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Precious Okoyomon

Essays

Artist Precious Okoyomon Talks Collaboration, World Building, and "Il Corso del Coltello"

Published Aug 15, 2021

Through their multifarious practice spanning installation, performance, and other mediums, the New York-based artist and poet Precious Okoyomon explores birth and death, nature’s unfathomable powers, the illimitable possibilities of language, and other subjects. Okoyomon, who is the recipient of the 2021 Frieze Artist Award, has presented solo exhibitions at the LUMA Westbau, Zürich; the MMK, Frankfurt; and Performance Space, New York.
Okoyomon participated in a recent Pace Live workshop in New York focused on the 1985 multi-media performance Il Corso del Coltello, which featured artists Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen. On the occasion of the event, Okoyomon spoke with Pace about their work, the role of the artist today, and more. Their statements below, which have been edited and condensed, are drawn from an interview with Mark Beasley, curatorial director of Pace Live.

Art is world building. That’s what we do. You make new worlds, you make portals, you make possibilities to see things differently.

Precious Okoyomon

I feel like everything always starts at the poetry—the installations, the sculptures, everything is a poem. Then that opens the portal into the object, usually. It’s how I map out how things are going to be. Everything’s usually inspired by a poem. The installations themselves, they feel like poems. Something I try to do is create the poem inside of the actual fragmented air of the space … I do try to invoke the language in there but it kind of happens naturally just by the space being the space and seeing how people react inside of it and what they do—that becomes part of the poem. It’s like one never-ending, long poem.

I knew about Il Corso del Coltello a while ago because I studied pataphysics and it gets into that. [Oldenburg and van Bruggen] have that kind of Alfred Jarry energy to them in the absurdity of their work … I like organized chaos and I feel like they did that really well. I still do performances now, and a few years ago at the Serpentine I did a play called The End of the World. It was kind of a really chaotic performance, not that many people saw it. I was kind of like, “Wow, this kind of happened in a fragment of a bubble of itself.” I had animals, and there were these angels, and there was fire. I liked that absurd [aspect] of not knowing what’s going to happen in a performance that I really related to.

My work is a lot of care, but it’s actually building new worlds. That’s why I was so obsessed with [Il Corso del Coltello]—because they got really close. Half of it is speaking the idea out loud and hoping somebody is like, “Yes.” It could still happen—who knows? Maybe someone will be like, “Wow, an island in Venice for artists. That sounds lit. I want that.” We need to build so much more stuff and urgently. That’s all I want, really, is to make insane things. I really want to make the dream biosphere of creating a space outside of time-space that does feel like a portal away from the “real world.” I actually do want to make a space that is completely different from anything in the world that creates a haven … The dream is to actually change real air. That’s how you make new space, that’s how you do the thing.

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Installation view of Precious Okoyomon’s FRAGMENTED BODY PERCEPTIONS AS HIGHER VIBRATION FREQUENCIES TO GOD, 2021, at Performance Space, New York/Photo by Da Ping Lu

Art is world building. That’s what we do. You make new worlds, you make portals, you make possibilities to see things differently. I think it’s important to actualize that into actual lived space that’s outside the walls of what we expect art to be. I want to run into it accidentally in the street and trip over it.

No one makes art by themselves. You need a whole team; you don’t make things by yourself. That’s not how the world works. I don’t really believe in individualization. I have the most fun making art when I’m playing with people I love. That’s how you make new worlds: you get together and you play with people you love and then you birth new ideas. I’m obsessed with the idea of getting to collaborate and literally birth a new thing to life with somebody … That’s one of our biggest problems is thinking you can do things all alone.

I feel like, especially right now, the role of the artist is to show the potential of how we get to the good life. To me, this active world that we have right now isn’t sustainable. It’s not working, and we need to urgently dream of new ways of living and new ways of tangling with each other. I think the foundational base of being an artist is kind of deciphering these things and translating them in a way that’s not so scary to understand … The role that I think is most important right now is how you live your everyday life and how you teach people things and how you move through the world. It’s really simple.

As told to Mark Beasley, curatorial director of Pace Live

Essays — Artist Precious Okoyomon Talks Collaboration, World Building, and Il Corso del Coltello, Aug 15, 2021