Wetin You Go Do? – Otobong Nkanga

Yesterday was Saturday…hopefully you all knew that and I’m not breaking some exciting news there, but what that means to me is…it’s my day of the week to go and break the monotony of working life and get out and explore. The Tate Modern was my destination yesterday. I’ve not been since they had the Damien Hurst exhibition there, so I was really quite excited to go back and see what little treasures they were hiding this time.

If you’ve never been to the Tate Modern, it’s the old Bankside power station which was designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott (who was the architect of the Battersea power station). This is now one of the largest museums of contemporary and modern art, and its split between two areas….the boiler house and the switch house (Blavatnik building). While I walked around most of the areas yesterday, what really caught my eye was something in the tanks. The tanks are fairly large chambers right at the bottom of the switch house. I love how this area differs from the light and airy spaces further up, with cement pillars and an almost grimy feel to it.

On walking in to one of the tanks and seeing large concrete balls attached together by rope, I was really taken with it. I instantly felt that I was looking at a network, and the sounds which filled the room were initially quite hard to pint point what they were, it gave the impression of a babble going on.

As I stood taking in what was in front of me, the sounds become clearer, and there is a mix of English, French and what I later found out to be Nigerian Pidgin conversations and songs overlaid on each other.

Some of the concrete spheres are coloured in soft pastel colours, but the majority are white, and they are gathered in clusters, with a heavy rope weaving through the them, entwining them.

As you walk around the room, you realise that there are trigger points on the walls which set each conversation off, therefore to get the full feel of this piece you really do need to take the journey around it.

When you read Nkanga’s break down of what is being done here, it made total sense to me, albeit I didn’t see the spheres as people, I just say them as a representation of social entities, for some reason I got images of life bouys floating out at sea, each linked to each other and unable to move around much without taking the others with it.

The curators notes on this piece say…

“The installation consists of concrete spheres connected to each other with heavy ropes. Sound can be heard from three of the balls, carefully edited and layered, with each sphere representing a different imaginary character. These soundtracks are part narrative and part song, and shift between stream of consciousness and profound statements in English, French and Nigerian Pidgin, an English-based Creole language widely spoken across Nigeria. In a dialogue improvised by the artist, the characters reflect on life’s difficulties, asking ‘Wetin you go do?’, a colloquial term in Nigerian Pidgin meaning ‘What are you going to do?’

The spheres are arranged in small groupings that mimic the way people gather in a crowd. The ropes connecting the spheres suggest networks within society. As such, the work can be read as a metaphor for the interconnectedness of life. With some of the concrete balls weighing more than 600 kilograms the work might also signal the impossibility of moving forward alone.”

This shows social anxiety and a reliance on a network.

I really appreciate that this might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but you can’t get the full effect of this rather sensory encompassing piece unless you see if live. So if you’re in the vicinity of the Tate Modern, pop in and see it….it’s free and the museum is open until 10pm.

If you wan to see more of Nkanga’s you can see it here


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