Obsessive Consumer Behavior in Check

I feature this article by Odun Orimolade DEVOURING MONSTERS: THE COSUMERIST CANNIBALS OF MAY OKAFOR’S APPLE TRAY INSTALLATION, written for May Okafor’s exhibition Of Consummates and Cannibalism at The Revolving Art Incubator, Silverbird Galleria, Lagos. 

 

Beasts of desire…

The installation “…Of Consummates and Cannibalism” by May Okafor addresses a systemised infiltration of the Nigerian commercial environment and society by extension. Off the beat Okafor assumes the stance of a satirist observing and in very Nigerian fashion challenging our status as a nation that is cannibalizing our future. In this she traces the evolution of our desires that have led us to blatant consumerism and how this trajectory has led us to the state of recession we are confronted with in contemporary Nigeria. Also how our over dependence on foreign goods and services plays out in our current situation. Okafor decries how we as a nation hardly export anything to the countries that we bequeath our economic reserve by promoting foreign education, health, technology, entertainment, food, and all other plethora of minuscule needs or wants we may have.screenshots_2017-02-13-15-13-35

The Apple fruit is the case study subject for Okafor’s visual discourse. In this she engages current trends in the open Nigerian fruit market as reference point for other local goods and commodity markets in the society. The apple is a fruit that is entirely imported into the Nigerian local market and in Okafor’s words has “become even more common than oranges and other home grown fruits”. Everything about it then is alien and instead of being exotic, it is as mundane and common as home-grown fruit in its popularity. As such the apple-packaging product (which becomes waste in a country that also has challenges in waste management) becomes material and a metaphor for consumerism and cannibalism. The Styrofoam apple packaging crates as the main material of the installation addresses the seemingly careless disposition of the nation towards importation and consumption of foreign goods.

Strangely enough, a lot of these products have nothing to do with direct advertising. Instead, they are based on social orientation. Majority of the Nigerian citizens are still under the colonial chains. This is such that what comes from outside, no matter what it is, is perceived to have better value and to be trusted than the domestic ones. This Okeke describes as not allowing people to think. Here mass consumption of foreign goods is drowning mass production of local goods. This makes people complacent and germinates a continued dependency that incapacitates (Okeke 2015).screenshots_2017-02-13-14-59-52-1

May Okafor uses a visual that employs ideas of the insatiable anthropophagic to demonstrate how an archetypal metaphorical subject of cannibalism appears in Nigerian daily life. This she approaches in the critique of social striving for consumerism that is anchored in a want for foreign goods and services. She postulates an ethical decadence that damages national development through an orientation of blind consumerism in favour of non-Nigerian goods and services. The prevalence of this kind of consumption is projected in the spread and the movement of her site-specific installation. The installation connotes the depth of developmental handicap that lies within the apparatus of orientation that fuels this consumer idealism. The installation visualises a bewilderingly poor minded society that results from an illogical and unconstructive drive to consume and acquire. The installation could be apprehended as an intensely dismal allegory depicting wastefulness and denied gumption in the weaving of our post colonial history as a nation. In this the accomplishments, knowledge and understanding that wisps as part of our pre colonial history become fables of a different people. These qualities are inapplicable in our modern day development where we are largely dependent on external accomplishments and cultures while eating out avenues of progressive internal exploration. Through her work, Okafor presents a mirror that affirms we are cannibals of foreign consumerism. We have adopted a consumer culture of unconscionable appetite for imported items with the equivalent local ones suffering negligence and large scale derision.

The results are grotesque, much like the literal definition of cannibalism. In her work, Okafor links the object of the package to cannibalism through the consumption of the commodity. This she uses as a reference for all other consumables in goods or as services within the Nigerian market.

