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A delicate act

Tulsa Artist Fellows present ‘Variations on the Theme of Loss’

“Variations on the Theme of Loss” at 108 Contemporary

Every morning I walk from the River Parks 41st Street Plaza down to the long bridge spanning the Arkansas River at 51st Street. It’s a peaceful way to start my day. Often I’ll stand underneath the bridge, staring up at the automobiles zooming east and west, admiring its stability. Wondering how, exactly, it carries all that weight.

I’ve thought about bridges each time I’ve visited “Variations on the Theme of Loss,” a new show at 108 Contemporary featuring the work of Tulsa Artist Fellows Tali Weinberg and Emily Chase. The show accomplishes a tactful balancing act.

Weinberg’s weavings, made on a loom the size of an adult human, render climate change data tangible. “Fractures,” a series of 54” by 54” weavings, translates 137 years of average globe temperatures into hand-woven cotton. As you read the piece left to right, the colors change from tans and browns to pinks and reds: the heating of our land and sea.

For Weinberg, it’s all about asking questions.

“Why materialize and interpret data in this way?” she asked, thinking about the questions viewers might ask when they see her work. “What aren’t we seeing? What do we not yet understand? What and who is missing? What constitutes knowledge? What is being hidden? How can we trace relationships, bind together, and interweave our struggles?”

She weaves to bring this information, which can be overwhelming (and perhaps earth-shattering), down to a human level. Textiles are, after all, intimate: We wear them on our skin every day. In this way, Weinberg’s work condenses a large planetary crisis into a personal one.

“I don’t want to use the word ‘existential,’” she said. “It’s too abstract. But we can certainly feel that we’re losing things. We’re losing public land. We’re losing whole species. We’re losing the ability to live in certain places.”

Emily Chase’s sense and expression of loss are also personal—and therapeutic.

“I think I started making art as self-portraiture,” she said, looking over the paper dresses, shirts, and light-boxes that inhabit her studio. “I use them to say that I have had these experiences. They’re very intense; I know other people have these experiences too, and I don’t know how to talk about them, but I need some place to talk about them.”

Chase’s pieces in “Variations” include life-size paper clothes worn by no one: a thin dress with thorns poking through the fabric, a red hoodie stuffed full of flowers, a shirt held together with pins rather than stitches.

It’s hard not to take her art personally. “Boys Don’t Cry,” a white paper shirt with pearl-snap buttons, is something I would have worn to a two-stepping hall while attending college in Texas, right before my parents split up. I digress, but that’s how Chase’s pieces work on you; they’re so familiar that they seem almost pointed.

“Clothes are useful to me as a subject matter, because they’re highly personal,” she said. “We express ourselves with them, but also they can stand in for a person without a body being present.”

“Variations on the Theme of Loss,” on the other hand, makes one feel intensely present. Somewhere between the emptiness inside Chase’s paper garments and the slowly-heating planet depicted in Weinberg’s weavings, we—we humans, all of us—are precipitously strung, a few billion odd beings, pulled between our interior and exterior lives. “Variations” manages the feat of depicting and making felt both extremes at the same time.

Bridges—like the one spanning the Arkansas—work by balancing compression (the force that pushes inward) and tension (the force that pulls outward). When those two forces are balanced correctly, I’m able to drive my truck across without even considering the water currents raging beneath me.

If Weinberg’s weavings are the tension, forcing us to look beyond ourselves, then Chase’s garments are the compression, forcing us to look within. On some level, “Variations” seems to ask, “Which is more important, the looking-out or the looking-in?” The show presents, blessedly, no clear answers, but suggests there is more work to be done, both for the planet and for ourselves. Chase and Weinberg hold us up while we drive toward wherever it is we’re headed.

“Variations on the Theme of Loss”
Through Friday, May 20

Tali Weinberg artist’s talk
Saturday, April 21, 1:30–3:00 p.m.
108 Contemporary | 108 E. M.B. Brady St.

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