Zoe Leonard: Al rio / To the River opens at MCA Australia

Zoe Leonard Al río To the River 2016–2022Zoe Leonard’s Al río / To the River has opened at the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia (MCA Australia), the first major exhibition of the internationally renowned artist’s work in the Southern Hemisphere.

Al río / To the River is a large-scale photographic work which takes as its subject, the Rio Grande, as it is named in the United States, or Río Bravo, as it is named in Mexico.

Over a period of five years, beginning in 2016, Leonard photographed the 2,000 km stretch where the Rio Grande/Río Bravo is used to demarcate the international boundary between the two countries, following the river from the border cities of Ciudad Juárez, Mexico and El Paso, Texas, to the Gulf of Mexico.

Epic in scale, Al río / To the River results from close observation of both the natural and built environments shaped by and surrounding the river. Structured in passages, Al río / To the River follows the geography of the river as it flows downstream.

As Leonard points out: “The shifting nature of a river – which floods periodically, changes course and carves new channels – is at odds with the political task it is asked to perform.”

While anchored to the geographic, social, economic and political realities of this extended region of the Americas, Leonard’s visual meditation on the river resonates with the urgent subjects of borders and migration around the world.

Al río / To the River engages with conversations happening in Australia and elsewhere about the impact of human industry and commerce on the natural world, climate change and colonialism on First Nations communities.

Composed in three parts, the major body of Al río / To the River comprises over 400 black and white silver gelatin prints presented as a flow of passages that are both temporal and geographically anchored.

Leonard engages with multiple photographic languages that reference the history of the medium, from abstraction to documentary and digital surveillance imagery. In doing so, the artist considers how various histories of representation shape how we see and form our view of the world.

Working with photography, sculpture and site-specific installation, Zoe Leonard (b. 1961, Liberty, USA) is one of today’s most influential and highly regarded artists.

Migration and displacement, gender and sexuality, mourning and loss, cultural history and tensions between the natural world and human-built environments are recurring themes across her four-decade long practice.

Leonard has been in Sydney to install the exhibition and will participate in the opening week program.

The exhibition is curated by Suzanne Cotter, Director of the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia and MCA Australia Curator Megan Robson. Designer Marcos Corrales Lantero, a long-time collaborator of Leonard’s, was commissioned to create the exhibition design.

Suzanne Cotter, who worked closely with the artist in the development and presentation of the exhibition and publication said “Zoe Leonard’s work is widely admired by artists and a broader public around the world for its ambition, its visual and conceptual clarity and its humanity,” she said.

“Al río / To the River is one of the emblematic artworks of our time, drawing our attention to the impossibility of binary thinking in a world defined by complexity and in need of empathy.”

“Following on from lauded presentations in Paris and Luxembourg, the MCA Australia is delighted to be presenting this important new work by Zoe Leonard to audiences in Australia,” said Cotter.

Zoe Leonard: Al río / To the River
Museum of Contemporary Art Australia (MCA Australia), George Street, The Rocks (Sydney)
Exhibition continues to 5 November 2023
Entry fees apply

For more information, visit: www.mca.com.au for details.

Image: Zoe Leonard, Al río / To the River (detail), 2016–2022, gelatin silver prints,  C-prints and inkjet prints. Production supported by Mudam Luxembourg – Musée d’Art Moderne Grand-Duc Jean, Musée d’Art Moderne de Paris, Paris Musées, Museum of Contemporary Art Australia, Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts, John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, Galerie Gisela Capitain and Hauser & Wirth. Image courtesy the artist, Galerie Gisela Capitain, and Hauser & Wirth © Zoe Leonard