Artist Statement My work broadly focuses on the concepts of recycling, transformation and regeneration of forms based on observations from ecological and man-made environments. I am drawn to uniquely diverse and tactile characteristics of the collective physical world. I am astounded by natural phenomena that cause things to become weathered, dilapidated and lifeless - those events slowly triggered by aging, death and decay - and subtly captured in the fluid and delicate nature of life.
Your work is highly impactful and at the same time possesses a rare level of refinement. Is that a balance that you consciously aim for and how do you go about achieving that? Thanks, Alice. When people respond materially or viscerally to my works, I think they do so because the piece discharges spatial energy, enigma, and theatrics. I love creating works that produces stimulating and eclectic elements, such that it draws the viewer into an intricate world of visual sensation. It is deeply gratifying when the piece reaches that level of vibrancy and vitality that elicits sensory or emotive reactions – like, when the work appears to breathe or pulsate; and the viewer’s gaze is trapped in wonder and curiosity.
Themes of decay and regeneration are central to your work. What first attracted you to this and what do you want to convey to us? I am fascinated by natural laws that govern of the cycles of life. My interest in these transformative and regenerative processes stems from a desire to understand, demystify and embrace aging, death and decay as a process that is crucial to our cosmic existence. I am also cognizant of the trauma and vacuum that death brings in its wake. But it’s a reality of life, which every earthly being must encounter in space and time. By celebrating facets of aging and decay in my works, I hope to highlight these ephemeral experiences that bring to bear other forms of grotesque beauty.
You were born in Australia and raised in Nigeria, studied for your post-graduate degrees in the USA. How has this mix of places influenced you? The experience of living in different spaces has no doubt expanded my artistic, social and cultural perceptions of the world. Moving to the United States for graduate studies in particular, helped me develop a broader understanding of visual concepts and ideologies, which I believe have shaped who and what I have become. I am more thoughtful, open-minded, humble and empathic because of these experiences. And though my current works are laced with many universal references or sentiments, I rely heavily on my African roots for inspiration.
You are actually a Professor. (Nnenna teaches sculpture and chairs the Art department at Chicago’s North Park University). You also come from parents in Academia ... how do you bridge the gap between the ‘classroom’ and ‘studio’. -is there a gap, do you have to step in and out of a different you’? As one who values experimentation and research in my teaching and studio practice, I found it necessary to overlap the two in order to leverage both experiences at once. This means that my personal studio investigation inherently gets subsumed in my course contents, and vise visa. The symbiosis connection between the two has an added advantage. It enables me reevaluate and upgrade my pedagogical approaches on a regular basis while developing new ways of engaging, challenging and pushing the boundaries at my studio.
Your materials are everyday articles that you painstakingly transform through ‘combining reductive methods of shredding, fraying, twisting, teasing and washing with constructive processes of tying, weaving, stitching and dyeing’ ... Can you describe how you personally benefit from such a process and how long can a project takes you from start to finish? It’s true that many of my processes are enduring and laborious; though I honestly find them de-stressing and therapeutic. Growing up in Nigeria at a time when most domestic activities and chores were done manually, I developed the mastery of completing tedious tasks slowly and steadily. Today, it is almost inconceivable for me to produce a piece of art that does not employ these intensive processes. For starters, I give myself ample time, which allows me work deliberately and calmly. Most projects take anywhere between a month and six months to complete; contingent upon scale.
As an artist who shines the spotlight on the environment, what are your thoughts on climate change and how do you feel about the major presence in the USA of ‘deniers’ most notably in the White House? It’s unfortunate that the current administration continues ignore the threats of climate change, albeit glaring evidence. Incidents of global warming, rising sea levels and flooding, off season rains, melting ice and so on should give everyone cause for concern. Climate change is a real and present danger to our planet and us. I encourage everyone to join in the movement to trim domestic waste, recycle or dispose synthetic materials properly, conserve energy, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, switch to solar or renewable energy, and support local environmental cleaners. Collectively, we can make a difference and protect the earth from further degeneration.
You have had over 100 solo and group exhibitions over the last decade - can you tell us about some of the most notable exhibitions you were involved in? My most memorable installations and exhibitions were On the Brink at Elmhurst Museum of Art; Nkata at Krannet Museum of Art and Sheer Audacity at Memphis Brooks Museum of Art, in 2015, 2016 and 2017 respectively.
What have you got coming up in 2018 that we can look forward to? I am presently working on a number of community research projects in the Chicago area and parts of Nigeria, where I seek to address environmental issues through art, dialogue and engagement. A series of exhibitions and installations will result from these community involvements in 2019.