A physical post-Covid landscape -- and a powerful place of mourning -- has been created inside Performance Space New York in the East Village.
Artist Precious Okoyomon (they/their) made the installation on commission after winning the Frieze Festival’s Emerging Artist Award. Called “Fragmented Body Perceptions as Higher Vibration Frequencies to God” -- the title is from their own poem -- this eerie, otherworldly place is Okoyomon’s reaction to COVID.
“I just think they’re one of the most interesting artists out there,” says Frieze jury chair Jenny Schlenzka, executive artistic director of Performance Space and curator of Okoyomon’s installation.
When you first enter, it looks stark and scary. A terrifying soundscape booms from the surrounding speakers -- there are sounds like metallic clunks, the flap of bird wings and the screams of a large crowd, heard from a distance (the sound is from artist Dion McKenzie, perhaps best known in New York’s queer club scene as TygaPaw).
Large cairns that look like they could be carved out of Southwestern sandstone rise from a thick, noisy coating of gravel on the floor. In the center, a stream embedded in a hill of red dirt winds through; in the ceiling, pipes spew out what is said to be ashes.
“I wanted to make a space that felt, you know, the heaviness that's so palpable in the air right now. No one wants to say you can feel it, but every time I go outside, the air became heavier,” Okoyomon said.
The ashes are a result of an earlier, living installation of theirs in Germany called Earthseed which, untended during the pandemic, became overrun with kudzu. The plants -- there were 10,000 of them -- are an invasive species and couldn’t be re-planted in Germany, so Okoyomon had them incinerated and then cooked them down into a liquid, and it’s that essence that becomes the installation’s “ashes.”
So instead of covering visitors with white dust, the ashes have been liquified and what actually floats from the ceiling is fluffy, soapy theater snow. It’s surprisingly joyful.
In fact, joyous details abound throughout the installation. Ladybugs, crickets, and anoles, a kind of small lizard, are hidden in long grasses in the dirt. Goldfish swim in the pond. And that red dirt has been seeded with wildflowers; by the time the show ends in May, the current stark landscape will be transformed into a colorful one.
Okoyomon said they wanted to create a space that lets you break down. “I hope people sit. Let the ash wash over you, melt into nothing. And then you can just see the little ladybugs flying around, watch the fish eat their food, just let everything slow down again,” they said. “Take a deep breath in there.”
“Fragmented Body Perceptions as Higher Vibration Frequencies to God” is free; visit Performance Space New York’s website to make a reservation. The show runs through May 9th.