Crossing Brooklyn: Kambui Olujimi, In Your Absence the Skies Are All the Same

Kambui Olujimi, In Your Absence the Skies Are All the Same (2014)

Through January 4, the Brooklyn Museum will present a major survey of contemporary Brooklyn art, featuring more than one hundred works from 35 artists. Crossing Brooklyn: Art from Bushwick, Bed-Stuy, and Beyond includes work in virtually every medium, including painting, drawing, photography, sculpture, installation, video, and performance, linked only by place and by an engagement with the modern world. Over the next several weeks, we’ll be rolling out profiles of artists who appear in the exhibit. You can read the rest here.

Kambui Olujimi’s video installation In Your Absence the Skies Are All the Same plays out on two adjoining walls in a dark room of the Brooklyn Museum. The walls are given over totally to quadrisected views of the sky that slowly throb and pulsate, as if you were looking at the sky through a kaleidoscope.

It would be a calming, beguiling experience, except that four speakers in the cardinal corners of the room periodically emit snippets of various recordings of “I’m Gonna Make You Love Me,” sometimes blaring, sometimes faint, as if someone were playing the song on a radio outside, and you were overhearing it drift through the window. The video and audio are on unsynced loops, and the dislocation between the peaceful shots of clouds and the rousing Motown song is vaguely hallucinogenic. You might see a sunset sky with a calming organ; four hours later, the sunset sky might be accompanied by a cacophony of sounds.

“I like work that’s durational,” Olujimi says. “This work is intended to be less of a ‘piece’ and more of a place people can visit and come back to. No single experience is reproducible. You can’t go back to the same sky. Hopefully it doesn’t let the viewer settle completely.”

Olujimi was born and raised in Bed-Stuy, and obtained an MFA from Columbia University’s School of the Arts in 2013. To create In Your Absence the Skies Are All the Same, he collected some 40 views of the sky, shot at different times of day, under different weather conditions, and in different locations, from New York to Cuba to California and the Midwest. The multiplicity of skies belies the work’s title; clearly, in no one’s absence are the skies all the same. When paired with different versions of the same love song, the suggestion is that some of our most closely-held objects of permanence—true love, the skies above—are shot through with details that are individual and ephemeral. Eternity, like infinity, is a concept comprised of particulates.

And yet, wherever you go, you will be accompanied by sky and your own need to love and be loved. Maybe it’s about to storm and your loved one is by your side, or maybe the sun is setting, and the prospect of love feels as forsaken and tragic as it does when Diana Ross sings about it. Olujimi tells me that while traveling earlier this year, he began thinking about how people express their love to one another. “The types of things they say, there’s a flattening—love is an erasure of the self,” he says. “You find yourself looking for something indescribable in a mass of things that are overfamiliar.”

But In Your Absence the Skies Are All the Same is not a critique of the modern notion of love so much as an alternate description of it. “A lot of my work is taking something from the collective imagination, these things we see as inevitable, given, and taking them into a world of gravity,” he explains. “Somewhere in that shift we can begin to question and reexamine our assumptions.”

Follow Phillip Pantuso on Twitter @phillippantuso.

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