Mother, Earth, Air: Yulia Pinkusevich and Sakha Aesthesis at MPAC

Sakha Aesthesis by Yulia Pinkusevich. Installation view 5, MPAC. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Sakha Aesthesis by Yulia Pinkusevich

MinEastry of Postcollapse Art and Culture

July 23 to September 29, 2021

By Mia Morettini

“As far as my identity is concerned, I will take care of it myself. That is, I shall not allow it to become cornered in any essence; I shall also pay attention to not mixing it into any amalgam”.[1] In his famed work The Poetics of Relation, Caribbean scholar Édouard Glissant raised an impassioned defense of personal opacity as an opposition to a prevailing liberal ideology, one that absorbs and assimilates difference into its multicultural quilt. As Glissant insists, while there is a need for mutual understanding and respect across cultures, this understanding cannot be found through assimilation. In fact, insisting on difference, on a relational opacity, opens space for a truly radical coexistence built on irreducible contrasts that colonialism has long sought to iron out.

I first encounter Yulia Pinkusevich’s Sakha Aesthesis from this position. Crafted in the slow, solitary beginning months of the COVID-19 lockdown, Pinkusevich’s installation reflects a singular and deeply personal perspective — one best approached with opacity in mind. Her visual lexicon approaches the surrealists; unnaturally pastel skies frame dreamlike, fluid forms. I immediately imagine Hilma Af Klint’s mystic abstractions lining the walls of the Guggenheim and attempt to follow what visions this artist might be summoning. But Pinkusevich’s work shudders past this relation, disrupting my index of her work into the art historical amalgam in which artists like Af Klint now firmly reside. 

Sakha Aesthesis by Yulia Pinkusevich. Installation view 6, MPAC. Photo courtesy of the artist.

I am humbled by scale. Six-foot-tall viewers are dwarfed by the saturated blacks of her imagery, pulled close into mysterious elliptical orbits. A challenging opacity permeates the odd figural and narrative glimmers scattered throughout. In one piece entitled Tree of Life, 2021, a disembodied mouth suspended in scream bursts with a radiance delineated by pale pink sunbeams forming a saintlike corona around it. In another piece, Mother Spirit (ije-kut), 2020, a triumphant, flag wielding figure on horseback confronts a walkway that bends unnaturally skyward. The eye dances across these vibrant, organic, and finely detailed shapes only to be stopped short by crisp, geometric lines that divide the compositions and sever their narrative potential. 

Sakha Aesthesis by Yulia Pinkusevich. Installation view, MPAC. Photo courtesy of the artist.

The exhibition text questions: “Can the ancient enunciate the present?”. I read Pinkusevich’s conversation with MinEastry of Postcollapse Art and Culture (MPAC) curators Ilknur Demirkoparan and Vuslat D. Katsanis, in which she cites her research into Gaia theory, a scientific theory adopted into the Western canon in the 1970s. The hypothesis posits that Earth operates as one large, complex organism sustained by interactions between both organic and inorganic material. Regularly woven into the multicultural amalgam through buzzword-ridden “everyone must do their part” incentives (see: Starbucks banning plastic straws), Gaia theory finds roots in Indigenous knowledge. This knowledge re-emerges with frightening urgency in the weeks since the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change declared a “code red” on impending environmental collapse. Pinkusevich heeds this warning and insists on space for ancestral knowledge, offering glimmers of personal history and Indigenous Siberian Sakha tradition to re-center a decolonial framework. 

The influence of these combined practices is immediately evident in Pinkusevich’s use of omniscient perspective representing the three central Sakha spirits—Mother, Earth, Air—that are carried with the individual throughout life. In this context, I feel the ova and womb filling the oxygen of Mother Spirit (ije-kut), 2020 and Tree of Life. I see Earth Spirit’s light graze the pinks of a baby’s blush, ribboning across the composed surface as tendrils of a tree’s roots carve a vascular pattern. Struggling to shake my post-Enlightenment vernacular, I see light above and beyond a horizon — composing a horizon, slipping beneath a horizon — as the promise of futurity or absolute truth. But any sense of grounded linear temporality in these paintings is unstable, trembling with an almost extraterrestrial levity.

Sakha Aesthesis by Yulia Pinkusevich. Installation view, MPAC. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Undulations of the Earthy Spiny Serpentina Making the World, 2021 call again to a sense of fecundity, to the garden, to the feminine. While its title speaks to a literal, reality-building enormity, the serpent itself is surprisingly mundane. Sculpted from biodegradable materials sourced from Pinkusevich’s own garden, its Jim Henson-esque face hovers mid-air, a casual, bemused expression revealing neither the historically-indexed predator nor temptress, but a figure approaching a companion—a co-inhabitant of the room. Glissant’s opacity finds harmony with the serpent. In contrast to the density of the images, the serpent’s gentle curvature around a too-silver air duct again guides the eye to yet another horizon beyond the pictorial plane, shattering the carefully composed gravity of Pinkusevich’s paintings.

Previously noted affinities between Pinkusevich’s work and other artist-mystics are only glancing, nestled on aesthetic similarities. Pinkusevich’s work finds home with MPAC for this very reason. MPAC provides Pinkusevich the space to insist on opacity, to celebrate the unique positionality of her work which, bolstered by the curators’ careful interpretation, reaches beyond the essentialist realm of aesthetics and into the experience of aesthesis. Wrenching discussion away from surface-level visuals, aesthesis denotes a sensuous and experiential relationship to art—one that resists formal classification or definition by adhering to a wider range of subjectivities. This range opposes a colonial amalgam and is essential to MPAC’s mission to explore contemporary art from the perspective of East Europe and Central and Western Asia post-1989.

Sakha Aesthesis by Yulia Pinkusevich. Installation view, MPAC. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Pinkusevich’s overlaying sense of humor within Sakha Aesthesis is one such opposition. While confronting an alarming present and a violent past, Pinkusevich admits her work is also, “about love and life; there’s hope in it. It’s also silly and there’s something a little funny about it”. I’m reminded of Bakhtin’s carnival—that which is immersive, joyous, and communal. That which confronts Order from societal margins, declares itself in a moment of “relational becoming.” That which sends a tremor through linear temporality. If Bakhtin floats in these well-lit walls, he bounces off the earth-colored serpent vertebrae and unassuming face. He lifts from the moments of pale pink fluidity in the paintings, from the silhouetted shoulders of the horse-drawn hero.

Activist and author adrienne maree brown asks in her 2017 text Emergent Strategy: Shaping Change, Changing Worlds, “How do we cultivate the muscle of radical imagination needed to dream together beyond fear?”[2] Following brown’s query, the hope that necessarily radical imagination can build a new dream, Pinkusevich proposes an elevation of heritage, humor, and humility as a multi-sensory site of imagining. She constructs a space of exploring how hidden knowledge may unveil healing possibilities between ourselves and the opaque, ancient, and re-emerging earthly systems at play.

Sakha Aesthesis is on view until September 29, 2021, at the MinEastry of Postcollapse Art and Culture at 2505 SE 11th Ave Suite 233 Portland, OR 97202.

Mia Morettini is a Chicago-based interdisciplinary artist and writer. She is recent graduate of the Master of Arts in Visual and Critical Studies at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Her curatorial and written work has been shared with Holly and the Neighbors, a grassroots arts  collective based in Chicago, and most recently at the Smart Museum’s 2021 Health Humanities  in Times of Crisis symposium.

[1] Édouard Glissant, The Poetics of Relation, trans. Betsy Wing (Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press, 1997), 192.

[2] adrienne maree brown, Emergent Strategy: Shaping Change, Changing Worlds (AK Press,  2017), 59.

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