in the strange blue light can that hid­den re­al­ity, present but un­seen with­out the lu­mi­nol, be glimpsed, as though the veil be­tween the worlds of the nat­u­ral and su­per­nat­u­ral has been briefly lifted. “It re­minds me a lit­tle bit of the para­nor­mal, or this realm you’re try­ing to tap into but can’t con­ceive of or can’t get at,” she said.

The idea of be­ing in be­tween two states of be­ing is also of per­sonal con­cern to Ma­gaña in her dual role as artist and pho­tog­ra­pher, on one hand, and au­topsy tech­ni­cian on the other. Her work at the Of­fice of the Med­i­cal Ex­am­iner is not al­ways so clin­i­cal or so ster­ile. “That realm is so con­fi­den­tial and kind of in its own bub­ble,” she said. “Be­ing an artist in that space, you kind of go off your emo­tions a lit­tle bit and have that a lit­tle bit more in the fore­front. How do I con­nect this very dis­con­nected place? What hap­pens there and what stays there, stays there, so how do I bring that into the re­al­ity realm? It very much feels like a dream world or oth­er­worldly thing.”

Un­like many of her col­leagues, Ma­gaña isn’t ac­tively pur­su­ing a med­i­cal de­gree. “I had a much more cu­ri­ous eye, and it’s kind of an un­in­formed eye, as well. I’m on the job but also think­ing as an artist while I’m in that space.” Photography opened the door to foren­sics for her and, as her com­mit­ment, she mar­vels at its broader ap­pli­ca­tions and po­ten­tial. “I like to think of photography as this re­volv­ing door for my­self.” At Kansas State, she was part of an ex­hi­bi­tion team pho­tograph­ing ghost towns for the his­tory depart­ment. “I love how many av­enues photography can let you go down. I might not want to go to med­i­cal school for eight years, but I can have a lit­tle bit of an in this way.” ▼ ▼

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