International

03/15/2011

Kambui Olujimi is not a jeweler. But his recent work entitled The Black Out Collection places him knee deep in the language of adornment. The collection is part of his most recent solo show, Love to Lose, at Catharine Clark Gallery in San Francisco. ExpKambui Olujimiloring how we collectively nurture social disaster, the show includes video, photography and sculpture. The Black Out Collection, comprised of fourteen mixed media sculptures, employs the language of jewelry in order to convey the message that the desirable and the demonized can be one and the same.

Each sculpture, a hybrid of equal part necklace and handcuff, hang on the wall throughout the gallery. The show is tidy, with each piece staying closely within a simple format. But within that format variations arise allowing for an individuality that humanizes the objects and each one becomes a description of a person, a collection of contemporary archetypes staring, wide-eyed, back at the viewer.

Applying the aesthetic of opulence, Olujimi highlights the allure of criminality, sin and those who take part. Using the necklace in order to speak the language of commodity, the work points a finger at contemporary culture’s role in disseminating and fostering our desire for deviance. The work is reminiscent of Jeff Koons’s reproduction of kitschy materials and tends to Haim Steinbach’s mimicry of commodity using seriality. Far more poetic and mysterious than Steinbach and Koons’s stark approach, the sculptures tend to Meret Oppenheim’s psychological and surrealist work and Duchamp’s earnest approach to the everyday object.

Kambui Olujimi Trickily presenting themselves as straightforward, the necklaces avoid a simple interpretation. Building with layers of costume jewelry, Olujimi avoids the use of precious metals and jewels in order to highlight the illusion of authenticity that costume jewelry offers and draw a parallel to social constructs. 'Formally, it was interesting to make these objects of opulence that are false much like their seduction is false.' The allure of Olujimi’s sculptures is located not in the objects themselves, but in a general notion of value placed on the impersonated materials. The necklaces are merely shallow copies; the sparkle of the jewels will scuff and the shine of the gold will fade.

A subtle play on words, where handcuffs are often referred to as bracelets, highlights the role of adornment Olujimi is playing within. Using these sites of the body – the wrist, the hand and the neck – he explores practices of restraint and control. There is an element of sexKambui Olujimiuality and fetish that runs through the work and the materials perform a slip in meaning. More complicated than the criminality suggested by the handcuffs, the compositions get at the root of social norms and deviation from them. The Black Out Collection becomes more about the control implied by the deployment and enforcement of social norms via avenues that seem separate but actually converge. Avenues such as law enforcement and fashion share in their role as organizers of behavior. In Olujimi’s visual system, the television show Cops and a Versace necklace become closely related as products wrapped up in spectacle.

Resisting a dogmatic conclusion, The Black Out Collection allows the viewer to roam amongst notions of criminality, social norms, fetish, commodity and luxury. The handcuffs become bracelets. The necklace becomes the noose, the shackle or the leash. In this way the work lays bare a complex language and seems to ask just who is the perpetrator, if there is one at all? Or is it all of us, all at once? On the issue of wearability, Olujimi says, 'The utility is not as important as the statement and what I hope to say with these pieces.' My suggestion on how to view this work, tempting as it may be, is to put aside your jewelry expertise. Don’t put it away; just put it aside. Now look at the work for what it is, sculpture for contemplation only . . . not for wearing. 

Ahna Adair

Ahna Adair holds her BA in applied design from San Diego State University and her MFA from the California College of the Arts, San Francisco. She works independently as a writer and artist, focusing on modern temporalities, the pace of craft, and the politics of slowness. Born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area, she has just relocated with her family to Grand Junction, Colorado.