In Jade Walker’s exhibition “Wayfinding” at Women & Their Work, bright blue, orange and red threads crisscross the gallery, wrapping around columns and forming 10-foot tall woven artworks.
Throughout new series (all created in 2023), certain shapes recur. There are trapezoidal variations on crutches and ladders as well as large and small tools, including several wooden mallets, incorporated into the installation. Although the works are abstract, the Austin-based Walker investigates human relationships with our environment through the details, asking whether or not we are capable of embedding seamlessly into our ecosystems, and challenging the types of comfort we seek.
“Orrels, Gobals + Thrums” fills a corner just inside the entryway. This three dimensional collage is organized around a long wooden stick that projects into the space. Around it, found birds nests are nestled into orange, red, and blue plastic containers. A ladder covered in red vertical threads and one stripe of blue leans against the wall, while a menacing ball of barbed wire hangs high in a corner. Strings project from the center to the wall, where they are secured by barbs. Among the sticks, zip ties, slingshots, rope, mallets, and bird feathers that fill in the rest of the space are misshapen red bags reminiscent of anatomical hearts.
These heart-like objects and the abandoned birds nests add a sense of vulnerability to “Orrels, Gobals + Thrums” contrasting the barbed wire. The tools, textiles and plastics that serve as Walker’s materials, used by people to make themselves more comfortable, contrast the feathers and empty nests she incorporates, which stand as synecdochal reminders of the natural world through the incomplete presence of birds.
Along the back wall of the gallery are four circular works titled “Nieve [one]” through “Nieve [four].” In them, ropes of different thicknesses spiral inside metal rings. Each variation is enhanced by different man made red and blue elements. In “Nieve [three],” the rope is thickest on the outside and thinnest at the center, where there is a red squeaker from a dog toy. While incorporating an element of brightly colored 21st century detritus, the work’s spiral pattern invites reflection, like the raked patterns of a Zen dry garden.
Opposite the “Nieve” series is the large scale piece “Human Geography.” A hoard of manmade objects, all in Walker’s bright color palette, are piled more than seven feet high, held in place by row after row of orange cord. From tarps to gasoline canisters, a single chair to plastic bins, the unwieldy collection, centered around a blue water tank, is largely composed of things that might be found in a garage. A few cedar and pine branches are webbed in with the other items, but these glimpses of natural material don’t assuage the overwhelming effect of the work as a whole. Contained, these objects, many of them used for working on the land, form a kind of nest, but not a welcoming one.
In her bright weaving, featured in several works in the exhibition including “Slingshot,” Walker’s pops of color come from plastic coatings on the cords as often as they do dyes. The combination of thread, yarn, ripped fabric, string, hair, cord, wire and plastic in “Crutch,” for example, makes for something beautiful and exciting with orange warp threads peeking out from behind weft bands of cobalt, terra cotta, bright red and maroon. Yet, the materials weave together uneasily. The various colored threads and cords are tied off haphazardly so that knots and loose strings peek out from the design, showing how manufactured with human hands the weaving itself is, and the strength that could come from more seamlessly weaving together human and natural endeavors.
The other works in the exhibit include a pair of embroidered felt medallions (“Sketch [one]” and “Sketch [two]”) and a series of four sculptural “Handtools” hung on a row of hooks. Assembled from found objects, the “Handtools” combine pieces of bone with plastic and fabric.
Separated from the collages, the details of these smaller works stand out. Yet every work in Walker’s ambitious installation is full of interesting and surprising repetitions of her colors, shapes, and themes. From the joint where blue thread and a ziptie connect an antler to a rubber mallet head in “Handtools [two],” to a ball of masking tape that adds to the chaotic balance of “Orrels, Gobals + Thrums,” Walker introduces unexpected materials and prompts thought provoking connections about what tethers us to the places we inhabit.
“Wayfinding” continues through Feb. 23 at Women & Their Work, 1311 E. Cesar Chavez St., womenandtheirwork.org