Freedom

Aeron Bergman & Alejandra Salinas

In Residence: Sep 18 – Nov 13, 2023

Exhibition: Nov 9, 2023 – Jan 28, 2024


Walking into Aeron Bergman and Alejandra Salinas’s exhibition, Freedom, you are greeted with a deep mossy green wall containing black, organically shaped forms, each featuring small paintings adhered to their centers. The forms are crafted from Mesquite wood, painted black with sumi ink, and sumi ink paintings on prints from John James Audubon’s well-known Birds of America collection and bear the same title. Sumi ink is made from burning tree sap. This wall therefore serves as our gateway to the core theme of the exhibition—a perilous tension between humanity and the natural world.

Mesquite, a familiar tree to Texans, if only through its connection to Texas barbeque, refers to a group of over 40 small leguminous plants native to arid regions in the Americas. Indigenous communities like the Coahuiltecan people revered mesquite as the “tree of life” for its remarkable abilities (drawing nitrogen from the air into the soil, having extensive roots that tap water from deep underground, as a nutritious food source, etc.) … Despite its virtues, cattle ranchers regard mesquite as an invasive pest due to its remarkable resilience and proliferation, thwarting various eradication methods. While the indigenous peoples of this land once coexisted harmoniously with the environment, including mesquite, our current economic system promotes the destruction of natural resources. Bergman and Salinas, during their residency and research, consider what it means to live alongside mesquite.

The artworks atop the blocks of painted mesquite further emphasize the tension between nature, ethics, and capitalism by addressing John James Audubon’s Birds of America collection. Audubon’s legal ownership of enslaved people and practice of hunting and killing the birds to pose them for his drawings, which are now revered symbols of nature conservation, underscore the irony and disconnect. Birds, often symbolizing freedom, can go where they please, in contrast to the portrayal of freedom here as an elusive concept sold by those in power, exemplifying humanity’s recurring struggle to dominate.

This interdisciplinary installation encompasses various elements. It features audio of people discussing mesquite and its significance playing throughout the gallery. Along the benches are stacks of books that the artists have read as part of their research for their exhibition. Opposite Birds of America, you’ll find the work titled Free Shipping, a wall covered in flattened cardboard boxes. These boxes were sourced by Artpace, collected over several months, and used as surfaces for painting by the artists and their daughter Agnes, a consciousness of the materials we incorporate into our lives.

Finally, on the gallery floor, a stack of posters pays homage to the late Félix González-Torres, who served as an Artpace Resident in 1995 and has long inspired Bergman and Salinas. Interestingly, they also occupy the same studio space that González-Torres used nearly three decades ago. Influenced by his text 1990: LA, The Gold Field, and his commitment to creating art that connected people in the face of existential and political trauma, Bergman and Salinas wrote an essay as a work in the exhibition. Their essay, freely given as were González-Torres’ posters, rests in a stack on the gallery floor, delves further into the intricate layers of the exhibition and the multifaceted challenges we confront in a profit-driven, capital-centric world that prioritizes the economy over our own ecosystem.

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Artist

Aeron Bergman & Alejandra Salinas

Detroit, Michigan

Bergman and Salinas have shown work internationally at institutions such as the 4th Athens Biennale; 1st Bergen Assembly Triennial; 2007 Turku Biennial; 1st Struer Tracks Sound Art Biennial; Steirischer Herbst 2013, Graz; Fundação de Serralves, Porto; Eastside Projects, Birmingham, UK; Kunsthalle Exnergasse, Vienna; Kunsthall Aarhus, Denmark; Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Berlin; ICC Tokyo; IASPIS, Stockholm; Lincoln Center and DAC in New York City; e-flux and Berlin Film Festival in Berlin; Center for Contemporary Art Glasgow; Edinburgh Film Festival and Dundee Contemporary Art in Scotland; MOCA Novi Sad; Taipei Fine Art Museum; Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven; Centre George Pompidou and Palais de Tokyo in Paris; IMO and Nikolaj Kunsthal in Copenhagen; Henie Onstad Art Center, Kunstnernes Hus and 0047 in Oslo, MUDAM Luxembourg; Ruler and HIAP in Helsinki; The Luminary, St. Louis, The Ski Club, Milwaukee; Poor Farm, Wisconsin; FUEGO, Mexico City; Artspace New Haven among many others.   

The pair founded the artist-run space Institute for New Connotative Action: INCA, and the independent art publisher INCA Press. They have published their writing with OEI (Stockholm) Rab-Rab Press (Helsinki), MARCH journal of art & strategy (St. Louis), and TLTRPreß (Berlin). Their work has been written about in BOMB Magazine, Temporary Art Review, Afterall, Frieze Magazine, and The New York Times among many others.  

Their sound art has been broadcast on radio such as the BBC and Resonance FM, in London; WDR Cologne; R2 Madrid; SV2 Stockholm; Radio France; CBC Canada; WFMU New York; and Taipei Philharmonic Radio. The pair won an award of distinction in digital music at the Prix Ars Electronica in Linz, Austria.   

Salinas is currently Assistant Professor at the University of Missouri. Bergman was Chair of the Low-Residency MFA at the Pacific Northwest College of Art where Salinas was Assistant Professor, from 2017 until 2022. Bergman and Salinas were Senior Artists-in-Residence at the University of Washington 2013–2017. Bergman was professor at the Oslo National Academy of the Arts 2007–2013.   

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Curator

Missla Libsekal

Missla Libsekal (b. Addis Abeba, Ethiopia) is an independent curator and writer whose practice centers on alteriority and knowledge transmission. Her long-term interdisciplinary research looks at historically marginalised ways of knowing, with the current chapter considering what stories of living in the land can offer better ways of being in relation with the places that we inhabit and occupy? Her recent curatorial projects include Creating Art Archives (2021) , a 2-day digital forum featuring scholars, publishers, artists and curators and the group exhibition Beyond What We See. Once upon a time, once upon a future (2021), Les Abattoirs, Musée – Frac Occitanie Toulouse.  

In 2010 and ahead of the curve, Libsekal founded Another Africa, a much needed digital platform for writing on and about African and Afro-Diasporic experiences and imaginaries. Operating until 2016, it became a leading destination for art and culture. Her writings on existing and emerging lexicons in contemporary Pan African visual practice have been published in The Africa Report, Aperture, Art Africa, SAVVY art journal, The Guardian, and more. 

Libsekal is involved in cultural advocacy, facilitating artist residency programs, arts education and jurying. From 2013 – 2016, Libsekal collaborated with curators Hans Ulrich Obrist and Simon Castets on their long-term research project 89plus, an investigation on the impact of instant knowledge and technical know-how unfolding with the diffusion of the Internet and networked technologies. Over a four year period, she co-organized artist talks, workshops, research trips to Accra, Cape Town, Johannesburg and Addis Ababa and artist residencies. In 2020, Libsekal joined the advisory board of Black Arts Centre (BLAC), a Black youth-owned and operated gallery and community site. She is a board member at Or Gallery, Vancouver, a non-profit and artist-run contemporary art centre and bookstore. 

She is based Vancouver, Canada the unceded, ancestral territories of  the xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish), and Sel̓íl̓witulh (Tsleil-Waututh) Nations. 

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