There’s no strict division between inside and outside in Nnenna Okore’s environmentally scaled installation, “Twisted Ambience.” Formed from sticks, twine and rolls of newspaper that have been twisted into what appear to be thick chains, braids, or coils of rope, Okore’s piece—which alternately resembles a hut or lean-to or a ship with tattered sails—is a study in transformation: of soft into hard, weak substances (like paper) into something strong and resilient, and trash into a renewable resource.
This is the kind of piece you walk into, around and through, experiencing it from all angles. One moment an enclosure, the next a passageway, Okore’s installation toys with ideas of openness, safety and exposure. At one point, you look up to see bundles of sticks suspended directly above your head like mobiles, one slanting precariously downwards as if on the verge of braining you. The entire structure hangs about a foot or so below the ceiling from lines of invisible filament, giving it the appearance of a pile of refuse that’s been conjured upright by sheer will, or magic.
A native of Nigeria who now teaches art at North Park University, Okore frequently uses found paper, cord, rope and yarn in her work (which was also seen recently at the Evanston Art Center’s group show, “Trace/Memory”), along with her own handmade paper. The latter is typically pulped, dyed and sculpted by Okore into forms evoking organic textures like that of tree bark or desiccated foliage. The dynamic interplay of handmade and repurposed materials gives Okore’s work a contemporary charge, albeit one that’s become overly familiar of late. So it bears noting that Okore’s reuse of discards is rooted in the material conditions of Nigerian people, for whom recycling has long been an everyday necessity rather than a cultural trend. (Claudine Isé)
Through October 4, 2009 at Chicago Cultural Center, 78 E. Washington