Over the holiday season I visited family back East and as we made our way through some iconic New York City art institutions we happened upon this spectacular installation by Brooklyn-based artist Kambui Olujimi.
Remember that name? Olujimi was one of the 2014 FSP/Jerome Fellows who made a BIG impact. If you’ve ventured into the newly developed trail through the Franconia woods you’ve surely encountered Olujimi’s large white dam. When talking about his work Kambui says “My work looks to manifest collective psychic space latent in our social practices, policies, and economies. I am interested in the seamless process of how social constructs are synthesized and transformed into natural order. I excavate the language and aesthetics of historic and contemporary conventions from the world of the implicit to reveal their incongruities and question the inevitable.” This quick summary of his artistic practice had all of us at Franconia very intrigued and we eagerly sat down with Kambui to learn more:
What is your creative process like when you’re making sculpture?
The process is particular to each work I make. In general, there’s an idea phase, a research phase, the execution, then the post-game assessment.
Tell us about your project at Franconia. How does it relate to your past work?
In the summer and through the fall of 1969, the US Army Corps of Engineers undertook the Herculean task of dewatering the American Falls at Niagara in order to shore up a landscape prone to rock slides and conduct studies related to the preservation of the site. In that period, hundreds of thousands of visitors flocked to the Falls to witness the denuded, dry riverbed hiding under the perpetually mighty cascade. By November of that same year, the survey was completed, debris cleared and key areas reinforced. The temporary dam was removed, restoring the Falls to its natural flow of 150,000 gallons of water per second.
45.382615, -92.708433 from The Niagara Series is a dam built in conversation with the cofferdam constructed to stop the American Falls in 1969. Situated between two trees in the park, it is a wood frame construction measuring approximately 21 feet wide and 17 feet high.
Using the architectural form of a dam as a metaphor for the constant manicuring and mediation of contemporary experience, the work explores the maintenance of the margins and the cultivation of invisibility. To divert, interrupt, manipulate, then re-channel the force of the Falls parallels the mitigation of experience for the marginal and the undesirable in order to guarantee aesthetic and psychic cohesion for society as a whole. What is of greatest interest to me is the human intervention underlying the seemingly “natural” environment that creates the illusion of inherence or historical inevitability.
Why did you propose your project to Franconia? What did the experience of working here offer?
Colleagues who were past residents had impressed upon me what a unique opportunity the Franconia residency provided–from ample facilities and equipment to the abundance of time and space afforded them as artists working outside the confines of a building and of cramped urban settings.
Where did you study and whom did you study with? How have those experiences influenced your own work?
I studied with Charles Kelton and Larry Fink before attending Columbia University. At Columbia, I studied with Jon Kessler, Shelly Silver, Tomas Vu, Rirkrit Tiravanija and Sarah Sze. This is what I’ve learned from each of them:
Chuck: The kindest man I know. Be generous with what you make.
Larry: Flash photography is an addiction to a moment you can never see.
Jon: “Subtlety is overrated.”
Shelly: Where’s the world beyond you in the work you make?
Tomas: Make it. Burn it down. Make it. Burn it down. Make it. Burn it down. Repeat until you can’t.
Rirkrit: Find the moment before nothing’s left.
Sarah: It is what it do.