An encounter with a high mountain dandelion last summer proved to be a defining moment for artist Precious Okoyomon as they planned an immersive installation for the rooftop sculpture garden of the Aspen Art Museum .
The Nigerian-American artist and poet, who has caught the attention of the international art world for his recent groundbreaking work on plant life, will open the much-anticipated installation on Friday.
A combination of gardens, seaweed water, edible fruits and plants, ceramic sculptures and sound works entitled “Every earthly morning, the light of the sky touches our life unprecedented in its beauty”, it will be in place – in evolving and restorative forms – until September. 2022.
While exploring the mountain flora here last summer to prepare for the installation, Okoyomon especially became attached to the unusually large invasive local dandelions whose pappus does not fly away. Okoyomon remembered blowing one out for five minutes without moving a bit, then trying to shake it in the wind, becoming exasperated and then deeply inspired by it.
“I love it,” Okoyomon said with a laugh in mid-May during a residency at the Anderson Ranch Arts Center in Snowmass Village, where they made all of the ceramics for the installation. “The dandelion has actually become one of the inspirations for this tough, unbreakable garden.”
Embracing this type of plant life, rather than the neat and idealized creations one might think of a landscape artist, has become the driving force behind the installation that will pollinate both native and invasive species.
“It was an a-ha moment,” Okoyomon, 28, recalls. “Like, ‘I really want to make space for all the indestructible things that people consider unwanted.'”
Okoyomon’s opening of Aspen follows winning the 2021 Frieze Artist Award and directing a performance piece, “This God is a Slow Recovery,” at Frieze New York, as well as the opening of an acclaimed installation that included streams, fish, insects and wildflowers at Performance Space New York this spring.
One May morning in an Anderson Ranch studio, Okoyomon was surrounded by ceramic tiles fired in ranch ovens to be placed on the walkways around the garden facility, some with sketchy poems written on them, many with drawings. of joyful flowers engraved and glazed.
Okoyomon was also working on sketches for an eight foot tall “angel protector” sculpture with a bird’s nest in his chest, 60 small concrete angels (on which moss was to grow) and planned to make 3D printed parts. in the Ranch manufacturing lab. Earlier in the day, Okoyomon had met a jazz musician helping to create the interactive soundscape for the installation. The artist has made sound recordings around Aspen with musicians this month.
“The garden is basically a giant soundboard,” Okoyomon explained. “Everything will be detected by movement. As you walk past, the music is going to be constant.
All of these intricate pieces are meant to create an abundant dream world for museum visitors to find what they need.
“I create the spaces but I don’t want to give you the experience,” Okoyomon explained. “I want you to come over there and decide what you want to do there for yourself.” I just hope I can create a space where you feel safe, a little weakened by the world, and rested – like a little escape from the real stress and anxiety of the world.
Okoyomon has many collaborators on Aspen’s work, including museum curator Claude Adjil – who functioned as a sort of project manager for this massive venture – and local birds, butterflies and wildlife.
“I’m delighted to attract all the wildlife to the garden – like the hummingbird mania,” Okoyomon said.
The museum’s installation crew swarmed around the roof Wednesday morning, placing the installation’s flower beds. Okoyomon envisioned it to include seven small hills of soil, two ponds, and eight fruit trees among a wild menagerie of plant life.
“I’m really excited about the honeysuckle,” Okoyomon said. “I am obsessed with the smell of honeysuckle. It’ll just be delicious and inviting, like, “Come and get some fruit, please!”
Literally come to forage for fruit? Yes. Okoyomon hopes visitors bring baskets and eat the facility. The museum also provides regular public events, musical performances and educational opportunities for children for the installation. Okoyomon is bringing friends from across the arts to activate the facility with performances and gatherings over the next 15 months, including solstice utilities and a poetry retreat in the summer of 2022.
The Gardens promise to be a hub of Aspen’s art scene as a post-vaccine summer dawns here, the COVID-19 pandemic is fading here with the relaxation of public health restrictions. Okoyomon may be an ideal maestro at this time. The artist’s groundbreaking work includes experiential food-based art, bringing groups together to sample the creations of Spiral Theory Test Kitchen.
The installation is also emblematic of the collaborative spirit that appears to be a product of the pandemic for local art institutions – bringing together Anderson Ranch and the museum to foster local Okoyomon work.
After opening this weekend, Okoyomon will return home to Brooklyn, but will return in August to redo the gardens in their next iteration. Learning how to create abundance in the harsh high mountain climate has been fun, said Okoyomon, working with naturalists at the Center for Environmental Studies in Aspen and with local producers. In winter, Okoyomon expects to take advantage of the melting snow to keep the garden alive.
“It will be mostly black flowers,” Okoyomon said. “It’s going to change from this beautiful and powerful edible environment to this garden of creepy resilient vines and little flowers. A lot of things did not die in the winter. They just go to sleep.