Gabriela Albergaria is having her first show in Brussels. The square seed balls of “Pinch Pinch Pinch” (2015-2022), the main artwork in the LMNO gallery, plays an ironic and museum-like game with American Minimalism. Endangered land is the background of this artwork and Gabriela’s entire art approach. Nature is in bad shape, she thinks. The climate crisis is worse than ever if you follow critical philosophers like Timothy Morton or the late Bruno Latour. But, for Michael Shellenberger, there’s too much exaggeration on this climate talk. Should artists enter this ideological dialogue? What can we do about it? What can art do about it?
António Cerveira Pinto
December 2, 2022 – January 28, 2023
Rue de la Concorde, 1050 Ixelles, Brussels
This show is Gabriela Albergaria’s first solo exhibition in Belgium.
The drawings and the sculpture presented in the exhibition refer to Wendell Berry’s book, The Work of Local Culture (1988), a story of a bucket hanging from a fence, collecting rain, snow and leaves. Over time, these natural inputs have created a wet, rotting base, producing an entirely new layer of soil. The artwork Making soil got its title from Berry’s book.
The works on paper play with the idea of an imagined landscape since the two parts of each one—photography and illustration— do not necessarily match into a whole. However, they are complementary.
Pinch Pinch Pinch is the central piece of this show. It refers to fertile soils disappearing gradually from the planet through misuse and overexploitation. And to permaculture. The support, made out of the earth gathered at the Bois de Fa, uses an age-old technique of trodden earth construction. A multitude of cubes of soil covers its base., some of which contain seeds of non-GMO beans. This reminder of intensive agriculture, which exhausts the ground, can also be found in the exact dimensions of the sculpture since it is made up of twenty-five 30cm by 30cm squares, corresponding to the size of the machines seeding agricultural land. The thickness of the support, between 20 and 25 cm of soil, corresponds to the planet’s average thickness of fertile soil. Each cube at the centre of a 30cm area contains one seed.
Nature all around Brussels plays a pivotal role in this exhibition. The places where Gabriela collected the soil have a significant role: north of Portugal, Gabriela’s native land; Foret de Soignes (Bruxelles-Capitale and Region Wallonne); and Bois de Fa (Grez-Doiceau, Belgium). All these places are not mere sources of materials but places deeply involved in the artist’s creative process and inspiration.
FOR MANY YEARS MY WALKS HAVE TAKEN ME down an old fencerow in a wooded hollow on what was once my grandfather’s farm. A battered galvanized bucket is hanging on a fence post near the head of the hollow, and I never go by it without stopping to look inside. For what is going on in that bucket is the most momentous thing I know, the greatest miracle that I have ever heard of: it is making earth. The old bucket has hung there through many autumns, and the leaves have fallen around it and some have fallen into it. Rain and snow have fallen into it, and the fallen leaves have held the moisture and so have rotted. Nuts have fallen into it, or been carried into it by squirrels; mice and squirrels have eaten the meat of the nuts and left the shells; they and other animals have left their droppings; insects have flown into the bucket and died and decayed; birds have scratched in it and left their droppings or perhaps a feather or two. This slow work of growth and death, gravity and decay, which is the chief work of the world, has by now produced in the bottom of the bucket several inches of black humus. I look into that bucket with fascination because I am a farmer of sorts and an artist of sorts, and I recognize there an artistry and a farming far superior to mine, or to that of any human. I have seen the same process at work on the tops of boulders in a forest, and it has been at work immemorially over most of the land-surface of the world. All creatures die into it, and they live by it.
The old bucket started out a far better one than you can buy now. I think it has been hanging on that post for something like fifty years. I think so because I remember hearing, when I was just a small boy, a story about a bucket that must have been this one. Several of my grandfather’s black hired hands went out on an early spring day to burn a tobacco plantbed, and they took along some eggs to boil and eat with their dinner. When dinner came time and they look around for something to boil the eggs in, they could find only an old bucket that at one time had been filled with tar. The boiling water softened the residue of tar, and one of the eggs came out of the water black. The hands made much sport of seeing who would have to eat the black egg, welcoming their laughter in the midst of their days work. The man who had to eat the black egg was Floyd Scott, whom I remember well. Dry scales of tar still adhere to the inside of the bucket.
However small a landmark the old bucket is, it is not trivial. It is one of the signs by which I know my country and myself. And to me it is irresistibly suggestive in the way it collects leaves and other woodland sheddings as they fall through time. It collects stories too as they fall through time. It is irresistibly metaphorical. It is doing in a passive way what a human community must do actively and thoughtfully. A human community too must collect leaves and stories, and turn them into an account. It must build soil, and build that memory of itself—in lore and story and song—which will be its culture. And these two kinds of accumulation, of local soil and local culture, are intimately related.
The Work of Local Culture
by Wendell Berry, Mar o4, 2014 (excerpt)
—In Daily Good
Using garbage and local liquid clay (clay slip) from a ready but never used metro line (Metro do Mondego) — a financial scandal and total disrespect for the people who need public transportation in the region of Coimbra, Portugal
This art piece is a result of the invitation by the students of Laboratório de Curadoria (curatorial studies) at Colegio das Artes from the University of Coimbra, Portugal.
—more on this project on the artist’s website
About the Artist
Albergaria’s work involves one territory: Nature. A nature manipulated, planted, transported, set in a hierarchy, catalogued, studied, felt and recalled through the ongoing exploration of gardens in photography, drawing and sculpture. The artist views gardens as elaborated constructs, representational systems and descriptive mechanisms that epitomize fictional beliefs representing the world. Gardens are also environments dedicated to leisure and study, cultural and social processes that produce a historical understanding of what knowledge and pleasure are.
More generally, the images of gardens and plant species employed by the artist are used in processes of cultural change through which visions of nature are produced. Mediated by presentation systems, they generate different versions of what we see as landscape — systems of material structures and visual hierarchies, cultural constructs that define the framing of our visual field.
Since 1999 Albergaria has exhibited regularly around the world.