Exhibition review: ‘Cumulations’ by Tanja Geis

When I walked in for my volunteer shift at 1078 Gallery, I was unsure what the exhibition would be, as ‘Cumulations’ did not give me a lot of information on the content. Unlike the Museum of Northern California Art, 1078 Gallery hosts more young, fresh-faced artists who create innovative, modern and abstract works. 

This exhibit, ‘Cumulations,’ is by Tanja Geis, a Berkeley and Yale fine arts masters program graduate and resource management in marine management master’s program graduate from the University of Akureyri in Iceland. 

 Geis focuses her work on the impact humans have on the liveliness of non-humans, and writes in her artist reception piece that, “She is guided by the question of how we can learn to live with some measure of grace in these ruins of our own creation.” 

For this show she used found objects she recovered from Bay Area beaches, like syringe caps and tampons. She dipped them in bright orange paint to create patterns on large pieces of paper.

‘Syringe,’ 2021 by Tanja Geis. Photo taken by Katie Callahan.

The gallery space is smaller than MONCA, even with a coffee shop, Equilateral, in the corner of the room. The paintings hang on the opposite wall from the entrance, and a stage to the left, meant to have a sound system feature- but it wasn’t working during my shift. 

The gallery space is simple and allows for the artwork to take up most of the focus. Geis’ collection, though, is very one-dimensional. The use of brown paper with the same shade of orange for every piece makes it seem like every work is the same. Upon first viewing it, I was confused as to what her works really were, and whether they were each individual pieces or prints of the same piece.

The alterations between each paper are subtle enough that it takes the viewer a moment of observation before realizing the unique patterns and shapes. This could be purposeful, to get the viewer to reflect further on the work and its meaning. 

I did appreciate the fact that Geis includes the found object next to the work since I feel like it adds more meaning and substance to the pieces. Without seeing the found object and reading her artist statement, these works would be much less impactful. 

‘Tampon,’ 2021 by Tanja Geis. Photo taken by Katie Callahan.

I appreciate 1078 Gallery’s constant search for innovative and modern artists who create impactful pieces, but this show missed the mark for me. Her work is so abstract, which is not always a bad thing, but the way each piece is so similar takes away from the point she is trying to make about humanity’s negative impact on the Earth. 

The pieces show the variety of garbage found on our beaches, but the works all blend together. I do not think this was executed as well as it could have been, and while the exhibit setup and gallery space provide a blank slate for the work to be observed, this work doesn’t adequately showcase Gei’s poignant critique of human-kinds’ effect on the environment. 

Katie Callahan can be reached at [email protected].