Aaron Lish grew up in rural, northern Idaho, U.S.A., where he developed a passion for the outdoors. This passion eventually evolved into a 15-year career as an outdoor educator at a community college in Bend, Oregon, where he still lives. In 2011 Aaron took a bold leap, resigned his tenure at the college, and went back to school. He earned his MFA in Visual Art from the Art Institute of Boston at Lesley University in June 2013.
Growing up Aaron did not see himself as being a creative individual, but rather as a math and science geek. It wasn’t until much later that he began to explore his creativity by studying human figurative sculpture and drawing. However, he quickly found that he wanted his work to be more socially-minded, which lead first to installation work, and then eventually to participatory projects, many of which have been dialogue based.
Aaron’s participatory projects have included gallery-based interactive installations, like Play-time and an Open Office Culture (2013). For Play-time, Aaron re-created the Rec Room from Google’s Boston campus in the Pence Gallery, a college art gallery in Oregon. Here students could enjoy free snacks and unwind playing ping pong during dead-week and final exams. But his love of the outdoors has lead to producing off-site, dialogue-based projects as well, including Play and Idle Creativity (2013), where he and a small group of participants spent three days camped in a former nuclear fallout shelter discussing theoretical future-threats to humanity, and whether there is anything that can be done to prevent them.
More recently Aaron’s interests in the benefits of participatory art and his passion for the natural world have recombined in a new way. In a search for new poetics he has begun to explore aesthetic ways of animating inanimate elements in nature as a way to give them a voice. Such art draws from the process art movement of the 1960s-70s in the United States. However, Aaron refers to these works as self-portraits of the natural systems that create them, suggesting that it is not just about the process, but that it is also about promoting new ways of seeing the natural systems themselves.
In 2014, Aaron completed a four month artist-in-residence position at the Shangyuan Art Museum in Beijing, where he had his first solo exhibition in Asia, titled The Mother Well. The exhibition, which featured new work created in China, as well as water self-portraits from New Zealand and the U.S., was chosen as a United Nations Water for Life 2005-2015 event. He also had three new works chosen for International Art Exhibition held at the Shangyuan Art Museum in October. As part of his residency in China, Aaron traveled to western Tibet to record the final prayers of the ancient pilgrim trail around Mt. Kailash before the path is replaced with a new road. During his time in Tibet he also facilitated Lake Manasarovar, the holiest lake for Hindus and Buddhists, to create its own self-portrait.
In March 2014, his scripted conversation piece, What’s Next? (line by line) was chosen as one of the closing events at the Pallet Pavillion in Christchurch, New Zealand. Closer to home Aaron has exhibited at Mobius in Cambridge, MA, Art in the Open in Philadelphia, in the international juried show Appearances, in Provincetown, MA, and as part of an environmental art residency at the Caetani Centre in Vernon, BC, Canada. The video from his intervention A Cross-Cultural Training Program was chosen for the national jurried exhibition Incite Insight at the Lincoln Center in Fort Collins, Colorado.
In 2015 Aaron participated in ArtPrize 7 in Grand Rapids, Michigan, which is one of the largest art exhibitions in the United States. He was awarded a Ford Family Foundation artist award, and was an artist-in-residence at Caldera Center for the Arts. He also was given a commission to complete a new public project as part of "A Day in Paradise," a city-wide series of art events in Portland, Oregon, curated by Fallen Fruit and co-produced by the Portland Art Museum and Caldera.
Most recently Aaron was invited to participate in the inaugural Kolkata International Art Exhibition at the Rabindranath Tagore Centre in Kolkata, India. The exhibition was an Indian Council for Cultural Relations event organized by Painter's Studio 99 featuring close to 200 contemporary art works from around the world. The 35mm slide installation from his project "Primal Histories" was one of the only new media works to be included in the show.