Maggie Thompson’s solo exhibition “On Borrowed Time: Postponing the Inevitable” opened at the Textile Center in Minneapolis May 12th with a packed reception and an artist’s talk. The exhibition is comprised of works that range widely in materials and scale, but are unified by addressing the complexity of loss.
These objects push and pull and are beautiful and heartbreaking all at the same time. With the aid of an exhibition statement the viewer is given a context: in 2014 Thompson lost her father due to pancreatic cancer.
Thompson’s work tends towards focusing intellectually on the things that can’t be fixed or the things beyond one’s control. By contrast Thompson’s process seems controlled and laborious, as if to allow for contemplation in an impossible situation. Many piece in On Borrowed Time reference her father’s sensitive observations and wisdom.
On the didactic for her piece Fragments (2016) Thompson writes, “When I was in college my Dad told me to look at the sunset whenever I missed him and now it is something I try to do in my daily practice. Since loosing my dad, one of my biggest fears has been of forgetting; forgetting all those special moments and details.”
Fragments is a blanket, or comforter, lightly arranged on a bed. The top of the blanket is constructed with a mosaic of photographs of sunsets mounted to foam core that has been cut into diamonds and pieced back together. The expression of the anguish in this piece is immediate and haunting.
Thompson’s material choices are deliberate and inextricably linked to her meaning. For example, Thompson’s piece Faces (2016) utilizes tissue-thin hospital blankets arranged and pin-tucked to create listless faces in the pleats as the work hangs against the wall. The wall text explains that while in recovery from one of his medical procedures, Thompson’s father had pointed out that the blankets bunched and folded on his hospital bed appeared to have faces the mirrored the mourning faces of those friends and family surrounding him. This shroud seems to fix onto her father’s observation into an object.
Anchored in the middle of the gallery is a body bag emblazoned with a large star-quilt pattern. It lies horizontally and appears to hover while overlapping a pedestal. During her artist talk, Thompson explained that this piece titled For Love Alone (2016) is a difficult for her to address as it is attached to emotions around the finality of loosing her father.
The evening her father died she remembered seeing a dull, sterile body bag being delivered to his room. She had imagined that object enveloping all that she had loved and lost, without ceremony. The resultant piece is a hand-pieced eight-point star quilt constructed of vinyl and sewn into the form of a body bag. The pattern and colors that inform the piece reference a quilt that her mother had made her father as a wedding gift. Star blankets pragmatically give comfort, warmth and retain energy, but for the maker, they are meditative, loving gestures of care and embrace.
But Thompson isn’t making objects as a way to make her loss symbolic or allegorical. Thompson avoids making broad declarations about loss, and she isn’t offering her audience advice, remedies or world views on the meaning of life and death.
By contrast, she humbly owns her experience as personal and individual. Referring to In Loss (2015), Thompson states, “Grief is a highly personal experience in that every individual’s process is unique.” This piece is a large weaving that combines two large self-portraits of the artist, abstracting and fragmenting Thompson’s face, “in order to demonstrate a heightened experience of hysteria and anxiety, overwhelming the viewer.”
Maggie Thompson’s exhibition On Borrowed Time: Postponing the Inevitable is on view through June 25th at the Textile Center, 3000 University Avenue SE, in Minneapolis.