Critics’ Picks

View of “Gozié Ojini,” 2022.

View of “Gozié Ojini,” 2022.

Los Angeles

Gozié Ojini

in lieu
1206 Maple Ave Suite 903
April 9–May 14, 2022

How do we arrive at a sense of the dead? This question, it seems, is vested in the Buddhist mantra, where phonetic enunciations conjure mental pictures tangible enough for signification. But what comes to the fore while making meaning of these spectral scenes? This arrival—at sensing the dead—is actually in excess of what Gozié Ojini preoccupies himself with: breath. Ojini asks us to consider the air we draw in as a way to get us sensing loss.

Ojini is neither optimistic nor pessimistic about the coda—whether breathing can quietly disassemble the hauntings of the unlived. Off in one corner wall, Giant Steps (all works 2022) gathers a collage of diagrams, cyanotypes, and transparencies on a steel panel. Prominent among the drawings is an anatomical sketch of a surreal vasculature system. Its branching form serves as a reminder that breath relies on the fractal architecture of the lungs. Yet these plenteous veins in Giant Steps go nowhere and everywhere all at once, their ostensibly oxygenated content squandered, never interfacing with any organ. Some of the sinuous capillaries do weave around a transparency of an artificial womb from a 1955 diagram. However, this exchange between breathing and birthing seems unrequited. Another transparency documenting the sheet music of “Giant Steps,” a 1960 John Coltrane composition, drives home the fractal undercurrents that permeate cyclical rhythms, from jazz chords to breathing.

Nestled underneath the anatomical sketches of Giant Steps are four cyanotypes. The partially visible photographic prints depict slave ship ledgers. We see, rendered in cursive, a list of illegible and/or misspelled names of enslaved Black people. Such records not only “[enumerate] the dead and dying,” in the words of scholar Katherine McKittrick, but they remind us of “where historic Blackness comes from: the lists, the breathless numbers.” From what Ojini pieces together in Giant Steps, we arrive at the reproductive horrors of slavery: the treatment of Black women as serial entities and artificial wombs fueling racial capitalism.

Extrapolating Giant Steps to the reconfigured wind instruments lying about the gallery, I wonder what happens when these objects no longer function as designed? Or when the trumpet attached to a nitrogen canister (Embouchure) will deliver its breathless wheezing mantra? Yes, there’s a defiance of circular breathing. But when the nitrogen gas tank fueling Embouchure runs dry, what is sensible then? Perhaps that’s where death rattles and truly arrives.