I know, I know! This was my introduction to Kambui Olujimi and the first conversation we had on Monday as I walked into his durational relational aesthetics performance piece titled “A life in picture” which was being conducted in the HUB. The story goes…
As a child, Kambui was a know it all and never needed instructions because as he puts it…”I know, I know.” One day his mother sat him down to tell him the story of the pigeon and how pigeons fell from grace when they arrived in heaven and God was giving instructions on how to conduct one’s self in such a place, the pigeons replied something along the lines of “ I know, I know! So God being offended made the bobbing of the head permanent on all pigeons as a lesson to learn. These are the kinds of relational narratives that allow you to drop your guard to a total stranger in a room that’s asking for your personal photos. You in turn want to share yourself and your experiences with him after just 5 minutes.
In this durational piece I observed total strangers walking in and not know what the hell was really happening but after a couple of minutes talking to Kambui, they want to rush home to grab their baby photos, prom pictures and most embarrassing moments captured on film. The thing about relational work is that it’s also participatory work. It instills a sense of agency in the audience that might or might not be the “traditional” art viewing audience to not only engage but to create. The work doesn’t exist without the viewer and this practice is almost asking for the art world to acknowledge the viewer a little bit more. But what in turns makes such work memorable is the conductor or facilitator. In this case it’s 6’6 black guy with a dope hair cut, along with a great smile and an extremely personable demeanor. Along with the sense of openness that Kambui gives you is the last layer that makes this piece, the sense of mystery about the artist.
Kambui has some of the most interesting stories to share with his audience as they riffle through hundreds of photos and they email photos to him from their smartphone in order to print out and exchange. In the stories shared with you is always this layer of how mysterious his life might be and the allure to want to know more. The irony of this is that his life is right there in from of you in 4 x 6 prints, decades of it in fact. You search through this archive of a life lived through pictures. You view everything from a young contemplative Kambui at the age of 15 to you seeing his friends, his romantic life, his family, his work, and his travels. You get almost a glimpse of Kambui till the present. What I was hoping to see during my time there on Monday and again on Tuesday was the most recent picture of Kambui being traded with him. I wanted to see a photo taken with him in the performance exchanged with a photo of him years before. I didn’t witness this but it doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. At this point all I can do is wonder and wait to run into the artist again, knowing that I’ll be walking away with a new story to tell.
Photo by Thomas Albrecht
Abbéy Odunlami is a Nigerian-American filmmaker and cultural worker, living and working in Chicago, Detroit & Switzerland. He did his undergraduate work at Eastern Michigan University in Electronic Media & Film Studies w/ a minor in Theatre Comprehension. In the past few years he’s focused on cultural production and worked as a curator, and in programming, coordinating and management for Sundance, Telluride film festival, Doha-Tribeca International film festival, and the Chicago International film festival. He’s currently pursuing two Masters degrees: 1.) at the School of the Art Institute Chicago in Art Education and the 2.) at the European Graduate School in Saas-Fee, Switzerland in Conflict Transformation & Peacebuilding. His current trend as a maker is to focus on creating livable “situations” as a means of producing ephemeral material that’s exhibit-able.