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The artist who transforms galleries into forests and fields

Chaos is a concept that comes up often in conversations with Okoyomon. The artist was born in London but spent his early years with their mother in Lagos, Nigeria. From an early age they read everything they could get their hands on, starting with the family Bible, and this passion soon led Okoyomon to compose little nuggets of writing that they call “small drops of dismembered language”. “I wrote poems and hid them all over the house and in the yard. I didn’t use my words for a year, ”says the artist. “If I needed to say anything, I would write these very serious letters to my mother.” The family moved to Houston in 2000 and West Chester, Ohio six years later. In high school, Okoyomon had an emo phase and after hitting a bully with a fencing sword, they were forced to transfer. The artist then moved to Chicago to attend Great Books college Shimer, where they studied philosophy. “It gave me a lot of freedom to get really weird,” they say. “And so that my chaos presents itself fully.”

When they first moved to New York City in 2017, they took exploratory walks and recorded their reactions to the sights and sounds of the city in notes on their iPhones, composing “crazy fanfic poems,” they remember. The artist incorporated these inventive writings into their first collection of poetry, “Ajebota,” which was published by Bottlecap Press in 2016 and includes a piece composed entirely of screenshots of text messages. Today, Okoyomon works in a shared studio at an industrial complex in Park Slope which they describe as “a cozy little cave of my ideas.” Articles containing excerpts from poems are scattered tables and stapled to the walls. There is an earthworm farm and therefore a constant supply of fresh soil. And for a work in progress, Okoyomon lovingly feeds a crop of glow-in-the-dark seaweed in a glass jar. “I really want to make this room a fully bioluminescent floor,” they explain, “where you can sit and feel its communication.”

While Okoyomon’s work continually asks us to listen to the natural world, it also contains warnings about what might happen if we don’t take action. “If we don’t really start to imagine how seriously different things could be for us, the world will for us,” they say. “And then we’ll feel really disappointed when we haven’t done the very simple, little job of dreaming.” But establishing a new order will involve some degree of destruction – namely the demolition of structures that destroy and exploit – this is why Okoyomon often thinks of the apocalypse. Their first piece, a concept composition about four angels falling to Earth, was commissioned in 2019 by the Serpentine Galleries and titled “The End of the World”. And for the next iteration of Frieze New York, Okoyomon, who won this year’s Artist Award, collaborated with Los Angeles-based industrial designer Jonathan Olivares to fill the 17,000-square-foot McCourt performance hall at The Shed. in midtown Manhattan with an arrow. – structures similar to steel and camouflage netting arranged in a loose circle. Inspired by the Tower of Babel, an origin story of the multiplicity of the world’s languages ​​found in the book of Genesis, Okoyomon recited a poem from their “Sky Songs” series atop one of the platforms in late April, and a video of the performance, which also includes readings from other poets, including Eileen Myles and Diamond Stingily, will perform at The Shed and in the Frieze online viewing room starting May 5. . Words collide and merge with the sound of a string trio performing 1941 by French composer Olivier Messiaen. “Quartet for the end of time.”

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