Don’t Throw that Tea Bag Out

Small things can have a big impact on our lives. Like a used tea bag.

Before Nicole Bauberger’s dad passed away, they were just the end product of a nice cup of tea. But then they became a symbol of a life gone too soon; of the dreams we hold on to as time slips away; of the space we leave behind in people’s lives when we die.

Bauberger, a Whitehorse-based artist, has been contemplating these things and the love she has for her dad, while sipping steaming hot cups of tea. Since her dad passed away, she has been creating new artwork with used tea bags – and she can’t generate enough herself.

She’s now inviting us all to pop down to the Yukon Arts Centre (YAC) between May 2 and 10 to pick up some organic Earl Grey and English Breakfast tea, enjoy it, and then return the tea bags, damp enough to drip, by May 10.

She’ll be showing her new art at the YAC starting on May 16.

When her dad died in 2010, she and her mom were confronted with dozens of jars of used tea bags. Her dad had saved them over the years to use on his model railroad dioramas. He liked to use the dried tealeaves to recreate the look of ground cover.

But when Bauberger was faced with 50 jars of tea bags, she and her mom decided to compost them.

“It was sad — but what do you do with them?” she says. “My dad was a model rail-roader, so a lot of things he had saved with the intent to use them (for his dioramas) in his retirement.”

But back in Whitehorse, ideas began to percolate and she developed a new appreciation for the diaphanous bags and the streaks of colour the damp tea makes. Except now the big stash was gone.

That’s when she kicked into gear drinking tea and asking friends to donate their used tea bags.

She has been hanging some of the wet tea bags against paper, allowing the drips to leave their mark. She has also been emptying other used tea bags and using the rectangular material as tiny pieces of fabric and sewing them together.

“I got my partner Dean to make a form of my body, and I took a whole bunch of tea bags and I sewed a dress with them,” she says. “The dress is light and transparent, but the most interesting thing about the dress is the empty space inside, because, for me, it evokes the sense of a person who isn’t there.”

The little shapes of the bags are outlined in Bauberger’s red stitching.

“The connection to blood and veins and life — all of these connotations of red was intentional,” she says.

The dress is complete and will be shown as part of the Remains exhibition. But other pieces are still unfinished. She will be using some of the tea bags, the labels and the threads to embed in beeswax to make encaustic paintings for the collection.

The opening reception for Nicole Bauberger’s new show Remains is on May 16 at the Yukon Arts Centre in Whitehorse. The show runs until June 1.

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