As a people, we succumb to the mental attitudes related to the phenomena of pleasure and euphoria that does not add up to satisfaction. We easily become addicted to things of vainglory rather than positive sociocultural/ socioeconomic things. This describes the counterfeit culture that is in fierce battle with self sustenance, sufficiency and self approval that revolves around the consumption of foreign produce huge quantities and cheaper prices. In this case the physical product not what feeds the need, rather it is the fact that it comes from outside the locality. It feeds the delusion of lack of self worth, while feeding into the concept of mediocrity and fuelling this hunger to ‘be like’ or elevate by adoption. The deception is that it only panders to the feeling of being better or attaining some elevation in the adoption of something foreign as an after effects of self loathing that may be accrued to demoralisation through the influence of a colonized mental state. These social challenges are associated with the arguments of decolonization.

screenshots_2017-02-13-15-21-06With her installations, Okafor highlights this self deception and beguilement by popular culture that has overrun the Nigerian market and by extension the society. This is a developmental wealth destruction that has a very parasitic effect on national development. As a nation, our craving for foreign goods have made us import items that we have better alternatives to in our local environment. Thus the gains are privatised and the loses entirely socialised as we embrace the negative aspect of our import consumer culture.

The physical installation imbibes a constellation of forms similar to that of tadpoles cut from the Styrofoam apple crates. This Okafor intimates that by nature tadpoles become cannibalistic when there is inadequate food or space. This trait is likened to the infiltration of imported goods in the Nigerian open market and how they completely overrun locally made goods. The organic swirls and turns of the installation echo the unpredictability of the corruption that fuels the spread and growth of the kind consuming products that beguile our populace out of miss-orientation.

Meaning is garnered from the very material of the apple tray itself as much as the development of form that Okafor pushes with action of cutting. This performative quality that is embedded into the process of the installation brings the closeness to the issue in individual experience of the activity. The action to disseminate through cutting or the development of new form from pre existing form advocates re orientation and re shaping of the value system and channelled thought processes concerning the issue at hand leaning to the idea of restructuring of dispositions to the ideas behind the actions that create the installation and the reference to contemporary Nigerian consumerism. The form here follows function and lends a subjected honesty to the generation of the resulting form. This is helped by the evidentiary quality of the material used. It adjuncts the plausibility that it does not just represent but the sensual experience navigates the audience through the experience developing new knowledge and reflection by interaction.

In relation of the material to the subject in itself the composition, it poses characteristics of that which does not degenerate fast. This reference lends itself to the strength of the orientation of the consumerist culture. On the other hand it is also has the characteristic of being a very highly flammable substance that would disintegrate and could likely expand in its reach of destructiveness. This speaks to the idea of eradication alongside concepts of adopted imported ideas that do not favour the development of the Nigerian economy. This is supported in Derrida’s reaction to the issue of material in the process of deconstruction and the value of its etymology and beginnings within the issue of the discourse itself. He was of the opinion that every structural phenomenon has a history and the structure cannot be understood without understanding his genesis. This brings us right back to the apple and its place in the Nigerian market as a position point for all other goods and services that occupy dominating positions in the flow of the commercial industry. Through the chopping, cutting and shaping of form, Okafor mixes cynicism with productivity to create an enlivening aura for the required reflection desired for re orientation. The installation ambiguously removes the tray object from its functional context at the same time retains a contiguous alley to that function in itself and the broader extensions of meaning and the realities that it highlights.

The site specific nature of the installation opens up for a fundamental condition of free-flowing intensities for expression; it also underlines the mutative quality of the issue being addressed in that it permeates a plethora of areas of commercial activity in the Nigerian society. The developed form is allowed to grow into any length to which its materiality can extend at the same time existing within the impetus of the artist as a communicative system where she can curb and puppeteer her visual narrative.

Okafor’s installation aims to cut and rework perceptions of what has gradually invented itself as a norm within our social culture. This she does by exposing its ferocity and generative qualities in consuming the hopes of progressive development and self approval within an over bearing pressure of influence through past colonial states, pop culture and systematic orientation. Her presentation of the blatantly apparent yet unseen evidences and reconstructing their manifestations in their occupation of local commercial space, forces a review and reflection of their means and access within our environment. The ruins of the deconstructed Styrofoam tray in the installation create avenues for new intensities of experiencing the mundane and apparent and challenge a notion of human agency that fortifies the monsters that we allow to feed on our society.

