Ima-Abasi Okon review

3 out of 5 stars
Ima-Abasi Okon review
Image courtesy of Chisenhale Gallery

Time Out says

3 out of 5 stars

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There’s a soft orange glow being cast across the floor of the Chisenhale. Warm shadows ripple out of mini glass chandeliers filled with cognac and palm oil, stuck into a low false ceiling. Opposite, Ima-Abasi Okon has screwed an army of air conditioners into the wall. Their fans spin and stop, juddering along to a syrupy, slow soundtrack emanating from behind.

If you read the gallery handout – and dear God, whatever you do, don’t – apparently this is all about ‘complicating the construction of knowledge’ and ‘exhibition-making as an exercise in syntax’ and questioning ‘how to represent a body in its absence’. I literally have no clue what any of that shit means.

Instead, this feels like a very slow, sad, poetic look at the everyday. The ceiling feels like something from every office you’ve ever hated working in – oppressive, overbearing, artificial. It’s smeared with morphine and insulin, it stinks. The AC units cool the space unnaturally. The lights provide fake comfort. These all feel like tools used to placate unhappy, everyday people. Take the morphine, cool down, be calm, be controlled. It’s good, actually. Only the four wooden works on the side wall let the installation down. The rest is an immersive, affecting bit of art.

But if public institutions like the Chisenhale continue to talk about art in ways that are intentionally obtuse and totally unintelligible, this will always feel like unapproachable, elite art for people who aren’t you. And that’s a serious shame, because art like this deserves better.


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