Silk, for all its incredible lightness, is pound-for-pound stronger than woven steel. Even so, Rebecca Cross stretches the fabric to its limit in her forthcoming show Presence/absence, where it is made to hold such weights as grief, memory, and celebratory love. The exhibition, opening next week at the Morgan Conservatory, is dedicated to Cross' daughter, Emma Rose Coleman, who died suddenly last November at 19.
Cross recalls walking with her daughter last fall, collecting pieces of slate the artist would later use to weigh down sections of organza to allow gravity to work the fabric into its desired shape. One piece of this type (pictured, detail) is a field of translucent white, broken by cresting peaks. Cross says the stone's weight has left a permanent impression on the fabric — a history or memory, even after the stone has been removed. She is comforted by the fact that human relationships work in a similar way.
"The actual presence has been removed, but all their information still resonates," she says. "It's about embodied memory."
The installation takes up all three walls of the Morgan Conservatory's exhibition space. It cannot be easily divided into individual pieces, only sections that place accents on any of the several themes Cross examines — musicality, grace, the power of words and objects to evoke memory, and the artist's own biography. One segment of wall is devoted to the word "Emma," painted over and over again; while reading it, the reader is ushered into the world of the mourner. It is powerful and profound, especially when taken with Cross' examinations of the personal traces left on objects.
Originally from the Pacific Northwest, Cross transplanted to Ohio to study at Oberlin College and Kent State, where she now teaches. Her undergraduate degrees were in English and voice, and the written word, music, and dance still inform her work.
Where many artists use fiber and paper to represent something ethereal, Cross is unique in her drawing attention to the physicality of these airy materials, and the history of their conception. Though intensely personal and biographical, the show warmly invites viewers to consider the materials of their lives, and their intersections with dear ones.
Presence/absence opens with previews on Tuesday, May 29, and a reception will be held Friday, June 1, from 7 to 9 p.m. The show continues through Saturday, July 7, at 1754 East 47th Street. Call 216-361-9255 or go to morganconservatory.org to learn more.