ALBERTO ORTEGA-TREJO

Mexican artist, researcher and architectural designer.

His work uses drawing, sculpture, writing and video to address representations of indigeneity in architectural modernity and the production of extreme environments in the Americas. He has been a fellow of the Society of Architectural Historians and a grantee of Jumex Foundation for Contemporary Art, Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, and DCASE, among others. His work has been shown at DePaul Art Museum, BienalSur, Ca’ Foscari Zattere, Rhona Hoffman Gallery, Andrew Rafacz Gallery, Uri-Eichen Gallery, SITE Galleries, SpaceP11 and Centro de Arte y Filosofia. He has been a guest speaker for institutions and organizations like MoMA’s Emilio Ambasz Institute x DocTalks, the American Institute of Architects, the Society of Architectural Historians, Smart Museum of Art, Materia Abierta, UPenn, MAS Context and CENTRO.

He is currently the curator of The Last of Animal Builders, an exhibition at Mies van der Rohe’s Edith Farnsworth House.

He manages the Katz Center for Mexican Studies at The University of Chicago.


CURRENTLY:
Life Cycles - DePaul Art Museum, Chicago
Mercurial Lake- URI-Eichen Gallery, Chicago


ARTIFICIAL-AGENCY 


Architecture
Exhibition Strategy
Research and Publication
Design Consultancy

Previous clients and collaborators include, Art Institute of Chicago, Singapore Art Museum, Edith Farnsworth House,  Goethe-Institut Chicago, Michael Rakowitz Studio, Black Athena Collective, Dawit L. Petros, and  Center for Latin American Studies at The University of Chicago.

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Keep scrolling for selected projects ↆ

The Last of Animal Builders

At Mies van der Rohe’s Edith Farnsworth House

 Curatorial Project
Artists: ASMA, Faysal Altunbozar, Selva Aparicio, Daniel Baird, Renée Green, Claudia Hart, Ragnar Kjartansson, Thiago Rocha Pitta, Joshi Radin & Michael Rakowitz.







In 1970, a year before her passing, the eminent architecture critic Sibyl Moholy-Nagy penned a thought-provoking passage in "Chapter Three: Defenseless Breeders" from her unpublished manuscript, "Pragma." She boldly asserted that what truly distinguishes animal structures from their human counterparts is the seamless fusion of structure and space within the former. In the world of animals, structure isn't merely a means to bridge a functional void; it is the functional void itself, exemplified by the efficient structural designs of beehives, nests, and spiderwebs. Moholy-Nagy further underscored this notion by dubbing the renowned architects Mies van der Rohe and SOM as "The Last of Animal Builders," marking a stark departure from traditional architectural perspectives. With this declaration, she impelled us to delve into the intricate web of relations that intertwine the human experience with animals, nature, society, and the economy—architecture serving as the pivotal mediator and determinant. As we reinterpret the legacy of Mies van der Rohe through the prism of animality, Moholy-Nagy compels us to confront a multispecies ethics and politics, fundamental components in shaping our spaces and societies. Yet, her pronouncement of the end of animal logic within architectural modernity raises profound questions, hinting at the expectation that modern humans should transcend their animal condition. She posits architecture as the artificial matrix by which human societies refine their biological development. However, this argument inadvertently hints at a justification of modernity as an inevitable stage in evolution, thereby isolating it from its political dimensions.

At the heart of Moholy-Nagy's discourse lies a critical query: can we envision humanity as a chimeric entity, an organism capable of achieving limitless forms and configurations through the mediums of architecture, art, and technology? According to this line of thought, our humanity hinges on our capacity to fashion devices of chimerization—tools that enable not only survival but also transformation. These devices expand the horizons of our thinking, equip us to endure hostile environments, and even allow us to perceive and think through darkness. By aiming to think like other living organisms, we pave the way for a world where all potential intelligences can flourish.

Described as "defenseless breeders" by Moholy-Nagy, humans find their connection with fellow living organisms through a spectrum that ranges from mimicry and interdependence to, at its bleakest, exploitation and extraction. Drawing inspiration from the realms of animals, plants, minerals, and insects, we've molded our societies based on what we perceive as efficient interactions and behaviors. Regrettably, throughout the era of modernity and into our contemporary political landscape, the belief in the dichotomy between the human and the "natural" has done little more than exacerbate relations of exploitation rather than nurturing collaboration, coexistence, and mutually beneficial transformations.

