In 2012, Otobong Nkanga presented at Tate Modern, in London, Contained Measures of Shifting States, an installation composed of tables, and at the same time a platform for interaction between the artist and museum visitors. The piece also served as a study of the Tate’s collection and the relationships that visitors of different cultural origins are able to establish with it. Nkanga invited the public to engage in a dialogue regarding the intangibility of identity, memory and perception, observing how these things change when presented through specific arrangements and narrations.
Like in much of Nkanga’s work, the artist was the protagonist of the action, ‘dynamising’ four circular tables that contained such elements as liquid, ice, smoke and heat, which were seen or experienced in constant movement and changing states. In the eyes of the public, the alteration and changes took on a tangible character, addressing matters as elementary as they are often difficult to define and describe, for example identity in the contemporary world.
At the 31st Bienal, Nkanga follows up this previous work with Landversation, an installation that changes focus from the institution’s interior (the collection) to the exterior: the interconnections that Brazil and Brazilians establish with the land. A series of tables forming a circular structure serve as the basis for an exchange between the artist, visitors and a group of people who all have close – professional, caring, vital – relationships with the earth. These people might include geologists, housing and land rights activists, miners, people who use the land for farming, as well as others who transform the land itself into other products. What is ordinarily constructed through their contact with land now forms the foundation for new situations of exchange and transmission, and an exploration of the interpersonal networks established in the exhibition context of the Bienal and beyond, in the world at large. – MM