 

Bibliography

Cazeaux, C. (2014). Review of Beistegui, Aesthetics After Metaphysics: From Mimesis to Metaphor British Journal of Aesthetics 54(4): 499–504.

Dominy, JJ. (2015) Cannibalism, Consumerism, and Profanation: Cormac McCarthy’s The Road and the End of Capitalism. The Cormac McCarthy Journal. Vol. 13, No. 1 pp. 143-158 US: The Pennsylvania State University Press.DOI: 10.5325/cormmccaj.13.1.0143.

Brunette, P. and Wills, D. (1994) Eds. Deconstruction and the Visual Arts: Art, Media, Architecture. UK: Cambridge University Press.

Nicolaides, A. (2012) Globalisation and Americanisation – the hijacking of indigenous African culture. Global Advanced Research Journal of History, Political Science and International Relations Vol. 1(6) pp. 118-131Global Advanced Research Journals.

By Odun Orimolade, 2017

(This article was published with permission. Odun Orimolade is recipient of several academic awards, including the Prof. Y. A. Grillo award (1998), Nigerian Cards Ltd Award (1998), Rector’s Award for Academic Excellence (1998), Jeromelaiho and Associate Award (1998), Insight Communication Award (1998), Fasuyi Art Prize (1998) and Conrad Theys Bursary Award, South Africa (2011)

For The Artist, Process is Priority

dsc00045Victory, they say, begins at Alkmaar. And so it was that Mathijs Lieshout was born in her. Alkmaar is a small city in Northern Holland with many well-preserved ancient buildings and once the home of Jan Wils, a founding member of the De Stijl, an art movement dedicated to creating a synthesis of Art, Design and Architecture. And Mathijs has grown beyond those principles. His work interrogates the fusion of form and function, in the framework of time.

“I see my projects as a performance, then as a monumental piece of sculpture- performance/ installation art, maybe”. Mathijs affects space with a sense of separateness from the human co-tenants; being structures whose sole reason for ‘being’ is in questioning the intentions of its builder/ maker. The work, by its presence, thus speaks.

In earlier times in Holland when they thought to build structures that implied a positivity about living, a transformation of the human spirit and more idyllic notions, one can fixate on their master Piet Mondrian and his compositions. Balancing primary colors, Piet sought out the keys to the universe. The individual lost his significance to the laws of harmonious cohabitation.

Mathijs’ work utilizes Process and Product as elements. Working with artists from other fields of art, they create an ambitious piece. His works reflect some of the key ideas in De Stijl- architecture, urban spaces, industrial design, music, poetic form interlaced with the mundane hum of daily living in these times.

Despite all these ‘memories’ one may associate with his work, the artist has ‘zero memory of the city (Alkmaar) He grew up in Obdam, a former municipal in Holland. He had the typical Dutch childhood- lived in an average-sized village, and played outside a lot with the neighborhood kids, who also attended the same small, local school. There were lots of space outside to play in, and very few cars. Most of the villagers worked in the local factory. But ‘I wasn’t very aware of what everyone’s parents actually did for work’. One can relate to the heady feelings that come with boyhood, those days when life was all about play!lego-1dsc00044

For every boy his age, there should be Lego days (the popular brick-building toy for children) Yes, Mathijs played with Lego ‘non-stop’! Those are his recollections of building anything. ‘I was always designing things in my fantasies’. There were moments when he had to make decisions about whether to build something with Lego, or just sketch that thing. The back and forth crystallized his process of visualization, planning and execution, to move from the place of dream and fantasies to create three-dimensional form.

To buttress an unending curiosity and explorative energy, he usually ‘worked like this- build one version, then build a better one, then another one, until it (the work) was to my satisfaction!” Even now, the experience working as an artist is similar to his boyhood days of playing with Lego. “ I still do (this)- version 1, version 2, and then continue creating prototypes and improving on that”. Beyond play, the artist thrives on trial and error, allowing for accidental ‘ endings’, if one must put a lifespan to the creative process used in an artwork. The thing is to ‘build stuff, see how it works in reality, then adapt and improve. I have an ideal image, often a design or sketch somewhere, or in my mind. I try to get close to (achieving) that. But it is not a one-way traffic- the ideal also changes”.

