Ayo and Oni Oshodi
“And when you finally disappear / We’ll just say you were never here”
Terrace Gallery, mac Birmingham
7 December 2013 – 2 February 2014
As artists and public figures go, Ayo and Oni Oshodi are among the most secretive, with the level of mystery surrounding them up there with Banksy, and Hannah Montana.
Their installation piece recently seen at mac Birmingham follows in the elusive twins’ custom of secretly observing public interaction with their work.
Visitors are encouraged to peep through eye holes drilled through a structure and into the space beyond. A portrait of a weeping young girl stares back, and an initial nasty shock gives way to fascination as you realise that her frighteningly realistic devil-eyes are in fact your own, reflected in a mirror.
The effect this has is placing the viewer in the uncomfortable position of being confronted with their own gaze- for once YOU are the unlucky recipient of your ‘art appreciation’ face. The visitor becomes both the viewer and part of the artwork being viewed: a strange concoction that makes you want to keep looking, while simultaneously averting your eyes completely in a fit of self-consciousness.
Being placed in the position of the young girl in the portrait adds another layer to the already odd experience. Being put into the place of someone who may be of a different age, sex, and ethnicity makes you very aware of your own body, and its difference. The fact she is an idealised white child, presented by the Nigerian-born Oshodi sisters, brings up questions around the visibility of women of colour within the art world, and within portraiture.
While looking through the peepholes you are invited to listen to an audio excerpt. What you hear through the headphones is a recording of assorted voices, each reading aloud an entry from a diary kept by Ayo & Oni over the duration of their installation piece Brown-Eyed Girl (2010-2012). Brown- Eyed Girl involved Ayo & Oni taking turns standing behind this very same portrait painting with its eyes drilled through at mac Birmingham. This allowed the artists to watch guests, whilst crystallising this act into a performance. The recordings detail observations the sisters made about their watchers (including taking a fancy to a couple of handsome gents), and the viewers’ reactions to the piece, including some who poked or blew into the drill holes, or unsuccessfully tried to catch the twins blink. It becomes apparent that this new work is a playful re-staging of Brown-Eyed Girl, in which Ayo & Oni have deliberately put the gallery visitor in their place.
The reading aloud of the artists’ diary embodies private thoughts becoming public and, as the entries were narrated by Ayo & Oni’s Facebook friends, this reinforces the notion even further – with input into the piece coming from the ultimate public sharing platform. The genuine contribution of Facebook friends to an artwork removes them from the abstract concept of ‘online’ friendship and places them into a more tangible context.
Always happy for you to befriend them online, Ayo & Oni are with this piece exploring more ways to connect than simply confirming a friend request.
You can see Ayo & Oni’s work here: www.ayoandoni.net