Interview by J.D.A Winslow
Published May 2015
Evan Ifekoya is an interdisciplinary artist, exploring the politicisation of culture, society and aesthetics. Appropriated material from historical archives and contemporary society make up the work. By ‘queerying’ popular imagery and utilising the props of everyday life, Ifekoya aims to destroy the aura of preciousness surrounding art.
I thought we could start by talking about Ojulowo, as it was the first piece I saw by you. When I initially saw it I think I was mostly taken in by the music, particularly the chorus (as in the section where you sing 'Genuine, original authentic'). The chorus made me stick around in a way I think I might not have otherwise. I wondered to what degree was this your intention when creating the video?
So, in answer to your question of course I want people to stick around and engage with the work so I use different mechanisms to encourage it. On a surface level I like colour, so I use a lot of that and I tend to work pretty quickly so I try to create an energy in my work which reflects that. I use humour and playfulness as a strategy too, it's my way of dealing with and processing all the messed up stuff that happens in the world! I'm interested in popular culture and I'm always drawing from it in my work, hence the pop song format of 'Ojulowo'. I don't consider myself a musician as such, but I'm inspired by the potential of the format.
Can I ask why you were thinking of leaving before you got to the chorus?
Specifically with regards to your video I was thinking of leaving just because I didn't have much time and I wanted to see the rest of the show (at Studio Voltaire). More generally though I think I don't always watch videos in art galleries the whole way through (unless I'm reviewing it of course!). Further to this though I guess another question I had was relating to the format. Initially I watched it in the gallery, then later watched it again on my laptop. It seemed like there was a significant difference between the two formats, and I was wondering if when you came up with the piece it was with the idea of putting it online, or of showing it in a gallery?
It is something I think about, where the work should go. With this particular work, it's a bit trickier to answer as it's four videos screened together, one of which was specifically made for a gallery context (Hybrid Vigor). I make most of my video work available to watch online because I want my work to be accessible in that sense, I want it to exist beyond the gallery context and be experienced by people who aren't interested in going to galleries or perhaps even looking at art. As the format of the videos often borrow from pop culture riffing off music videos or tv shows for example I try to frame them with that way of viewing in mind. Although, these days for people it's mostly in front of a computer screen rather than a tv...
So, are videos like Ojulowo or The Gender Song a 'queerying' of the format of a pop song? Could you maybe explain what 'queerying' is?
Yeah, I guess that's what I'm trying to do. I watched a lot of MTV growing up and those videos promoted a particularly heteronormative way of being. Boy falls in love with girl ... girl tries desperately to impress boy, very gendered ways of being/dressing etc. These media images propagate particular ways of being and doing as 'correct', which can be harmful if not looked at critically.
'Queerying' in context would also apply to the 'A boi is...' video or the 'Artfunshack' performance. Who do we normally see occupying these roles? How might my particular (queer) body attempt to destabilise those images and the language used around them?
So 'queerying' is querying, but with the emphasis on querying the portrayal of cisgender/heteronormative norms portrayed in mainstream media?
That sounds about right!
I like the fact that you're essentially relying on a pun to convey a central, fairly serious theoretical aim behind a lot of your work is that kind of irreverence important in all your work?
Ha, yes totally! That playfulness is crucial to me, as strategy, like I mentioned before. Its a filter which makes viewing the work possible. Its a filter through which makes making this work possible for me too.
Would you describe that as maybe being a way to foreclose irony?
Hmmm, not sure what you mean by that? To foreground for example?
Sorry maybe I didn't explain that very well emm... Maybe the best example I can think of is Evil Knievel (I'm kind of paraphrasing from this a little. If Evil Knievel did all of his motorbike stunts whilst wearing a tshirt and jeans (as opposed to a red, white and blue leather jumpsuit) you could dismiss him on a purely ironic level as being 'not cool'. By wearing a fairly silly jumpsuit though Evil Knievel kind of shuts down this option. Would you see yourself as doing something similar with the aesthetics/tone of your work?
