Encounters with Nature

In 2005, artist María Elena González asked herself a question: What would trees say if they could talk? And perhaps more importantly, would we listen? This set of inquiries shaped González’s artistic production for more than a decade, inspiring new works in sculpture, installation, video, and sound rooted in a practice of deep listening and profound concern for the environment and our collective future. This online project provides an introduction to María Elena González’s Tree Talk series, focusing on how the artist’s long-term investigation led to diverse and varied art forms, including dynamic collaborations with composers and musicians in the experimental music program at Mills College.

DIRECTIONS: We invite you to create your own experience of María Elena González’s work by selecting from the panel of navigation dots. Designed by González, and perhaps an original score of its own, each randomly-assigned dot provides an opportunity to uncover the images, videos, words, and sounds of Tree Talk. Enjoy!  

María Elena González (b. 1957, Havana, Cuba) is an internationally recognized American sculptor and installation artist. González interweaves the conceptual with a strong dedication to craft in her complex installations and poetic arrangements, exploring themes like identity, memory, and dislocation. Over a career spanning thirty years, she has exhibited extensively and has received several prestigious awards, including the Rome Prize from the American Academy in Rome (2003) and the Grand Prize at the 30th Biennial of Graphic Arts in Ljubljana, Slovenia (2013). She served as the Sculpture Commissioner for New York City’s Design Commission and taught at the Cooper Union School of Art, Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture, and the San Francisco Art Institute, where she was a tenured professor until its closing in 2022. Her more than decade-long Tree Talk series culminated in a solo exhibition at the Mills College Art Museum in 2019. Riven debuts in a solo exhibition at Hirschl & Adler Galleries, New York, May 3–June 16, 2023. She lives and works in Brooklyn, NY, and Oakland, CA.

Joseph Daniel Valencia is an art historian, curator, and writer. He currently serves as Curator at the Vincent Price Art Museum at East Los Angeles College, where he has overseen exhibitions and programs since 2016. A rising expert in US Latinx art and culture, his recent exhibitions include Sonic Terrains in Latinx Art (2022) and Liberate the Bar! Queer Nightlife, Activism, and Spacemaking (2019), as well as solo projects by William Camargo, noé olivas, Guadalupe Rosales, Gabriela Ruiz, and Kang Seung Lee. He also served on the curatorial team for Laura Aguilar: Show and Tell (2017–21), the critically acclaimed exhibition of the Chicana photographer that traveled nationally. His writing has appeared in Aperture, Artforum, Contemporary Art Review Los Angeles, and KCET Artbound, among others. He earned his MA in Curatorial Practices and the Public Sphere from USC and a BA in Art History from California State University, Fullerton.