The Fussy Eye: Na, Meet Xe

Hard science, soft art.

Fabric arts get no respect because, well, they're so soft. Yarn and string and wool are less manly than oil paint, granite, and steel, less inviting of critical theory and gratuitous Adorno references. And yet, what's more rigorous and hard science-y than the periodic table of the elements? Take barium (Ba 56) for example: It's an alkali earth metal (atomic weight 137.327) used to remove moisture from vacuum tubes. Vacuum tubes! The kind we use in vintage amps and room-sized old IBM supercomputers! Cool shit like that. That's why, among the two dozen local quilt artists featured in "Beyond the Block," Barbara Nepom grabs your attention with Elemental, a squished and reconfigured table that has not been approved for classroom use. Ordinarily, the table is neatly organized by atomic number and arrangement of electrons. So, too, are quilts generally restricted to shapes determined by uniform "blocks" (squares) that resemble the periodic table. But Nepom, like her fellow members in the Contemporary QuiltArt Association, messes with the grid—here scrambling the elements in size and importance, letting the lettering and colors run amok in a method most unscientific. Where's mercury (Hg 80)? Certainly not where it belongs. But then, that element has been known to wander. 

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