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The secret of the ooze
An ooze or thick, sticky substance has been present in Nicole Awai’s drawings and sculptures for many years. The sluggish flow of fluid has manifested in her work in different colours, but according to Awai, “in the last few years it has established itself in blackness.” With support from an Art Matters grant, this New York-based T&T multimedia artist recently spent time in Trinidad exploring what might have influenced the emergence and persistence of that ooze in her art. Awai acknowledges the impact of literature—specifically 1960s science fiction and Charles Dickens’ novel Bleak House—on her art practice, but she has became aware of another prompt in her work.
“Last summer I was getting ready for a one-person installation and found myself asking: What are the influences in the work? Why do I feel right with the ooze being black? Somewhere in the periphery, in the fog of my head, I thought about the pitch lake at La Brea. I come from this place that has this amazing phenomenon, so maybe that is an influence,” she explains. In thinking about her possible connection to the Pitch Lake, Awai makes reference to a hazy memory of a school field trip to La Brea. “I wondered why this memory is so vague, and then I realised I did not go on that trip. I missed it. Therefore, it was an imagined experience. The grant gave me the chance to have the real experience,” she says.
For much of the month of June, Awai worked from Alice Yard in Woodbrook, where she used a photograph she took of the Pitch Lake to produce a wall drawing she has titled Asphaltum Glance.
“The photograph I took at the Pitch Lake is of a little area of pitch probably as big as my foot, but I thought to myself that everything about the mythology and chemical, physical reality of the pitch lake resonated in that image,” she says. Awai drew and painted on the walls of the small gallery space at Alice Yard so that a dark, glimmering, slick ooze engulfed visitors. For the artist, the ooze is symbolic of a state of fluidity, even if that movement is not always perceptible. It represents a simultaneous state of creation and destruction, of continual renewal and an elasticity of being, which Awai sees as a key aspect of Caribbean identity.
“The Pitch Lake is constantly replenishing itself, just like us, taking on new form.” In keeping with the idea of regeneration and malleability, Awai painted over her work before she left Trinidad, restoring the gallery to its former state with white walls. For now, her Asphaltum Glance has been destroyed, but we can expect the ooze to seep, dribble and flow in new ways, to be born again, taking on a different incarnation in her future artworks.
About Nicole Awai
Nicole Awai earned her master’s degree in multimedia art from the University of South Florida. She lives and works in Brooklyn, New York, and currently serves as a critic for the Yale University School of Art. She has exhibited widely, showing her work at such institutions as MoMA PS1, the Brooklyn Museum, the Salvador Dali Museum and the Queens Museum. Awai’s work was included in the Biennial of Ceramic in Contemporary Art in Italy in 2003 and in the Busan Biennale in Korea in 2008.
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