Ima-Abasi Okon, Alessandro Raho, Sur— [MIX-USE COMMODITY]—plus
6 October – 3 November 2018
PV Friday 5 October 6-9pm
Kenzo, Moschino, Adidas, North Face, Supreme…
Wandering through the mall, or clicking through online stores, a shopper makes a quick succession of value judgements; selects one jacket, or one pair of trainers over another. And then, each morning an ensemble outfit is put together from the stock of previous purchases that are themselves the result of numerous choices informed by need, desire, comfort, aspiration, anonymity, extravagance, et cetera.
Other purchases, other choices, involve greater planning, strategizing or subterfuge. Social media feeds have recently buzzed with the prospect of a collaboration between street wear heavyweight Supreme and the Estate of Mike Kelley. ‘…If anyone knows how to buy these things…’ wrote @matthewhiggs2015 followed a few days later by the inevitable selfie attired in the More Love Hours Than Can Ever Be Repaid hooded sweatshirt. Devotees without the same network of influence resort to snaking queues in the early hours outside flagship stores in order to fill bags with as much product as budgets will stretch to.
We don’t all become those hunters of the scarcer garments. Memories of our own adolescent navigation of shopping centres, outlet stores and vintage dealers can be strong enough for us to wince with bathetic shame, or reminisce over momentary triumphs. Each new T-shirt we bought evolving the version of ourselves we best wanted to project for the benefit of our peers. The semiotics of each differently cut pair of trousers aligning us closer to this or that sub-cultural group. It all contributed toward a constructed identity that we wanted so much to spell out, so as not to be mis-labelled, mis-interpreted, mis-understood.
Meanwhile, there has always been a whole load of ethical and political injustices lurking very close to decision of what to wear – from inequality and extreme poverty, to exploitation and sweatshop manufacturing. But we can each be easily distracted… We’re S-H-O-P-P-I-N-G.
A huge projection fills a narrow, dark, grille-lined room in Ima-Abasi Okon’s ‘Capture Mechanism Bypass for Surplus — aChoreographic-Logic-Complex Dub (anticipatory talk back)’. A lone figure walks away from the camera, up into the mists that enshroud an epic mountainscape. This is a conventional motif; the Rückenfigur (a centrally placed figure with back to the viewer, echoing the direction of our own looking, while partially obscuring the view), echoing the drama of Casper David Friedrich’s Wanderer (1818) whilst refreshing a feeling for the possibility of an encounter with the Sublime. The camera follows falling in and out of focus. Just like the re-use of the Rückenfigur pictorial device, the camera is recording something which is outside of its preordained function; the film tends toward the conventions of an unfolding dramatic vista, but its method of capture holds back any immersion into cinematic reverie. The figure wears a techno-fabric jacket and gloves emblazoned with the urgent text ‘BY ANY MEANS NECESSARY’. How should we read this message? Whose voice is speaking? ‘Capture Mechanism Bypass for Surplus — aChoreographic-Logic-Complex Dub (anticipatory talk back)’, becomes an exercise in witnessing just what happens when this bold product line is put to work.
Alessandro Raho’s full length portrait of ‘Roman’ commands a very different space. Standing within what is ostensibly a white monochrome, this boy, his whole world ahead of him, looks out at us in boxfresh sweatshirt and joggers. This isn’t a single moment; the fraction of a second caught as the camera shutter clicks, ‘Roman’ is thickly but tenderly painted. The eye of the Kenzo lion logo echoes the eye of the youth. The trainer laces are tied so as to precisely strike-through the logotype on the shoe’s tongue. The fall of the cloth of the sweatshirt explodes the print motif leaving fragments of words to be half-read: ‘PA’ and ‘ON’. While on the right sleeve the red, white and blue chevrons begin to suggest a superhero costume – Captain America? Or, perhaps they conjure the French tricolour with all of that nation’s associations with glamour and style? Or, could the painter be self-consciously feeding right back into the tight tautologies of Jasper Johns’ stars-and-stripes object-paintings?
If these two works were simply portraits then the clothes that the figures wear would be integral to the complex choreography of signs authored by the artists in collusion with their subjects. But as these signs themselves are so present and yet so conflicted, then they only serve to pull apart the very conventions of portraiture from within. Identity appears fugitive, not in its construction, but in our reading of it. The actual garments are a part of a much bigger system of mutable signification and value. The yellow Supreme vs North Face Nuptee Jacket currently resells at US$4000 (brand new with tags) and that heightened value affords no direct profits to the producers, but only to the entrepreneurial resellers. Amid these unstable indicators of power, influence and identity, what becomes increasingly important in being close to the works is the growing awareness of the raw rush of wind through an unscreened mic; a half-glance over the shoulder; a hazy contour as a blue brush pulls through a thick white passage of paint; the emotional weight of the fall of a boy’s fringe. It is in these brief glimpses that the works each pose their most open and valuable questions.
Kingsgate Project Space works with artists to devise exhibitions that are conversational and exploratory in nature. This exhibition is the third in this occasional series of two-person shows, here bringing together one work each by Ima-Abasi Okon and Alessandro Raho.
Ima-Abasi Okon is a London based artist working across print, sculpture and moving image. Solo exhibitions include: Parables for the BLAZER: Mahalia's EXISTENCEandEXISTENTS-HyPE fragrant stacking balm (306.HAL), Plaza Plaza, London (2018) and The Fountains Are Decorative and Are Not Water Play Areas, Supercollider Contemporary Arts Project, Blackpool (2014). Recent group exhibitions include: Concrete Poetries, Lower Green, Norwich (2018); Canine Wisdom For the Barking Dog - The Dog Gone Deaf, 13th Dak'Art Biennale, Dakar, Senegal w/ Appau Jnr Boakye-Yiadom (2018); there's something In the conversation that's more interesting than the finality of (A Title), The Showroom, London (2018) and PRAISE N PAY IT/ PULL UP, COME INTO THE RISE, South London Gallery, London (2018). In 2018, she was awarded both the Nigel Greenwood Research Prize and the Summer Residency at Hospitalfield, Scotland.
Alessandro Raho graduated from Goldsmiths College, London in 1994. Recent exhibitions include solo shows at Alison Jacques Gallery, London (2015) and Patrick de Brock Gallery, Knokke (2015), as well as participation in group shows including We Transfer: Mark Leckey + Alessandro Raho, Secession, Vienna (2015); I Cheer A Dead Man's Sweetheart, De La Warr Pavilion, Bexhil-on-Sea (2014); Knock Knock, Jerwood Gallery, Hastings (2013); Painting Show, Eastside Gallery, Birmingham (2011); Wall Rockets, FLAG Art Foundation, New York (2008) and Great Britons, Smithsonian Institution, Washington DC (2007). In 2004, Raho was commissioned to create a portrait of Dame Judi Dench for the National Portrait Gallery, London. His work is held in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art, New York; Seattle Museum of Art, Seattle; Walker Art Center, Minneapolis; National Portrait Gallery, London; and the Berardo Collection, Lisbon.