‘A thousand threads’ tie art to life

Advocate staff photo by ELIOT KAMENITZ -- Artist Luba Zygarewicz is surrounded by her installation, 'A Thousand Threads,' at the Contemporary Arts Center in New Orleans.
Advocate staff photo by ELIOT KAMENITZ -- Artist Luba Zygarewicz is surrounded by her installation, 'A Thousand Threads,' at the Contemporary Arts Center in New Orleans.

Luba Zygarewicz exhibit opens March 8 at Contemporary Arts Center

One woman’s trash is another woman’s medium of artistic expression.

Illustrating that premise is conceptual artist Luba Zygarewicz’s “a thousand threads,” opening March 8 at the Contemporary Arts Center. For her installation, in the CAC’s Emerge Gallery, Zygarewicz has strung tea bags from every cup of the beverage she has consumed since May 12, 2011.

But she is no Mad Hatter at this tea party. As she has sipped each calming cup of tea, she has thought about her art.

“Each tea bag represents the time behind it, the thinking, the time I am creating,” she said. Together, the assembled bags — dated and arranged in chronological order — represent “a thousand thoughts, a thousand hopes suspended in time.”

The installation incorporates architectural elements inside the gallery’s oval space as well as the railing along the ramp beside it. The exhibit can be seen from various vantage points and levels as a viewer climbs the ramp.

“My goal is for people to see it from all angles,” the artist said. “I want people to walk around it, to experience it, to become part of it.”

The CAC’s Emerge Gallery is dedicated to such site-specific works by emerging artists.

“Luba is a perfect example of an emerging artist who approaches space with considerations of form and content,” said Jan Gilbert, CAC interim director of visual arts. “Her use and transformation of the rituals and remnants of everyday life ignite curiosity and wonder.

“Back in the fall, I invited her to come in and closely observe the Emerge Gallery, traveling the ramp up and down as our visitors do, and to make a proposal for the use of the space.”

The proposal turned out to be everyone’s cup of tea.

Zygarewicz, who received a bachelor of arts degree in visual arts from Loyola University and a master of fine arts degree from the San Francisco Art Institute, has worked with tea bags as a medium for several years.

The Mandeville resident — who was born in Chile in 1965, grew up in Bolivia and moved to San Francisco at age 15 — started drinking different teas for medicinal reasons, then began recording her thoughts on the tags as she drank. “Those became my little journals,” she said.

That led to artworks combining tea bags and text, two of which were featured at the Acadiana Center for the Arts in Lafayette, one in 2012 and one at its Southern Open in 2011.

Also featured at the 2011 show was Zygarewicz’s “petrified time: 12 years of my life folded and neatly stacked,” an 18-foot-tall tower of bundles of dryer lint.

This was exhibited later at the CAC, as part of “NOLA NOW, Part I: Swagger for a Lost Magnificence,” from October 2011 to January 2012.

“I tend to work with what’s around me,” Zygarewicz said.

The lint tower grew from the day the mother of four children, now ranging in ages 12 to 22, realized that, by necessity, her time was spent doing laundry instead of creating art.

So she started saving dryer lint, in color-sorted stacks, with an eye to using it in a work of art.

This, she said, “reminded me every day that I am an artist” — in addition to being a wife (of John W. Hogue III), a mother (of Brigette, Marguerite, Sabina and John IV) and a teacher (of her home-schooled children).

Her family is “very supportive” of her artistic expression, even helping hang tea bags at the CAC, Zygarewicz said. And if they find something strange in the home kitchen, the children will ask, “Mom, is this art?”

On view to June 2, “a thousand threads” is one of four CAC exhibitions sharing the March 8 opening reception. Admission is free to everyone during the 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. reception and to CAC members and Louisiana residents during regular gallery hours of 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday to Monday.

Should the exhibit stir a viewer’s thirst, tea is always available in the Spun CafĂ© at the CAC. However, it does not come in a tea bag.

Mary Lou Atkinson is a contributing writer.