A Rooftop Takeover
Artist Precious Okoyomon plans an 18-month garden exhibition at Aspen Art Museum
Summer 2021 in Aspen is still filled with question marks – nothing on the normally glutted arts calendar is written in ink.
But the Aspen Art Museum, in partnership with Anderson Ranch Arts Center, recently unveiled a creative solution that will harness nature itself with a garden exhibition that will welcome visitors, fill the rooftop sculpture garden for a year-and-a-half and is poised to be a centerpiece of Aspen’s post-pandemic arts scene.
The museum has commissioned poet, playwright and artist Precious Okoyomon, whose groundbreaking work on experiential food-based art with Spiral Theory Test Kitchen has drawn international attention, for what will be Okoyomon’s first solo museum exhibition in the U.S.
The show, to include live plants, edible features, music, sculptures made at Anderson Ranch and multimedia, multi-sensory events, will run from June 2021 to October 2022.
Okoyomon’s installations will include sculptures and a garden of organic matter – selected and tended in collaboration with local growers – and the work will transform over the run of the show, when the artist will be in residence to work on it, ”making it a live and responsive commission that will literally grow and replenish over time.”
Themed around pleasure, abundance and desire, the plants are expected to include so-called “invasive species” and indigenous ones as a way of exploring ideas around colonization and slavery.
“By combining invasive plants such as Kudzu, Japanese knotweed, and honeysuckle with indigenous dandelions, mugwort, and milk thistle, Okoyomon will further their ongoing investigation of the racialization of the natural world,” reads a museum announcement. “They will cross-pollinate these plants to rebuild the soil, forming a new abundant biosphere.”
Okoyomon plans to populate the garden with large sculptures made of soil, clay and faux stone, which they have dubbed “angel protectors.”
Musician collaborators are also creating organic seasonal soundtracks with Okoyomon for the garden, using external samples and sounds recorded from within the garden to compose responses to it. In addition, Okoyomon will bring in artists, poets, theorists, filmmakers and performers for activations and live performances in the garden. Okyomon will also host services on the solstices to mark the passing seasons.
“These services will focus on Black feminism, self-fragilization, and queerness and will ask participants to chant, meditate, and dream new worlds,” the announcement reads. “A poetry retreat will also take place in Summer 2022 that highlights Okoyomon’s beginnings as a poet as well as the long and vivid history of exchange between artists and poets.”
The utopian ideals at the heart of this conceptual work are the driving force for Okoyomon’s work as an artist and as a next step from her acclaimed sculpture- and wool- and kudzu-based 2020 show “Earthseed” at the Museum of Modern Art in Frankfurt, Germany.
In a 2019 panel at Art Basel with curator Hans Ulrich Obrist and artist Rirkrit Tiravanija, Okoyomon talked about her work with food, calling her elaborate meal preparatons “a kind of praxis of care work.”
Okoyomon said the work aimed toward “queer futurities,” an unknown but radically hopeful future destination: “We want to go there and presently live in it constantly and to be entangled in new rebirths of self that have endless limits.”
The Aspen installation and communal events are in line with Okoyomon’s experiential and personal approach, where a meal or an “invasive” garden or a performance might be an act of hope or a bridge to a better world.
“You have to create a whole new space of thinking,” Okoyomon said in the Art Basel panel, “like, ‘What is time and what is this world?”
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