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View from the exhibition TunState, Museo Jumex, Mexico City, 2023. Photo by Enrique Macias Martínez.

TunState presents a potent metaphor and a playful provocation, asking us to consider the diverse ways in which creatures, human and non-human, respond to existential threats and inhospitable conditions. In a moment when apocalyptic scenarios fueled by prevalent conditions of war, the ravages of global capitalism, and irreversible ecological degradation are proliferating across media sources, Aslı Çavuşoğlu steers her research-based artistic practice towards an inquiry into instances of resilience and regeneration in the natural world.

In a series of newly produced works, Çavuşoğlu continues her longstanding exploration of material histories, properties and states. She begins with the bursera fagaroides, a tree with a shrinking habitat (owing to climate change) that is native to the Sonoran Desert, extending across parts of the southwestern United States and northern Mexico. In response to the discovery of a reliable source of moisture, the tree sheds its bark in order to grow larger. Pieces of bark, like peeling skin, appear suspended on its surface and eventually fall off. Çavuşoğlu traveled across the desert landscape in Mexico, collecting these fragile fragments, and worked closely with a paper restorer to produce from them a stable surface for mark-making.

The salvaged bark of the bursera fagaroides recurs across works in the exhibition, in combination with handmade paper, leather and obsidian, creating connections with other natural materials – namely tree fibers, animal hide, volcanic glass – that embody specific histories, processes, and temporalities of transformation. A work like TINA (2022), in which leather, bark-paper and drawing come together in the form of an accordion book, is informed by documented instances of natural mummification in conditions of extreme heat and cold […] while cheekily riffing on the conservative politician Margaret Thatcher’s now infamous utterance, “There is no alternative.” In another work, Holy Stick (2022), […] the artist underscores the irony of this tree being irresponsibly and rampantly logged across Peru, Colombia and Mexico to meet the international demand for Palo Santo as an agent of purification and cleansing marketed by the wellness industry, based on its shamanic and healing uses across Central and South America.

[…] The transmutation of specific, regionally sourced materials and their deployment as connotative visual form is equally resonant in the case of Lambadistrion (2022). Here, beads made from labdanum, the fragrant resin native to Crete, are strung together on a frame made of wood and thread that resembles the whip traditionally used to collect the resin that is referred to in the work’s title […] Traces and trajectories of migration are equally central to Çavuşoğlu’s research in the Sonoran Desert, an active passage for people between Mexico and the United States, where those attempting to cross without the requisite paperwork traverse the sandy landscape wearing special shoes that leave no trace. Çavuşoğlu purchased a few pairs of such “carpet shoes” while traveling in Mexico and used their soles to generate marks on bark derived papers that appear in the exhibition, including amate, which has been produced in the Mexican state of Puebla since well before colonial contact through a process that transforms pulp from the inner bark of fig and mulberry trees.


*Excerpt from the press release by Rattanamol Singh Johal