Kai Nip, Staff Photographer
Africanus Okokon ART ’20, Artspace New Haven’s current artist-in-residence, will perform a sonic-visual piece called “Invisible Magic Missive Sent To,” or IMMST, on Saturday, Oct. 24. The performance, crafted as a personal experience, is in some ways perfectly suited for a pandemic world.
The experience touches upon themes of analog, time, memory and memory’s limits. Starting at 5 p.m., audience members will rotate through the gallery in small groups — a setting that both creates intimacy and maintains social distancing. Part of Artspace’s City-Wide Open Studios, the performance will take place in the Artspace gallery.
“I almost want people to [imagine] that it’s just me and them and the performance, images, videos … the people around them are just sort of melting away,” Okokon said.
Okokon said it is difficult for him to describe IMMST because opacity is one of the work’s goals — he said he does not want to reveal too much beforehand.
But he described the piece as a “bricolage” of recorded media. Okokon will incorporate audio and visual elements in IMMST through his own active participation and improvisation. He noted that his presence is vital to the work. “I need to be present to conjure or usher in the images and the sound,” Okokon said.
The performance’s central element is a large rear-projection television. Okokon will use it to display moving images he took when he traveled to Ghana, his mother’s home country. For Okokon, his visit was not just a personal homecoming to family, but also a way for him to make sense of his identity as a first-generation West African immigrant in the United States.
Okokon studied visual performance and animation at the Rhode Island School of Design before studying printmaking at the Yale School of Art. He began working on IMMST during his second year at Yale but was forced to temporarily put the project on hold due to the pandemic.
During his time at Yale, Okokon performed a project thematically similar to IMMST, called “.Srt.” It was then that he began to experiment with audio and visual elements in art through his own participation.
Kevin Brisco ART ’20, a classmate of Okokon, said that attendees were “blown away” after witnessing “.Srt” — several audience members were in tears, Brisco said.
“Instantly, I think the painting department was sort of enthralled with [Okokon’s] work,” said Brisco.
IMMST is as much about performance itself as it is about memory, history and the deterioration of images. Okokon said the performance can be understood as a mimicry of life, but also as mimicking lived experience.
A separate part of the gallery will showcase Okokon’s visual art. Okokon said in several projects he explores how images shift, compress and decompress over time, as well as their relation to memory.
Lisa Dent, executive director of Artspace, said that after months of quarantine, the simple act of entering a gallery has become a more valuable experience than ever before. Dent added that 2020 has shown her how art continues to help people stay connected during difficult times.
Even though Okokon’s performance requires his physical presence, social distancing is not a concern for IMMST. Okokon said his ideal audience is small, as he wants an intimate interaction between the performer and audience members. The piece will also change slightly with each performance.
“This performance is more of an exercise in being willfully opaque in what I’m conjuring and leaving it up to surprise for me,” said Okokon. “I don’t want people to go in with any expectations.”
Audience members sensitive to flashing lights should refrain from viewing the performance.
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