Jump to content

From the Cutting Room Floor: Otobong Nkanga

by Bridget Reilly O’Carroll

Our digital team pours over hours of footage when creating the videos for our exhibitions and events. But to tell a compelling narrative, a lot of material gets dropped on the proverbial cutting room floor. In the third installment of this behind-the-scenes blog series, we feature a few excerpts from an interview with Otobong Nkanga, the most recent artist to be featured in our Ascendant Artist series.

You stand very close to a white gallery wall and look along a crack upon its surface filled with a lightening gradient of brown organic material.

Installation view, Otobong Nkanga: To Dig a Hole That Collapses Again, MCA Chicago, Mar 31–Sep 2, 2018. Work shown: Anamnesis (detail), 2018. Coffee, tea, peat, tobacco, cacao, spices; dimensions variable. Courtesy of the artist

Photo: Nathan Keay © MCA Chicago

About the Video

Due to Otobong Nkanga's busy schedule, as well as our own, the only time we could interview her was as she installed Anamnesis—a huge installation within a wall that is filled with fragrant materials like coffee, chocolate, and peat. As she led us through her works, we asked about her choices of materials, the roles body and biography play in her work, and her visual aesthetic, among many other questions.

Two clips we couldn't fit into the larger narrative of the video, but are quite attached to, provide insight into Otobong's practice and how she sees the world. The first is a lovely glimpse into the artist's personality as she digs into her materials for Anamnesis; the second is of Otobong talking through her idea of stone as a body and explaining the hybrid figures that appear throughout her work.

From the Cutting Room Floor: Otobong Nkanga video still

Video 1

From the Cutting Room Floor: Otobong Nkanga video still

Video 2

This is the tobacco! It's just amazing. I think it is more or less like pipe tobacco. Not like the normal cigarette ones. That's really nice.

Mmmmm. We have the coriander seeds that are—I can even hear the sound, it’s kind of—I kind of like it.

Ahhhhhh. Green tea. So you have that.

I like each and everything. I eat—I just fill green tea and clove.

This one. This one I can—Mmmmmm, mmmmmm. This is chocolate mulch.

And here—Ahhhhhhhhhh! Sorry, sorry. [Laughs] We have the coffee. I don't drink coffee but I love the smell of coffee.

For me, it’s very hard to dissociate or to give different kinds of hierarchies to the body, or landscape, or soil, or stone. So the body, for me, is the same thing as when I’m looking at materials, as—if we think that the body contains a huge percentage of water, and contains a certain amount of iron, would contain a certain amount of calcium. So we’re actually in a different kind of constellation compared to, let’s say, a specific kind of mineral or specific landscape, or even a plant. But the plant will still contain specific kinds of minerals. So that composition of what we are is very close to what we find in other places, in other structures.

So I’m interested in that connection of the body as ways of looking also at landscapes, materials, and to play with those materials, and to think of the body as—the only thing is that maybe we have a very direct vocal, immediate—we can say what we think at this point in time, because we have the voice, we have the sound, and we have language.

But if we think of a stone, it doesn’t have that possibility to move itself as we do. Like we wake up in the morning, we breathe, and like, “oh, it’s a nice day,” we move on. But I was—sometimes I consider, could the body of the stone actually be doing something different that we do not know because it’s not part of our kind of language?

But I’m . . . that’s why I think within the drawings, that idea of body, body connected also to other materials, like the body with a plant, the body with a sculptural object around its waist, the body with a stone, the body—because both have more or less the same—or comes from a place where I can see where they connect and where they have, where there can be a kind of discussion happening within that.

So in that way, even if we think of everything that we use or everything that we have or that we make, the body is also connected to it, because in a way, it has to be constructed. It has to break it down. It has to make that materials contain or allow for the body to flow through it, to be in it, to rest in it, to sleep on it, to eat it. So it’s this kind of dependent-interdependency between the materials that we have and the body that has to survive and has to be sustained through those materials that we have. And that interdependency is being expanded through the kinds of works that I make.

Video Stats
Film date: Apr 14, 2018
Hours of footage: 09:20:00

View the Final Cut

Otobong Nkanga video still

Otobong Nkanga describes the ideas that form the basis of her work as she installs Otobong Nkanga: To Dig a Hole That Collapses Again at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago.