New York artist Kayode Ojo collects ready-made materials such as chandeliers, evening dresses, chains, faux crystal, music stands and acrylic bead door curtains in his installations that refer to fashion and consumer culture. The objects are often placed on mirrored or chrome plinths like those in the windows of luxury department stores, with which they share the allure of aspiration. Its use of counterfeit materials that resemble their authentic counterparts reflects society’s fixation on self-representation, class aspirations, and the anxieties inherent in aesthetic choices. In recent years, Ojo has had exhibitions at Martos Gallery in New York, PrazDelavallade in Los Angeles, and Balice Hertling in Paris. We met him before the opening of his solo exhibition at the Sweetwater Gallery in Berlin.
LOUIS-PHILIPPE VAN EECKHOUTTE: The title of your next exhibition is Call it what you want. Does this refer to Taylor Swift’s song?
KAYODE OJO: It’s also a song by Foster the People. We’ve had long conversations here in Berlin about music, electroclash, and this era of chamber rock. I remember it’s a Taylor Swift song too. I worked a lot on Taylor Swift. She’s from Pennsylvania, but she plays on the fact that she’s from the South. I think she went to Belmont, the music business college. It’s an hour from where I grew up.
VAN EECKHOUTTE: Did you grow up in Tennessee?
OJO: Yes. Born and raised. Call it what you want is a strange title for an exhibition. I did a show once and the hosts didn’t ask me about the title, I just saw a poster and they just called it what they wanted.
VAN EECKHOUTTE: What changes in the work will people see between this exhibition and the previous solos?
OJO: This one isn’t directly based on a movie and there has been a shift towards masculinity.
VAN EECKHOUTTE: Does the work mainly take place in the studio or during installation at the gallery?
OJO: I do images called closed audition, so the work is auditioned somewhere. He is photographed in different ways. It starts with an audition. Then it actually gets closer to a performance when it happens, because at some point I have to go, unless I can teach someone how to do it. It happens on the spot. I used to tell people that it was basically very similar to making a sandcastle, but now they are permanent. I am going there and I have to be in space. It is very important for me to really look at the space because it is so attached to the architecture.
VAN EECKHOUTTE: How do you know when something is thrown out and becomes part of the work?
OJO: I know when I get on the set.
VAN EECKHOUTTE: Where do you get the materials for your works?
OJO: Wherever they are.
VAN EECKHOUTTE: Mainly online or also in store?
OJO: It’s a mix. Lots of things are online. When you see the titles descriptions, if I uploaded them, they tell you exactly how they described them. That’s why you have all the different keywords. Because the bottom line is that’s how they make you find stuff online. Things like a ball gown, a party mix… When I worked for a gallery, one of my jobs was to find images and label all aspects of them. If I took a picture of you right away, I would say: books, curtains, glasses, a sweater, a camel, a youth, a man.
VAN EECKHOUTTE: Haim Steinbach once said that the artist-buyer must take both the point of view of the general consumer to whom the merchandise is marketed and that of the more detached critic. Is this also your approach when purchasing your materials?
OJO: There is nothing else to do, right? If I see a dress that I want, I can’t buy it any differently just because I’m an artist. I have to be the size I want, and I have to wait, and I have to fight with whoever wants to buy it. You cannot separate. When you buy these products, there can’t really be a difference. Because I can’t tell them that I need it for a different reason.
VAN EECKHOUTTE: What is the place of photography in your work and your process?
OJO: I am a photographer. I have always been one. The school I attended was very intense. The photographs I take now may be related to a certain amateur style. But what are they saying? You have to know the rules before you can break the rules. I had a teacher once who made us use math equations. In the beginning, we always had to think about what the mathematical equation we needed if, for example, you wanted to photograph a warship and have it all in focus.
VAN EECKHOUTTE: Reflection and mirroring are repeated patterns in your work.
OJO: My birth sign is Gemini.
VAN EECKHOUTTE: There is a particular kind of glamor and seduction reflected throughout your work that reminds me of the luxury aesthetic of the 80s and the set design of Dynasty.
OJO: I saw Dynasty. There is the show called Dynasty and the show called Dallas. Josephine Meckseper made a video combining the two. It was called “DDYANLALSATSY”. One of the things I love about art is that I learn about culture. When I was young, I was going back to Tennessee for the summer and there would be that eternity where nothing was happening. I watched the whole series. Dallas took place in Dallas, obviously, and Dynasty in Colorado, and they were both petroleum. I’m pretty sure I’ve watched the entire season of one that features Joan Collins.
VAN EECKHOUTTE: You are often looking for inexpensive items that look like their high end counterparts. What is the relationship between these and the ideas of the real and the authentic?
OJO: There is in fact no difference. I understand that some brands make things that last longer, but since it’s fashion, you won’t even wear them longer. I guess I have a question: why do people buy real diamonds?
VAN EECKHOUTTE: Maybe for the price fetish?
OJO: Some people like to spend money. I don’t know exactly what they get out of it. I know a girl who was a financial dominatrix and the guys paid her to spend their money.
VAN EECKHOUTTE: I saw that you had the book The Power look at home: decoration for men by Egon von Fürstenberg in your studio.
OJO: This book deals with the idea of a bachelor apartment and architecture for men. These are just pictures of guys with their houses, their cameras, their stereos, their booze. Guess it’s just a place you bring women to. I found it to be really interesting. People are talking about Hugh Hefner right now. Then there is also this test on the horizontal studio. This refers to my interest in architecture and the spaces in which my works are installed.