Thursday, March 15, 2007



'Vessels of Acquiessence'
Call me Orca? Artist harpoons New Age vision of whales
Reyhan Harmanci
Thursday, March 15, 2007

Bert Bergen draws (and frequently sews on) many pictures of orcas. But he has no illusions about why they're called killer whales.
"People have so many associations with whales and orcas. They're very vicious and violent but very similar to humans," he says, describing how orcas kill other orcas just to eat their tongues.
Bergen's work comments sharply on the difference between the New Age vision of these giant sea creatures and the less cuddly reality. His posters for rock shows (he plays in the local band Ascended Master) have been appearing around San Francisco for the past few years, and his silk-screened clothing sells quickly at sample sales, but this show brings his ideas into sharper focus. He describes the collection of sewn drawings (he likes to bring his ink figures in relief by embroidering) and wood sculpture as an allegory.
"It's dealing with this human figure that enters the orca," he says. "It's an allegory dealing with the mineral, plant and human world mythology. Through a series of fragmented panels, the story unfolds." Bergen also says that he constructed the pieces to have the feel of human hands -- in keeping with the themes of nature's relationship to man, he didn't want to make anything too sleek or processed.
Bergen, a native of Washington state, began drawing after studying photography at Evergreen State College, where he would draw his ideas before shooting. After being laid off by a nonprofit a few years ago, he's been able to devote more time to his work.
As the intentionally misspelled title of his show ("Vessels of Acquiessence") suggests, Bergen doesn't mince words when it comes to the New Agers, the consumers of air-brushed whale calendars or perhaps practitioners of crystal therapy. He says that much of his work is a parody, but also a "comment on what is the mystical, what is spirituality."
"I grew up hunting and fishing and saw this side of nature and violence, and it's beautiful," he said. "With New Age culture, they seem so passive and not very honest about the whole spectrum.
"People don't want to understand the balance of dark and light, the real violence that happens. When you're so passive and white and privileged, there's this horrid view that your life is a wound and you're in a constant state of healing that doesn't resonate with me."
Opens in the Adobe Backroom along with Eve Ekman’s “The Ocean’s a Boneyard, the Sky Flies Still” in the Main Room. 7-10 p.m. Fri. Through April 16. Adobe Bookstore, 3166 16th St., S.F.