‘Tether:’ New show features La Jolla artist’s exploration of being bound by body and burdens

La Jollan Christiana Updegraff's artworks are on exhibit in Solana Beach through Friday, May 5.
(Tucker Bass)

Christiana Updegraff’s display at Solana Beach gallery focuses on expectations of gender, parenthood and ‘perfection.’


Finding freedom in highlighting the nature of gender expectations, La Jolla artist Christiana Updegraff is showcasing a collection of three-dimensional works at an exhibit in Solana Beach.

The show, called “Tether,” also features works by Rancho Peñasquitos artist Alexandra Carter. It opened April 8 at Oolong Gallery and continues through Friday, May 5.

The exhibit focuses on the ways in which the artists — both of them mothers — feel bound to their children, partners and others’ expectations.

To flesh out the theme, Updegraff employs many materials in her projects, using industrial supplies such as cement or wood and “a lot of domestic objects that are deconstructed [and] items that have a certain gender affiliation or expectation,” she said.

Christiana Updegraff's "Dangle, Tangle, Drop" is one of the works in the exhibit "Tether."
(Christiana Updegraff)

Updegraff’s works include string, textiles and fabrics designed to bring focus to the body and elicit “a visceral response in the viewer,” she said.

Her creations in the exhibit explore the isolation and unmooring Updegraff felt after she and her husband, video editor and La Jolla native Tucker Bass, moved to La Jolla from Los Angeles in August 2020 with their newborn and 2-year-old.

The family moved to be closer to Bass’ parents, and while that has been a boon, the restrictions early in the COVID-19 pandemic meant isolation for Updegraff.

But she was able to create in her art studio in the garage in close proximity to her children, all the while probing the concepts of loss and caretaking.

“The minutiae of caretaking is ever-present in my work,” Updegraff said, “particularly during this time of staying at home and having to provide for these two little people and their needs all day and then not being able to leave and come back. … It’s literally like dishes and cleaning and giving of myself to these other two people.”

“There’s such a loss of community for parents in general,” she said, but the pandemic quarantines compounded her feelings. “The loss of myself ... was really difficult for me because there was no other community. There was nothing to turn to.”

Updegraff, who earned a master’s degree in fine arts from San Diego State University in 2011 and creates art while teaching full time at Long Beach City College and SDSU, also explores “gender constructs and how society places expectations on men or women … and how those differences shape our experience in the world.”

Christiana Updegraff's "1005" is another of her creations on view at Oolong Gallery in Solana Beach through May 5.
(Christiana Updegraff)

As a mother, Updegraff said she sometimes feels pulled to conform to expectations of gender that compel her to be a caretaker while also pursuing her career.

Updegraff was raised in Kentucky and says she was confronted by Southern society’s differing expectations for her and her brother.

“I felt that very acutely growing up, so I’ve really tried my hardest to dispel those notions of gender constructs and fight against those,” she said.

Updegraff also references fertility in her works, as well as “how people present themselves to the exterior world,” she said.

The idea that one must maintain “an air of perfection … is particularly pervasive in today’s culture when dealing with women,” Updegraff said. “You can [try to] check all the boxes that you’re supposed to check. I think we all bravely try to fulfill [that], but it’s unattainable.”

That notion is exemplified in many of the works in “Tether,” she said.

“It’s amplifying that not everything has to be OK,” she said. “Some of us are coming unglued and pushing against the idea of being perfect.”

Oolong Gallery is at 349 N. Hwy. 101, Solana Beach. For more information, visit