This exhibition, inspired by Moholy-Nagy's radical explorations, turns the Edith Farnsworth House into a breathing organism. It showcases a curated selection of artworks from the Thoma Foundation's Art Collection, seamlessly blended with contributions from contemporary artists. These artworks collectively contemplate the profound impact of architectural modernity, minimalism, and capitalism on our perceptions of nature, humanity, non-human entities, and the economy. Spanning various mediums, including video installations, sculpture, and drawing, these works engage with the site's existing architecture, offering poignant reflections and poetics of destruction and regeneration. Speaking through plant, animal, and mineral metaphors, the artists delve into pressing social issues, the intricacies of human desire and transformation, our relationship with bodily fragility, and the complexities of thinking beyond the confines of anthropocentric power dynamics. Ultimately, this exhibition serves as an invitation to reimagine the intersecting realms of architecture, art, and human existence within an ever-evolving world.

Agua Muy Vieja Del Lugar Espantoso

At Rhona Hoffman Gallery in Chicago

As part of Gentle Content, a group show curated by Julia Birka-White

 
“Alberto Ortega Trejo’s contributions to Gentle Content were prompted by recent news events that illuminate class struggles — specifically in his home country of Mexico — in addition to his research regarding Indigenous Mexican cosmologies. When creating these new objects, Ortega Trejo considered the deadly 2019 explosion in Tlahuelilpan, Mexico of a pipeline owned by Pemex, the state oil company. The illegal extraction, possession, and sales of thefted fuel has been a long standing issue in the country, the result of larger class and economic disparities affecting sites of mineral extraction and oil processing as is the case of Tlahuelilpan, an Otomí territory. Ortega Trejo’s metal figurative cut-outs adhere to the wall, and similar to Bredar’s painted suspended heads are disjointed and cut off from their whole. Discernable is an amputated leg referencing the overcirculation of violent image in contemporary Mexico while engaging with Otomí God-making practices. Next to it, a nebulous form that is actually an alcohol sack, hovers among other silhouettes. The alcohol sacks the artist is referencing are used for pulque (a traditional Mexican alcoholic drink of fermented agave nectar) storage and typify the effect of alcoholism on colonized Indigenous communities globally. Additionally, six charcoal on sandpaper drawings mounted on metal plates and organized in a grid unite to form an atlas bone. Interested in bones and the practice of their display in sacred and communal spaces in Central Mexico as well as in their political and forensic register, Ortega Trejo’s precise drawing could be read as a warning or a sign of perpetuation and regeneration.”

Julia Birka- White, Director of Rhona Hoffman Gallery



Las Aguas Bajan Turbias

For BienalSur

A Fragment of a building that does not exist.


With Andrea Hunt

This exhibition is comprised of El Mundo Debajo and El Espejo Otomí. El Mundo Debajo is an experimental documentary that traces the Mexican Modern state’s representation of indigeneity through the making of Mexico City’s sewage system. The video is projected over four prefabricated concrete panels.  El Espejo Otomí is a sculpture consisting of eight concrete casts of a maguey leaf acting as a cladding system for a metal structure. This fragment takes a traditional building method of the Otomi region in Hidalgo to the material language of modernity. The Otomí region receives Mexico City’s black waters and has been historically exploited for minerals for the production of cement, a key element for the infrastructural transformations of Mexico City. This work was produced for BienalSur, curated by Leandro Martinez Depietri and Benedetta Casini and installed at Fundación Andreani in Buenos Aires, Argentina.



The research for this project was funded by the American Institute of Architects and MIT’s Global Architecture History Teaching Collaborative.




Media Stations for Pilsen

W/ Inga
Exhibition Strategy and Public Space Intervention

Media Stations for Pilsen is a series of three urban scale sculptural platforms that will allow the Pilsen community to create and engage in outdoor artistic and leisure events during the Summer of 2021. Each Media Station will center on a specific sensorial quality to be the main focus for the content and events it will host: Sonic, Visual and Tactile.

The Sonic Station is a mobile sound system that will host listening sessions curated by artist Eduardo F. Rosario, block parties, karaoke sessions and sonideros programmed by neighbors and community members.

The Visual Station consists of a mobile screening platform that will be used for outdoor lectures, artist talks and movie screenings curated by Pilsen based cineclub filmfront.

The Tactile Station is an outdoor working table and meeting place to host reading groups, random encounters and artist led workshops  coordinated by Pilsen based publishing platform Inga.


Each station can stand alone and be combined to allow multimedia experiences. 




Post National Pavilions

W/ Maite Borjabad and Agustin Schang
Exhibition Strategy
This proposal was formally submitted to and rejected by the selection committees of Mexico, Spain and Argentina for the 17th Venice Architecture Biennale: How will we live together?

This proposal articulates the possibility of three countries hosting the same exhibition and case studies at the same time during the Venice Biennale. It proposed to revise and commision new work to multidisciplinary teams addressing the colonial legacy of Spain in Latinamerica and vice-versa through a series of specific cases of monuments, maps and public spaces in both continents that speak of the constant tension between both perspectives of the colonial encounter.

The pavilions would share a common imaginary ground in the form of the Magallanes-El Cano route map drawn and divided on the floor of the three countries. While props and scenery would create the objectual components of a mobile theater of spatial operations.