Ruth Tabancay

  • Adapting to New Substrates 4.0, 2023. Hand embroidery. Various plastic discards
  • Bleached 3.0, 2024. Crochet, assemblage. Yarn, medical plastic waste, polystyrene, pins, canvas
  • Bleached, 2022. Crochet, assemblage Yarn, medical plastic waste. 36" x 40" x 6"
  • Bleached, detail
  • Serratia Over San Francisco. Wet felted. 96" x 96" x 2"
  • Twice the Size of Texas. Plastic film. 120" x 228"
  • Colony. Collaboration with Jessica Cadkin. Hive (Tabancay): Hand embroidery, beeswax. Bees (Cadkin): Reconstructed silk flowers. 168" x 120" x 72"
  • Colony, detail
  • Extending the Useful Life. Hand stitched teabags. 26" x 33" x 65"
  • Extending the Useful Life, detail

My main body of work references microbiology and microscopy. Formal studies of bacteria, fungi, and viruses lead me to a deep appreciation for their microscopic forms and arrangements. I’ve found that micro-organisms are best represented by embroidery. One of my themes is a fantasy that bacteria and fungi will adapt to growing on and digesting plastics. If fulfilled, that would start to make a dent in the massive volumes of garbage clogging our oceans and landfills. ‘Adapting to New Substrates,’ ‘Devour,’ and ‘Thank You’ are my realizations of that vision. Bacteria figure prominently in the experiments the Army conducted in the 1950’s in the San Francisco Bay Area to study the vulnerability of the population to germ warfare. The Navy injected the bacteria Serratia marcescens into the ocean off the coast of San Francisco where it was aerosolized and blown inland. My installation of wet-felted bacteria, ‘Serratia over San Francisco,’ is a stylized depiction of that experiment. On learning of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, I imagined pieces of plastic swirling in an endless gyre. For’ Twice the Size of Texas,’ an estimate of the size of this gyre 10 years ago, I taped hundreds of small pieces cut from plastic bags to a 10’ x 19’ wall. ‘Colony,’ a collaboration with Jessica Cadkin, was prompted by Colony Collapse Disorder. In my early works I used thousands of brewed tea bags scavenged from family, friends, and a weaving school. Hand stitched together, they formed quilts, walls works, windows, and even a dress. ‘Extending the Useful Life’ celebrates tea bags for warmth, intimacy, and thrift.

Before I started making art, I studied bacteriology in college, worked in hospital laboratories, and studied medicine. After 11 years in private practice pediatrics, I left medicine to study art, majoring in textiles at California College of the Arts. I’ve been exhibiting my work for 20 years in venues throughout California and the US including Museum of Craft and Design in San Francisco, Houston Center for Contemporary Craft, The Textile Museum in Washington, D. C., and World Financial Center in New York City.

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