.Berkeley Art Museum’s MATRIX program features international artists

New curators to present more exhibits beyond the walls

For almost 45 years, the Berkeley Art Museum and Film Archive has made its MATRIX program part of its signature exhibitions. Since 1978, MATRIX has chosen artists to present their work in nontraditional “museum” settings, encouraging a different kind of dialogue between artist, space and viewer.

Featured artists now number nearly 300, and include Jean-Michel Basquiat, Louise Bourgeois, Willem de Kooning, Nancy Spero, Cecilia Vicuña and Andy Warhol, among many others.

“More recently,” BAMPFA materials note, “MATRIX has sought to establish a dynamic balance between international, national, and local artists, featuring artists such as Zarouhie Abdalian, Michael Armitage, Geta Brătescu, Will Brown, Cecilia Edefalk, Paz Errázuriz, Nicole Eisenman, Myoko Ito, Anna Maria Maiolino, Otobong Nkanga, Will Rogan, Linda Stark, and John Zurier.”

In keeping with that recent trend, this year’s featured MATRIX program gives visitors the opportunity to experience the work of two international artists, Argentina’s Gabriel Chaile in MATRIX 283 and Canada’s Sin Wai Kin in MATRIX 284.

Speaking of the MATRIX series, Margot Norton, BAMPFA’s chief curator since last May, said, “Over the years, it has evolved. Each curator has shaped it. I have long admired it. It’s been an important platform [for artists] to take their practice to a new level. We have been looking at it, and how it can continue its important legacy.”

One decision is to focus on commissions of new work, she said, supporting artists at key moments in their careers. The choice of Gabriel Chaile is a great example.

“I have worked with him previously,” she said. “He often works on site [including, in this case] a month-long residency creating work on campus.” His MATRIX show will be his first U.S. solo museum exhibition, although, said Norton, his work has generated “significant recognition abroad.”

Chaile creates soaring clay sculptures inspired by “the forms, rituals, and traditions of precolonial cultures in northwestern Argentina,” according to BAMPFA materials. He was raised in a city on the margins of what was once the Inca empire, with a culture that blends Spanish, Afro-Arab and Indigenous traditions. His “bulbous, anthropomorphic sculptures” take special inspiration from ceramics of the Condorhuasi-Alamito peoples (c. 400 B.C.E. – 700 C.E.).

Chaile has described these works as being “in between two states, as if they are about to become something else.” During the residency for his MATRIX exhibition, he worked with four assistants from UC Berkeley to create a commissioned 15-foot-tall clay sculpture titled Ella vendrá a pagarle todo (She will come to pay him for everything).

The title of his exhibition, “No hay nada que destruya el corazón como la pobreza,” translates as “Nothing destroys the heart like poverty.” Chaile “wrote that down when he was young,” Norton said, “relating to his city, the poverty he grew up surrounded by.”

The military junta’s dictatorship of Argentina, from 1966-73, also influenced Chaile’s work. “[He is interested in] what leads certain circumstances to occur,” Norton said. “What propels certain people to act certain ways.” The current tumultuous period in Argentina “ties to that period where there was a dictatorship,” Norton said. Chaile’s work “is both personal and political.”

Many of Chaile’s pieces resemble a melding of adobe ovens and somewhat human or animal forms. Some bear names, such as “Rosario Liendro” and “Sebastiana Martinez.” Some actually function as ovens, from which the artist has cooked and fed surrounding communities.

One, for example, a big vessel with a smaller vessel inside, is both a double boiler and evocative of birth, Norton said. “He still creates usable ovens. Cooking is very essential to his work.” Although, during his original, more classical artistic training, she said, “He never thought of adobe as a material. Then a light bulb went off.”

The second MATRIX exhibition, “Sin Wai Kin: The Story Changing” is also the artist’s first solo U.S. show—and explores a completely different part of the contemporary art world. The performance and video artist “uses speculative fiction and storytelling to imagine new worlds.” MATRIX 284 will present two of their most recent video works, The Breaking Story (2022) and Dreaming the End (2023).

Both feature the characters The Storyteller and Change, and use makeup and costuming inspired by drag performances, and Cantonese and Peking opera. Early in their exploration of performance, Sin performed in London’s experimental drag scene. Their onstage persona, according to BAMPFA materials, “pastiched an idealized vision of Western femininity.”

An article in the publication TatlerAsia describes their first video, Sandwich (2015): “Artist Sin Wai Kin’s first performance as what would become one of their best-known characters entailed wearing a sparkling, glamorous evening gown, blonde wig and dramatic make-up while putting a filling between slices of bread. Says the artist of their first work… ‘It was a take on that insult to women when a man might say, “Shut up and go make me a sandwich!”’”

A nonbinary person, Sin explores “the fluidity of identity,” Norton said, describing it as “shape shifting. They are one of the most exciting [artists] working in video.” Their work, states BAMPFA materials, is about “ultimately imagining different worlds and embodying new ways of being.”

Both videos are looped and continuously playing, The Breaking Story on six monitors in the lobby, and Dreaming the End inside the gallery in a large-scale format.

BAMPFA’s new group of curators, all appointed in 2023, will continue to explore new ways of presenting art. “Expect more of this kind of work,” Norton said, “collaborations with the campus, more exhibits that go deeper, ways to be more live that go beyond the walls of the institution.”

She praised the intimate involvement of UC Berkeley students in the creation of Chaile’s newest work, saying, “We are already plotting next year, with local artists and globally.”

‘MATRIX 283: Gabriel Chaile,’ through April 14; ‘MATRIX 284: Sin Wai Kin,’ through March 10. Berkeley Art Museum and Film Archive, 2120 Oxford St., Berkeley. 510.642.0808. www.bampfa.org

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