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Friday, October 11, 2019

Larry Ossei-Mensah & Glenn Kaino: A Conversation
Larry Ossei-Mensah (Left) and Glenn Kaino (Right) in front of Blue
Larry Ossei-Mensah, Ghanaian-American curator and cultural critic, is guest curator of The Rudin Family Gallery at BAM Strong, BAM’s first dedicated visual art space. Larry sat down with the inaugural gallery artist, Los Angeles-born conceptual artist Glenn Kaino, to talk about the exhibition.

Larry Ossei-Mensah: Tell me about what you try to do as a visual artist.

Glenn Kaino: I use the idea of what I believe art can be, along with theories of art and artistic engagement, to create connections between systems of knowledge that don’t normally connect.

LOM: Can you expound on what you mean by that?

GK: I think some of the nuances of our humanity and our role as creative thinkers is being lost because of the way information is now catalogued and organized in very systematic ways. I believe that art has the ability to open channels of communication, as opposed to closing down connections that don’t “fit” or map perfectly. Things don’t have to make sense in the landscape of art. Art is the space between knowing and where invention can happen.

LOM: Over the span of your career, are there any projects that you view as being milestones or turning points in affirming this approach?

GK: There have been a few projects that have resonated with my approach in more substantial ways. In New York City, my 2004 Whitney Biennial piece titled Desktop Operation (There’s No Place Like Home; 10th Example of Rapid Dominance/Em City) was an ephemeral sand sculpture in which I had to negotiate not just the process of that work coming into existence, but making it in the early stages of a market dominated era of the art world and an early stage of my career.

Also, the project I did for Prospect.3 called Tank affirmed this notion of putting together a unique set of collaborating elements, as well as investigating an idea in a very rigorous way physically, formally and philosophically.

And of course, my long-term collaboration with Olympian Tommie Smith, who in 1968 raised his hand after he won the gold medal in the Men’s 200m. We’ve done educational workshops together with young people, teaching them about art and activism, it’s been very rewarding—all in the effort of creating a bridge from the past to the present.

LOM: Turning to When A Pot Finds Its Purpose specifically, were there any individuals who influenced your work?

GK: I had been talking with Tommie Smith about plants and seeds as metaphors for multi-generational political narratives, and I found myself at a dinner listening to Bishop T.D. Jakes talk about repotting plants as a metaphor for the creative mind’s need for expansion and growth. At the end of the evening, one of the young guests at the table asked him how we could help, and he didn’t have a clear answer. It struck me then that someone as significant and developed in their career as Bishop Jakes, a metaphorical forest, might still also benefit from a repotting.

Then I found myself thinking about the political work we’re doing in my studio and ruminating about our country’s history—specifically the tools of our democratic system. Perhaps we are at the moment when some of the tools of representation and democracy, that were invented when this country was a seedling, are out of date, and need to be rethought or repotted.

Spill, 2019, Hydrocal, Regenerative Soil, and Pedestal; two bells: 44.75 x 44.75 x 36 in.

LOM: Can you talk a little about re-exhibiting your piece from 2000, Blue, and how it complements Spill?

GK: When I first conceived of that work years ago, one of the inspirations was the notion of the resolution of difference. From afar, the wave machines rock at the exact same rate and the waves look very similar because the material rocks back and forth in unison, and then when you walk closer it becomes apparent that all of the waves are uniquely different and create their own visual signature. The original work was about creating a circumstance where one would be able to instantly resolve between the two modes of seeing, the group and the individual elements. The viewer would situate themselves naturally in this space between. I think it’s a good compliment to Spill and it is still a relevant dialogue to have given where we’re at today.

Blue, 2000, Wave machines, wood shelves, and calibrator; twenty-two units: 6 x 18 x 5 in.

LOM: Were there any challenges as you were thinking through what would be the appropriate works for this endeavor?

GK: The responsibility and challenge of opening up a space is something I take seriously. No one has seen the gallery before—and a good part of the inaugural effort is experimenting and determining what volume might hold the space, like a recast of the Liberty Bell, while engaging in a dialogue with the audience. What I tried to do when working with you was to select works that would take the form of a meditative condition, knowing this space was designed to be somewhat transitory.

LOM: And you mentioned opening up a space. What’re your feelings around being the inaugural artist for The Rudin Family Gallery?

GK: I’m excited to be the first artist working in the space. It’s an honor. BAM is an institution that’s rich in history, and I’m proud to be part of it.

Glenn Kaino (Left) and Larry Ossei-Mensah (Right) working on exhibition planning

LOM: I’m intrigued by this opportunity to present at BAM. There are many creative intersections—theater, dance, performance—sometimes there’s a tendency to silo them, and this is an opportunity to break that open. What do you want people who see the work, whether it's on their way to a play or visiting intentionally, to walk away with?

GK: My practice aspires to ask big questions rather than provide small answers. If I was to encourage anyone to come see the work, it’s because it’s meant to be in dialogue with the audience, everything else going on at BAM, the street, the city, and the country; and in doing so, in dialogue with the world.

See When A Pot Finds Its Purpose at The Rudin Family Gallery (651 Fulton St) from November 6 through December 15, 2019.

© 2019 Brooklyn Academy of Music, Inc. All rights reserved.

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