￼Ah, I see! I hadn't really thought about it like that before but thank you for the analogy! It does come from a desire for the work to not be dismissed as purely about 'identity politics'. I've done it myself in the past, looked at worked which explored race, gender, sexuality etc. and not been able to go beyond the surface of it. Its not always that the nuance wasn't there, I just didn't have the tools to read it. I hope that by providing a number of entry points into my work people can engage with it on their own terms, rather than be forced into engaging with a single issue.
The Gender Song
Yeah that makes sense. In terms of 'identity politics' then to what degree does your artistic practice rely/draw on your own experience?
It’s heavily drawn from my own experiences. Be that the good, the bad or the ugly. Rather than merely reflecting on or reframing those experiences in the context of art, I'm more interested in transcending them. In the Jose Estaban Munoz sense of utopia, I'm trying to present 'a backward glance that enacts a future vision'. Use experiences as material like you would clay or paper, then transform them into something beautiful ... or visually and conceptually interesting at least!
Are you saying your work is mainly based around a kind of optimistic outlook then?
It's not that I ignore the realities, I'm just more interested in creating new ways of thinking through and visualising the experiences.
So is that new theoretical ways? Or practical ways? And how does that relate to the idea of utopia you mentioned before?
It applies to both. I'm concerned with how knowledge is produced and how ideas are maintained and sustained. Something I think about a lot is how art might contribute to or act as a way of producing knowledge. There are hierarchies within this field too, in terms of what is seen as 'valid' or 'reliable' forms of knowledge. Foucault talks about 'subjugated knowledges' as a whole set of knowledges that are either hidden behind more dominant knowledges but can be revealed by critique or have been explicitly disqualified as inadequate to their task or insufficiently elaborated: naive knowledges, located low down on the hierarchy, ￼beneath the required level of cognition or scientificity (1980, p. 82)."When I say 'subjugated knowledges' I mean two things. On the one hand, I am referring to historical contents that have been buried or masked in functional coherences or formal systemizations. [In other words, I am referring to] blocks of historical knowledges that were present in the functional and systematic ensembles, but which were masked, and the critique was able to reveal their existence by using, obviously enough, the tools of scholarship. Second, when I say 'subjugated knowledges' I am also referring to a whole series of knowledges that have been disqualified as...insufficiently elaborated knowledges: naive knowledges, hierarchically inferior knowledges, knowledges that are below the required level of erudition or scientificity" (Foucault, 2003, p.7).
I especially like the idea of a 'naive knowledge', it seems to suggest a way to produce knowledge that isn't about asserting power or authority. I'm not really interested in creating work to redefine or create new categories but instead suggest that other ways of being in the world are possible. This is why I would say my project feels utopian. It speaks to the not quite here, yet still quite possible but it doesn't seek to erase or ignore the realities of the past or present, which is why I couldn't call it optimistic.
That idea of 'naive knowledge' makes me think of the meta-modern idea of 'informed naivety' as well as this Jerry Saltz quote 'At once knowingly self conscious about art, unafraid, and unashamed, these young artists not only see the distinction between earnestness and detachment as artificial; they grasp that they can be ironic and sincere at the same time, and they are making art from this compound complex state of mind' I wondered if this was something you related to? Or maybe I'm just linking up two usages of the word 'naive'...
Yes, I can relate to it in a 'after the fact' kind of way. I don't set out for my work to be ironic and sincere at the same time but I can see how it might be read like that. To borrow from the Saltz quote above, I find most distinctions artificial, or arbitrary at least, which is why I try and move through different registers simultaneously.
What's your working process like? Do you have a particular aim in mind for your work?
My process involves listening to a lot of music and trying to keep up with popular culture. As I get older, I seem to have gotten worse at it, or perhaps it's that my tastes are narrowing... either way, I am finding it increasingly difficult to 'keep up'. Sometimes I'll be researching something for a long time before I make a piece of work around it, other times it'll come out of a snippet of conversation overheard on the bus. I like to ￼follow trains of thought and see where they lead. I like to use search engines a lot and see where it takes me to. I make the kind of work I want to see, there isn't enough of it out there! I dunno if I'm quite there yet, but the most recent work, the music video series is the closest to where I want the work to be.
