No Longer and Not Yet: Lagos x Johannesburg
50 Golborne presents No Longer and Not Yet: Lagos x Johannesburg, a joint exhibition by Brooklyn-based, Nigerian-born, Olalekan Jeyifous and South African artist, Jake Singer. The exhibition aims to set up a conversation about their respective visions of Lagos and Johannesburg.
The No Longer and the Not Yet is Jacques Derrida’s very definition of time. This essential antagonism is found in the work of both Jeyifous and Singer: a forever evolving urban landscape, haunted by the spectre of Modernism. A No longer and not Yet time in which destruction and construction are intimately linked, as are order and chaos.
Olalekan Jeyifous, who initially trained as an architect (Cornell University, USA) reveals the unusual diversity of his practice from hand-cut paper collages to digital sketches inserted in photography and 3D computer renderings—artistic media and techniques that allow him to create dense, heterogeneous compositions relating to formal and informal urban and architectural design. The artist states, “the city generates a natural tension between the given, and the ways in which it is neither wholly known nor imagined but continuously constructed.” This idea is embodied in the Not My Business collage series, in which he creates strange follies – a record of his memory of the city of Lagos mixed with what he knows about it today.
Some critics have coined the word ‘Afrofuturism’ when referring to Olalekan Jeyifous’ work. According to Professor John Jennings, Afrofuturism “is about imagining different spaces of creative thought that don’t put your identity in a box”. It can be argued that Jeyifous sees Lagos itself as an Afro futurist motif, a space rich with fundamentally pluralistic aesthetics. On the one hand, Modernism represents the decaying presence of the ex-colonial power as well as a period of appropriation, after the independence. The Government Housing drawing, for instance, illustrates a search for the means to deliver socio-economic solutions to the people. Jeyifous goes further: his imagined Shanty Mega-structures may borrow their verticality and scale from Modernism, however he opens them to a ‘Not Yet’ web of connections by anchoring them in the movement of the city itself. Instead of displacing its poor inhabitants, his imagined Lagos reminds us of Derrida’s City of Refuge. A city in which “there is a tower that keeps watch over ‘me’ and surveys the core of my heart”.
Jake Singer’s works include photographs, abstract drawings and sculpture. His work refers to the modern city mostly in the duality between regression and progression, order and chaos, pain and ecstasy. In his photographs, staged people clad in the bright colours of safety gear— acid oranges or greens—seem to be struggling to climb or stay on a vertical wall composed of various construction debris juxtaposed with cut motifs of urban towers.
For Singer, the motif of the tall or high tower appears as part of the periphery, as a background or a ‘pièce rapportée’ to the composition that is overwhelmed by the representation of what it hides. For example, we see abject building materials: foamy, plastic substance that he photographs or uses in his sculptures; or important elements that are part of the modern building but hidden to the eyes, such as fire escape stairways.
Singer mocks the presumption of Modernism as rooted in an ideal of almighty order that can defy chaos. He shows us an order that is becoming ’No Longer”. For instance, the sculpture Escalation Incident with Absence symbolizes security and a pragmatic architectural approach. Fire escape stairways are indeed the first element architects have to implement on a building plan. However, Singer’s stairways are twisted in a way the renders their use impossible. It tells us that the rigor of order cannot overcome destruction, and that no man can dream of having a total control of his life and environment.
Born in South Africa in the time when the Apartheid ended, Singer explores a symbol of a power structure, of laws that can be calculative and repressive. He deconstructs our need of control and reassurance and questions the laws of our modern city: as a young Johannesburg-based artist, he shows us how not to be scared by the chaos that lies beyond the old order and how to create from its crumbling debris.
Jeyifous and Singer force us to cast a critical look at an order we take for granted. They ask, we ask ‘What is the city for?’ And each in their own way, they give us the key, question your heritage, deconstruct the past, and dream the future today.
March 18, 2019