Claudia Peña Salinas Biography

Combining clean, Minimalist lines with found objects and contemporary research-based systems of art-making, interdisciplinary artist Claudia Peña Salinas investigates the past to better understand the present, and creates installations that position indigenous structures of knowledge at their core.

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Salinas graduated with a BFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 1998. Nine years later, a Jacob K Javits Fellow, she spent time at the Frank Mohr Institute in the Netherlands before completing her MFA at Hunter College, New York, in 2009. Though she left Mexico to travel to the United States for her studies—spending around a decade away—Mexico has come to play an increasingly important role in the artist's practice. 'Tláloc' (2013–ongoing) explores the eponymous Aztec deity of rain and his consort, Clahchiuhtlicue—the goddess of horizontal waters. The artist now returns to her hometown of Nuevo León as well as Mexico City each summer in order to collect objects for future projects, such as fruit, rocks, and matchboxes.

In 2018, Salinas participated in a group exhibition alongside six other Latinx artists at the Whitney Museum of American Art. Pacha, Llaqta, Wasichay: Indigenous Space, Modern Architecture, New Art highlighted art practices centred around Indigenous American conceptions of architecture and environment. Salinas' contribution was her then-latest iteration of 'Tláloc', and encompassed found items, photography, video, and sculpture.

Informed by pre-Columbian ritual and symbolism, the sculptures in the Whitney iteration of 'Tláloc' envisage Tlalocán, the Aztec mythological realm of those who perish in water-related deaths and the land over which Tláloc and Clahchiuhtlicue rule. Brass frames tied together with cotton thread into clusters of squares and cubes contain textile patterns informed by traditional Aztec colour schemes and fibres. By combining these traditional craft motifs with the language of 20th- and 21st-century sculpture, Salinas relocates these historic indigenous mythologies within a contemporary approach.

Salinas' contemporary angle to her subject matter applies both formally and socio-politically. Though her works are well-informed of the culture and philosophies from which they emerge, they also tie into current affairs. In the video Tlachacan (2017), the artist presents her research on various sculptures of Tláloc while also discussing present-day concerns such as Mexico City's water crisis and the plans to build a new airport on top of the remains of depleted Lake Texcoco. Using the past to consider the present, she reflects on the ongoing impact of history on current social and physical environments.

Salinas' recent solo exhibitions include Atlpan, The Club, Tokyo (2019); Field Station, MSU Broad, Michigan (2018); and Tlalotlicuetlan, Embajada, San Juan (2017). Significant recent group exhibitions include Almost Solid Light: New Work from Mexico, Kasmin, New York (2018); Inside The Nest, Simon Preston Gallery, New York (2017); You Are Here, Peana Projects, Monterrey (2017); Imperceptible, Abrons Arts Center, New York (2017); and Meridian Atlas, Present Company, New York (2017).

Casey Carsel | Ocula | 2019

Claudia Peña Salinas
in Ocula Magazine

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