Art under the microscope – Ruth Tabancay’s “Microcosmos” bridges the gap between micro and macro

 Tabancay Microcosmos

Years after her time spent studying biological sciences and medicine, Ruth Tabancay is still seeing the world through a microscope. All those hours spent bent over a microscope eyepiece, have left her with an attraction to nature’s abstract forms and patterns.

“Shortly after I began making art, I was startled to find in my work forms resembling bacteria, fungi, human cells and tissue–all as seen through a microscope. Ikat weaving appeared as striated muscle; stitched tea bag surfaces, squamous epithelium; random weave basketry, collagen fibers. My concepts and formal elements have been influenced largely by microscopic imagery. Drawn to working with non-traditional materials, I am attracted to objects that are already infused with meaning. Whether tea bags, plastic film, vintage linens, or elements from nature, each comes with a history that I integrate into my concepts.”

Ruth’s installations are realized in rich tactile works of felted wool, assemblage, stitching, and jacquard weavingturn. In her latest work she used new materials such as cast sugar, crochet, stitched Tyvek (spunbond olefin fiber), and silk coated with beeswax.

“My earliest memory of geometry was as a young child puzzling over the pattern of tiles on my grandmother’s bathroom floor. Since then, the infinite number of arrangements possible with the hexagon grid has always fascinated me. Starting with simple patterns, like the traditional quilt pattern, Grandmother’s Flower Garden, and a beehive’s honeycomb, I have explored increasingly larger design units. And once committed to a single, permanently stitched design, I now use moveable hexagon units to create dynamic and spontaneous systems. I recently became aware of the newer, non-Euclidean geometry of the hyperbolic plane and find artistic expression in those forms as well.”

Ruth holds a BFA in Textiles from California College of the Arts, an MD from the University of California, School of Medicine, and a BA in Bacteriology from the University of California, Berkeley. Her work is in the collection of the Oakland Museum of California. She lives in Berkeley.

Here are some photos from Microcosmos, the artist’s solo exhibition at Mercury 20, Oakland, CA, in 2013:

 Ruth Tabancay - Serratia over San FranciscoSerratia over San Francisco

Serratia Over San Francisco – Wet felted Wool pellets affixed across a wall. Serratia marcescens, is a bacterium that was controversially released over San Francisco by the US military in 1950 to test the population’s vulnerability to germ warfare. It was also one of the bacteria that Ruth worked with frequently while in the lab.


Ruth Tabamcay Crenation. Wet felted, wool psint

Crenation – Wet felted. Wool, paint.

Insomnia -Wet felted Wool, liquidamber fruits

Colony Microcosmos Ruth TabancayColony Detail Microcosmos Ruth Tabancay

Colony – Assemblage, Tea bags, glue

Sheer Microcosmos Tabancay

Sheer (wrinkled) 399X – Handwoven Jacquard Cotton, rayon yarns 13″ X 11″. Image of commercial fabric photographed by artist with Hitachi TM-1000 Scanning Electron Microscope.

Microcosmos – Installation View

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *