‘No Condition is Permanent’ is a familiar bumper sticker on the Nigerian ‘Danfo’ buses, the yellow Volkswagen vans that are the most popular means of public transport in Lagos. It is also the title of Emeka Ogboh’s first solo show in Paris. The artist’s obsession with Lagos – Nigeria’s economic and cultural hub and the biggest city in Africa – has been a focus of his work for about a decade, notably through the exploration of the megacity’s acoustic fabric.This show marks, however, a shift from Ogboh’s previous preoccupation with sound to photography and video, which the artist began exploring around 2014, when he relocated to Berlin, Germany.
A central motif in the exhibition is the kaleidoscope, both literally and metaphorically. Invented in 1816, it sparked a craze in Victorian England and then took off around the world. It became also emblematic in literary and philosophical discourses of visual, social and metaphysical change. Charles Baudelaire likened ‘the perfect flaneur’ to ‘a mirror as vast as the crowd itself; or to a kaleidoscope gifted with consciousness, responding to each one of its movements and reproducing the multiplicity of life and the flickering grace of all the elements of life’. In the 20th century, the kaleidoscope had a significant influence on the development of abstract and op art; it’s a back-story Ogboh’s more recent visual practice is informed by.
A kaleidoscope characteristically rearranges existing shapes in the real world into new abstract forms and outlines. This opening up or creating of new perspectives is manifested in the photo and video installations on display in ‘No Condition is Permanent’. Syntax Error (2018) is a large-scale photographic installation that consists of a grid of 28 small prints of an identical image of a street filled with Danfo buses and pedestrians, which are flipped vertically and horizontally; the grid is interrupted by a few empty spaces. Spirit and Matter (2017–18) is a lightbox triptych made of glass on which one photograph of a similar street scene is printed repeatedly arranged and mirrored in order to form symmetrical compositions. In the two-channel video Àià (Dream, 2014), a kaleidoscopic abstraction is evoked by means of mirroring and multiplication of footage of urban landscapes as well.
The element that binds the disparate strands of the show together, however, is sound. Conductors/Oshodi from the series ‘Sound Portraits’ (2018) – an installation consisting of two speakers framed in cadmium yellow painted boxes with two black stripes (a reference to the colour of the Danfo buses) – generates a sonic imaginary of the city via the looped driver’s announcements of a bus stop on a major Danfo route. His words echo like a mantra in the low timbre of his voice that merges with Beyond the Yellow Haze (2018), a composition of electronic music and field recordings played from the ceiling of the gallery space.
‘No Condition is Permanent’ is a reflection of the ever-changing nature of cities. Simultaneously Ogboh preserves an image of Lagos: fragmented, idealized and – like the grid of Syntax Error – filled with the blind spots of a distant memory.
Emeka Ogboh, 'No Condition is Permanent' runs at Galerie Imane Farès, Paris, until 24 November 2018.
Main image: Emeka Ogboh, Syntax Error, 2018, installation composed of 28 photographs, 40 x 66 cm (each), 5.3 x 1.60 m (total). Courtesy: the artist and Galerie Imane Farès, Paris