by Aoife Donnellan // Feb. 26, 2021
Following your “gut feeling” is oftentimes determined as an irrefutable answer to life’s questions, but what happens when your gut is tainted by external forces like oppression, abuse and neglect? The latest exhibition at Galerie im Turm, ‘Hands Full of Air’ by artist Monilola Olayemi Ilupeju, is an exploration of the intersection between intuition and community. The work examines who and what has affected the artist, in ways both visible and invisible.
The door to the gallery space opens to reveal a colourful blanket fort taking up the majority of the room. The room is small and so the structure dominates the visitor’s first impression of the space. The artist has constructed a tent-like structure out of different materials, supplied by artists from all over the world. Some are ready-made and others have been materially altered, with print or with paint. The structure is inviting, offering the chance to remove your shoes in a public space and engage physically with a world that has been created for you. The tactile and immersive nature of the work makes the experience feel childlike, as you inspect the ceiling and peer around corners to discover more of what the fort has to offer. Around these soft corners are TVs and projection screens, featuring more of Ilupeju’s work.
‘My Sexual History Vol. 1, Ages 4-17’—shown on an old television whose light flickers in acknowledgement of its age—consists of words scrolling along the screen describing sexual experiences from the perspective of the artist as a child. It describes sexual abuse alongside childhood curiosity. The continuous scroll of the narrative is overwhelming; it moves at a pace that allows for comprehension, but not understanding. It is only after you leave the fort and gallery space altogether that you have a moment to piece together the disquieting knowledge impressed on your mind.
The role of the simultaneously comforting and confusing fort becomes clearer as you continue through the video works. There is a beanbag in the centre of the fort with a projection overhead. ‘Das Gift/The Poison’ is a 10-minute mixture of personal, found and collected footage. The video appears to be of young teenage boys but, as it is shot at night, only their voices can be heard. The group of boys are putting out cigarettes on one another’s skin. After a boy called Nathan agrees to have a cigarette extinguished on his forearm, calls of “What a fucking trooper!” ring out, and as the video ends there is a solitary “Nathan, I love you.” This intersection of euphoria and abuse captures the intention of the exhibition. Each video explores a brutal and disconcerting idea from childhood that shapes the intentions behind intuition.
The fort itself begins to take on a sinister role as you progress around the space. As each video work introduces deeply personal narratives, the walls of the fort feel like another chorus of voices. With this exhibition, Ilupeju intended to examine the boundaries of the individual in contrast with larger communities. By inviting artists to contribute fabric and labour to her project, she created a structure that celebrates the chorus as well as the solo voice. There is ambient sound playing, ‘Whisper Score (Das Gift/The Poison)’, and tiny voices escaping from earphones that accompany video pieces. What began as a comfort becomes complicated. The structure of the fort proffered an invitation to enter and escape the overwhelming state of adulthood, only to replace it with overstimulation and trauma; the brutality of childhood.
As well as the video works, there are a number of digital fabric prints, sculptures and paintings. One of the latter appears above eye level behind an opening at the far side of the fort. An oil and acrylic on canvas titled ‘It’s okay to collapse into a cliche!’ depicts a face with a beauty product face mask. The effect is of being watched as you leave the fort structure behind you.
Experiencing what feels like the constructed personal space of another person, after being confined to one’s own domesticity for so long, heightens the disquieting effect of the work. The vulnerable state in which you must experience the work—sometimes on your back in a beanbag, always without shoes—adds to the feeling of fragility in the work. The environment created by the artist encourages exploration and reflection, as you move your body in unexpected ways around the space. ‘Hands Full of Air’ captures the feeling of pursuing your own intuition and the boundaries that must be crossed in the process.
Galerie im Turm
Monilola Olayemi Ilupeju: ‘Hands Full of Air’
Curated by Jorinde Splettstößer
Exhibition: Dec. 10, 2020-Mar. 28, 2021 (Closed until further notice)
Frankfurter Tor 1, 10243 Berlin, click here for map