February 10 – March 27, 2024
Roll Up Project is pleased to present recent sculptural wall works by Kai Tse. Kevin B. Chen curated this selection of Tse’s tufted rugs featuring frogs, pigeons, pigs, hares, and fish. Tse describes these animals as easy targets who are sometimes viewed simply as prey.
Tse began exploring animal imagery a few years ago in a series of small-scale gouache paintings. In 2023, he started looking for a medium that was more physically challenging, and became interested in rugmaking. Tse notes that rugmaking has a sculptural aspect that goes beyond his painting practice, as he is able to carve into the rugs to add dimension and definition.
In the window on Harrison Street, Pigeon Splayed (2023) and Frog Splayed (2024) depict animals pinned on their backs, with torsos flayed open to reveal intestines, lungs, hearts, and muscles. Abstracted into calligraphic lines and shapes in bold red, pink, blue, and white, these organs effectively communicate their presence without feeling gory. Rather, they are reminders of our own fragile bodies and what lies just under the surface of our thin skins. Equally important are the big blue tears that spill from the eyes of the frog and pigeon, as if they are fully sentient and present in the moment. Hare Head (2023) and Pig Head (2033), located in the windows on Third Street, also shed giant tears. Their heads float, disembodied and comical, alongside a cleanly chopped Fish (In Pieces) (2024).
These animals are exposed and incapacitated, at the mercy of others. They are powerful reminders of the fact that we are also animals in this ecosystem, with hearts and guts just like them, and are equally vulnerable to this level of exposure and pain. In particular, Tse’s imagery reflects on his lived experiences as a queer, transgender man feeling moments of scrutiny and unwanted attention. In addition to the psychological experience of continually explaining oneself to people with differing viewpoints, there is the physical vulnerability of transitioning, of making permanent physical changes to one’s body.
In looking at this series, I am also reminded of childrens’ stories that employ animals as protagonists, like Peter Rabbit, Winnie the Pooh, or Frog and Toad. As children, we are able to inhabit their world, experience their adventures, and absorb the emotional lessons they impart. Perhaps we are more open to learning from them because they don’t look like us, or because it’s all so fantastical. Now, as adults, could that same kind of storytelling open up discussions that lead to empathy and understanding?
About the Artist
Kai Tse is a San Francisco-based artist who explores the tangible and fragile human experience, as well as the transcendental beauty and fleeting essence of the natural world in his multi-media practice. He also reflects on his personal experiences as a queer, transgender man, incorporating celebration and joy alongside the beautifully mundane moments of life. Tse’s work has been exhibited at Four Barrel and the Martin Wong Gallery at San Francisco State University. He received a BA from San Francisco State University in 2022.