The word ‘improve’ in reference to his work implies the ‘existence’ of a ‘perfect idea’. Improving as an active verb fits well into any assessment of Mathijs Lieshout’s work.

Presently creating another of his monumental installations/performance at the Johannesburg City Library (check out the introductory essay –www.nsoforanthony.wordpress.com/2016/07/19/mathijs-lieshout-conquering-voids/), the artist will be recycling materials from ‘studio sketches ‘ made in 2010.’ I never really managed to do everything I wanted to achieve with those’, he said, referring to the past. In 2010, he owned a huge studio in the port city of Rotterdam. The walls of the studio were 6 meters high!

From preliminary sketches, one realizes that the webby, hexagonally shaped morphs that suggest a bee’s nest was not intended primarily for habitation. It is more ‘ a room within another’, a dedicated space. The traditional use of architecture flows into the extremes of visual aesthetics. One comes to the question, ‘what is the building for?’

Initially, Mathijs just wanted to surround himself with elaborate wooden grids. ‘ Like a magnificent wooden web, my plan was to make these incredibly dense, compact modern morph. I woodwork myself inside the construction, and from it create rooms, interior spaces and people would make houses inside it by cutting away wood, much like cutting in a very dense forest’. All this seems to be an autobiographical reference of a man reclaiming new spaces that he sojourns in on the journey through life, traversing continents, recreating comfort zones in Wonderland.

‘I had this crazy idea of an imaginary world entirely filled with a wood grid. As the work proceeded, that original idea got lost. When the team (that worked with him on a project) leaves, building stops. It seemed to me that the work was not complete anymore’. He has created ‘finished’ works in the past. Presently, his works’ main focus is on the process, rather than the finished product.

It was around 2011 that he noticed the new ways that his audience engaged with his work process. Everything is a continuum, open-ended. In 2012, on a residency in Kosice, a city in Slovakia, Mathijs preferred a workspace in a hallway and on a staircase instead of the expansive, abandoned factory space that the facilitators of the residency had provided (go to http://www.mathijslieshout.com/citadela for a video of the residency)’ There is nothing wrong with the retreat of a big white majestic art space. But the last project I did in such a space seemed pointless to me at the end. There is something about art spaces that sterilizes art.’ Buildings mark different eras of human civilization, the fusion of cultures that also happened as nations interacted, fought wars and were conquered. Man has the pyramids of Egypt and the Mayan dynasty, Stonehenge, the ancient Benin Wall, the Great Wall of China, etc. Mathijs would like that the memories of building his work remains in the minds of all his collaborators.

This project weaves through a part of the library. The artist enjoys the interface between his work and the human buzz around the space. That is added motivation. Nowadays, Mathijs rarely leaves the Central Business District (CBD) of Johannesburg. He lives in Anstey’s building, on Joubert Street, and also runs the 13th Floor Gallery on the same building. The Johannesburg City Library, site of his present project, is within walking distance, so also, is his new exhibition space for the 13th Floor gallery, located at Commissioner Street.studio

One has a mental picture of reading while hanging from the wooden structure, a thought that the artist wouldn’t mind happening.

He has held several sensitization exhibitions at the library to prepare the minds of the public for his project. Students and other library visitors have enthusiastically logged in, and started following his work online.’ My work often leads to conversation’. That could happen with him or with the artists assisting on the project taking questions from the audience. Also, the artists allocated studio space in the library have become ambassadors of the project.

So, what should Art do for us? ‘There are so many ways Art can inspire’, he replies. ‘In the best possible scenario, if I really do my job perfectly, and everything goes as it should, (then) I hope my work could inspire that the parameters of the world are not fixated. They are not a given. That (idea) sounds abstract. Unfortunately they are there and you would have to deal with it. And if people want to make you believe different, (to claim) that this is how things are done- that is never true!” Again, the flashes from the days of playing with Lego come to mind. Just like stepping through the looking glass.

Also appears on the webpage-http://www.mathijslieshout.com/tobuildblog