With regard to there not being enough work you want to see out there then, is that related to perceived ideas around heteronormativity (and maybe privilege more generally) within arts institutions?
I'd say the collaborative work I do as part of Collective Creativity is related to that speaking to/challenging arts institutions ... normatively .... privilege and such.
I don't like to think of my individual practice as reactionary. I'm not trying to fight against the things mentioned before, that's not where my energy goes in the work. It's more forward thinking than that. What kind of work would I make if I wasn't always reacting to something? What else is possible when you can come at things a different way? That's what I'm striving towards.
Afri-Mag Spread, 2009
Could you maybe explain the relationship between your own practice and the collaborative work made as part of Collective Creativity?
Collective Creativity started as a way to discuss our individual practices and engage with the context surrounding it using texts, film, other artwork, etc. It is a space explicitly for QTIPOC Artists (queer trans* intersex people of colour). We started doing lots of research and archival work about a year and a half ago now, looking into how practices such as ours emerged in this country. More recently we've been doing work with London and Preston based archives such as Making Histories Visible and doing projects with Universities and art institutions around the politics of the art school.
And are you still being playful and using humour when you're working with archives?
Hmm, it's not so much that the archival work I do doesn't have a lightness of touch or humour but it operates in a different way. The tone is different, yes, because it's an attempt to retrace steps and redefine our own art canons and involves handling other artists work. It's important to me to be respectful when doing that, I don't want anyone to feel like I'm taking the mick out of them!
￼Could you maybe give a run down of your art canon as it currently stands?
I think it's possible for me to make the work I do thanks to artists such as Ajamu, Wynne Greenwood, Lubaina Himid, Thomas Hirschhorn, Grace Ndiritu, Ingrid Pollard, Maud Sulter and more recently, cross genre artists such as Fatima Al Qadiri and Rashaad Newsome. Then there is the writings about art by Jose Estaban Munoz and Amelia Jones. I am also really excited by the curatorial work of Christine Eyene right now.
So... if you could rewrite art history could you maybe give a run down (starting from say, somewhere round 1900) to now, with those artists that you feel should be canonical, and why?
That question doesn't feel important to me ... Art history already exists and cannot be rewritten. Alternative trajectories can be mapped out, yes. Why start with 1900 then? Because its when the western world decided 'modernism' began?
My 'canon' changes, 8 years ago my frames of reference were mostly american, now its expanded. No matter who I mention, I'll always end up leaving someone out!
To what extent is the mapping out of alternative trajectories a romantic pursuit?
I don't see it as romantic. The reality is that this stuff is out there, it just wasn't part of my curriculum but that isn't to say it shouldn't have been. History and what we are taught is subjective and presented to us as 'universal' even though it's from a particular perspective. It's a parallel trajectory rather than an alternative one, perhaps.
What’s next for Evan Ifekoya?
Coming up is All of Us Have a Sense of Rhythm (5th June 1 August 2015) at David Roberts Art Foundation, London where I'll be exhibiting Nature/Nurture Sketch and participating in an evening of sound and moving image on July 11th. Then I'll be exhibiting two video works as part of Embodied Spaces (18 June 26 July), Framer Framed, Amsterdam. Both exhibitions are curated by Christine Eyene.
Before that, I'll be taking 'Help Me Write a Song About Something That is Important to You ' to the Southbank, as part of the Web We Want Festival on 29th - 31st May. I'm participating in the talk 'Artists in a connected world' on Sunday 31st May at 12:30 in the Queen Elizabeth Hall Front Room.
Evan Ifekoya lives and works in London. Recent exhibitions include Studio Voltaire OPEN 2015, Studio Voltaire, London, 30 years of the Future, Castlefield Gallery, Manchester, Dyad Exhibition, Kingsgate Gallery, London and EQUATIONS Moving image festival, Kingsgate Gallery, London
If you like this why not read our interview with Patrick Hough
© 2013 - 2018 YAC | Young Artists in Conversation ALL RIGHTS RESERVED