Dozie Kanu

Aoife Rosenmeyer

November 22, 2022
Galerie Francesca Pia, Zürich
October 15–November 26, 2022

Dozie Kanu blocks the entrance to Francesca Pia’s gallery with a low, square platform studded with cents. I take the H marked out in shinier coins to connote “Helipad” and edge past it into a series of bright rooms arrayed with sculptures composed largely from found metal objects. Among them is hang something metric (all works 2022), which makes a crucifix-like coat rack from a 150 cm rule atop a coiling metal pump component.

Though from Texas, Kanu now makes his ambiguous objects in a studio in rural Portugal. The influence can be seen in the selection of decorative Portuguese keyhole plates painted onto the wooden tabletop of aro pillars chukwu dinners, which is supported by thick metal pipes. Deep blue panelling collars the ceiling, rather than the base, of the central gallery: General State of Judgement and Concern. Its velvety hue is a pleasing touch, making the space a little cosier, and easier to imagine these objects in a living room. The patina on the tortured metal sheet in the light fitting Explosion Proof is so appealing—was there an explosion or is it to signify antiquity, accelerated for your convenience? It’s not all to my taste though. Chair [ iii ] (Dark), a poured concrete seat on top of a shiny car rim, is a bit too car culture, too overtly “masculine.”

Kanu’s titles often give a strong steer, though they don’t entirely guide the viewer. The helipad (unresolved design marathon dance continua [Hermès, Houston])? I should have danced across it, not skirted it. Amid the collection of objects that seem to operate through generic resonance or symbolism are autobiographical elements that refer to Kanu’s Nigerian heritage: the wooden Headboard (Love Crime) with foreign handles added on either side, into which are inlaid the first pictures of the artist with his father and mother respectively. And on a small Raspberry Pi display tacked askew to the wall in a far corner plays (the title a link to watch online what’s scarcely visible in the gallery). It’s a messy video collage of hand-held phone footage and documentary, sandwiched between colour bands: kids in a car at night, a gathering of Nigerian elders, Nancy Pelosi kneeling, the young Travis Scott (a friend) in his bedroom studio, parties, sheep being herded past a car, and the artist seen on his webcam.

If the room were just that little bit shabbier, had just a hint more abrasion, I might consume this pile-up of disparate cultural sources without demur. One reason I struggle to is that Kanu walks a tightrope between design and art objects; do his works deserve our full regard, as they first suggest, or should they melt into the background as use objects? His Knuckle crate (rejected Vitra design)—apparently rejected as a mass product—features knuckle dusters inlaid as handles in wooden record crates, the Beatles in one, Juvenile in another. Weapons are repackaged as chic accessories, though it’s an uneasy disarmament.

I wonder if his references land the same way in Houston, Portugal, and Zürich. On YouTube, the artist bosses the screen, far from the hushed framing of the gallery. So the contortions involved in adding weighty scenography to the studied construction of a white cube, this one with a post-industrial heritage to boot, is at odds with the deliberate carelessness of the video. Is something being shared, or sold? It feels as if my role as audience is being interrogated too. Leaning against the panelling is Chair [ xix ] (head hunt), a tall lookout, guard’s, or referee’s chair looming above the gallery and visitors. The artist is calling the shots, taking liberties with sources and tone with admirable chutzpah. What he does not provide is an easy answer to how one reads an exhibition of things that roller-coast from the register of reverence towards the art (consumer) object, to street violence, to don’t give a fuck.

Design, Sculpture, Installation, Theater

Aoife Rosenmeyer is a Zürich-based critic.

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November 22, 2022

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