STEVENSON is pleased to present Before It Is Completely Gone, a solo exhibition by Thierry Oussou, his first with the gallery.
Described as a ‘social archaeologist’, Oussou uses his direct experience of the spaces in which he finds himself – currently the city of Johannesburg as part of a month-long residency – to reflect on the complexities and curiosities inherent in the present moment.
Through his use of various media including painting, sculpture and video, Oussou brings reflection to this moment, crafting probing yet poetic commentaries on the threads that link the past and the future. A constant traveller between spaces and across continents, Oussou’s work embraces consciousness of being both inside and outside situations, both resident and visitor, with an accompanying awareness of the sensorial qualities of both past and present tenses.
In this exhibition, the artist focuses on the intersecting uncertainties of the South African and Beninese present, and imagines the strategies necessary in creating a ‘better future’ for both places – processes that involve the creation of scenarios where contemplation and increased awareness of everyday lived experiences are made more possible.
In a 2015 interview with Inga Lace, Oussou remarked:
I agree that changes should happen, but I have a desire to document the vanishing before it is completely gone, to keep the trace of the tradition, the imprint of the past in the future. Forgetting and not being aware of your own history can also be used as a tool of manipulation by politicians, thus I also feel there is a need to save some things just for the sake of knowing.
For his inaugural exhibition with the gallery Oussou has produced a series of new ink, acrylic and oil-bar works on paper that capture his responses to living and working in Johannesburg, and the visual, aural and psychic impact of this time spent in the city.
In addition, a new sculptural installation made from materials acquired through chance and ‘investigative ambling’ in and around the city will be presented. In this iteration of the artist’s ongoing series of immersive sculptures, tree branches gathered from Johannesburg’s public parks are composed into a precise yet whimsical maze-like structure in the gallery’s main space.
Set among the natural detritus are a variety of wooden chairs and stools – some found, some purchased in city markets, others carved by local artisans. These forms create the space for the audience to sit and reflect on the pathways and thoroughfares around them. Manifest gestures of welcome, they are also forms that complicate notions of comfort and community by evoking what it can mean to ‘take a seat’ – that is, authority and power struggles. As parliamentarians campaign for seats and nations navigate through the trauma of imposed sovereigns and their thrones, Before It Is Completely Gone observes the tensions of the present, exposes their historical roots and posits the future as a malleable unknown.
Considering contemporary debates around decoloniality, cultural preservation and ethical consumption – debates rooted in reorganising the present with the aim of seeing change in the future - Oussou invites an immersive questioning of the present as a means to better understand our current flux and imagined futures.
Oussou was born in 1988 in Allada, Benin, where he founded the art studio Yè; he continues to give workshops on arts and visual culture in schools and cultural institutions across Benin. He has participated in residencies at the Rijksakademie, Amsterdam (2015), and Dokoutin, Brussels (2014), and exhibited at the Dakar Biennale in 2014.