Immersive, Afrofuturistic installation opens at HPAC

Staff writer

Filling the entirety of Gallery 1 and its catwalk, artist Folayemi (Fo) Wilson’s “Dark Matter: Celestial Objects as Messengers of Love in These Troubled Times” has opened at the Hyde Park Art Center, inviting viewers to consider a “celestial AfroFuturist landscape” complete with “cosmic orbs” and a suspended shotgun house frame — an immersive mix of architecture, video, art and sound.

“I think the Western view of art is so divorced from the body: you make art, it’s on the wall, you view it — there’s a distance,” Wilson said at a March press preview. “I think in the African worldview, form, function, beauty is all the same thing, and everybody has access to it.”

“I think that’s why I’m creating a more bodily experience, so it’s not just here that you’re experiencing, or not just looking at it. You’re not divorced. You have to feel it, and I think the African worldview very much acknowledges what you don’t see, the spirit, that it’s part of things that we have that is not necessarily acknowledged by the Western world because you can’t prove it scientifically. But it’s there. It’s definitely there.”

Wilson, a Columbia College Chicago professor, said the show has been in development for over two years. Back then, “the country’s landscape and emotional landscape was very different.” Though she had originally brainstormed ideas of toying with play, the election of President Trump moved her in another direction.

“I want to make America nice again. I think we need to be a country that holds generosity to others who are less fortunate than the privileged lives that many of us lead here, and we need to be much more generous about our privilege,” Wilson said. She began to think of the gallery space as one of reflection, a place to invite the diverse community in to explore.

Space is the motif, adorned with lots and lots of glitter, causing different perspectives as one moves around the room because of how the light reflects off the walls. Wilson sought to engage the five senses (RW: How is she involving touch, smell and taste?), with the soundscapes (with three speakers running simultaneously), room to explore, dark lighting and videos of the Sun, Jupiter and the Moon.

“I have a lot of interest in vernacular architecture,” Wilson said. At a previous installation at the Lynden Sculpture Garden in Milwaukee, she designed a slave cabin as a “cabinet of curiosities,” “a place where time moved between the past, present and future simultaneously.” Shotgun houses have roots in West African architecture, their long hallways and pitched roofs designed so that air circulates and hot air rises. At the HPAC show, the shotgun house is a spaceship that traveled through an “intergalactic Middle Passage to be here, to deliver these messages of love.”

The ceramic orbs came from her residency at the Kohler foundry in Wisconsin; she made them from sink casts, putting them together while they were still wet. She made three dozen orbs in total, some hanging and some on the floor.

As a participatory space, “Dark Matter” will be open to yoga practitioners; a meditation group that meets on Mondays at the Dorchester Housing Project has been invited into it, too. At the end of the exhibition, writer Krista Franklin will read a poem responding to it, accompanied by a jazz musician. Wilson will give another talk on April 9 about the work and Afrofuturism.

Asked about the meaning of Afrofuturism, Wilson spoke again of the African conception of all times’ simultaneousness, not linearity.

“There’s an idea of looking into the future very positively and imagining. I very much feel like the Black imagination is what saved us — the fact that we could imagine a better day when someone was hitting us on the back in the 17th and 18th centuries, when we were in chains, that was our imagination that helped us survive to imagine a better time, to imagine not having that kind of pain, to imagine being free. And without that, we would have been able to be that way.

“I think Afrofuturism lives in that space of imagination and freedom, where so many things can be imagined that can become real.”

“Dark Matter” runs through July 14.