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The ageless trill of birdsong, creaking timbers of a collapsing mine shack, sun-soaked strata of an ancient river — these are layers worth listening to. With ears and eyes open to stories and cycles beyond boom and bust, artists Molly Jochem and Kelly Sinclair Vicars engage Malakoff Diggins as a complex, living landscape.

Molly grew up amongst the mine’s crumbling clay pyramids and gravel piles, admiring their other-worldly quality and awed by their immensity. Hydraulic mining had blasted away the land, devastating the area’s life forms and simultaneously creating one of the largest sculptures in history. There are many facets to the Diggins; many viewpoints evoking a myriad of emotions. Molly explores these dichotomies through the mine’s dilapidated structures, which are both mirror and measuring stick of their environment.

How does one draw what isn’t there? Kelly Sinclair Vicars encounters Malakoff as a literal, metaphorical, and perceptual void — an earthen absence where not just land but native lives, lifeways, and ecosystems were extracted and disappeared. Using all of her senses, she listens with the mine and paints what she “sees” using a symbolic, synesthetic language of sound. Working with handmade charcoal, foraged pigment, reclaimed plywood and upcycled acrylics, her abstract paintings open portals to a vibrant and resilient living landscape.

The works in the exhibition unsettle colonial attitudes that maintain Gold Rush mythologies through the preservation of an extracted landscape and ethnocentric history frozen in time. Molly and Kelly’s field-based paintings encounter the Diggins’ as a place engaged in processes of decomposition and recomposition, decay and regeneration, erosion and re-growth. ‘The Diggins Are Alive’ opens other ways into an extracted landscape, unearthing and acknowledging layers of life - indigenous Nisenan, native plants both surviving and lost, and animal communities, banished and returned - beneath the indelible scar gouged by the beginning stages of the global extractive economy.

Their paintings and a video and soundscape piece by Kelly will be on display at the North Columbia Schoolhouse Cultural Center by appointment July through August 2020. To visit the show, call 719.351.8622 or email Kelly at