In Conversation: Candice Okada
Candice Okada’s ‘Emergency Situation’ speaks to the urgency and tension saturating the present day sociopolitical climate.
In this interview, we take a closer look into how Okada arrived upon the oxygen mask as symbolic object, the political connotations of her chosen materials, and her experience working with BAF’s Garage – a unique, street-facing exhibition space.
Can you tell us about your experience creating an installation for the Garage?CO
I had a lot of time to plan – about a year – for this installation which allowed me to experiment with different materials and techniques, and ultimately find a process that gave the results I was looking for. The space itself was also great to work with for the purpose of an installation, given its size and visibility from the public street. For me, the visibility of the project from outside of the gallery was a prominent feature as I do try and show work in more public accessible spaces. Also, working with the gallery staff and other exhibiting artists is always an enjoyable aspect of the process for me as I get to see how other artists work to create the final pieces that viewers see.
Oxygen masks are an object loaded with social and political connotations. Do you see your art practice as a way for you to share your perspective on these issues?CO
Most definitely. I tend to create art within a sociopolitical mindset as a way to make sense of, and address current affairs. In this case, I was trying to find a process, or object, that captured all the anxiety, panic, and helplessness that is omnipresent in our world. These are the feelings one experiences when oxygen masks fall on aircrafts. Whether it’s worrisome political regimes, inaction towards climate change, or increasing global inequality, there is a affective sense potential destruction that is undeniable. When I create a work, I hope that my work can evoke the feelings intended, but more importantly, I hope that the work can serve as a platform where future discussions about said issue can take place.
The textile masks you created have an uncanny resemblance to the real thing! Can you expand on the process of making them?CO
Much of my process is based around the concept of “home economics”, in all that the term elicits. Here, I am obviously concerned with notions of labour (paid and unpaid) and the management of one’s “home” and the gendered nature of both. So processes like food preparation, child development, cleanliness and maintenance, and for this work, clothing and textile, are central to my practice. The masks are all constructed from the same pattern that I drafted based on an original airplane oxygen mask. Like sewing clothing, I cut dozens of the individual pieces out of various yellow and white fabrics, and then sewed and glued them together accordingly. Once the yellow masks were constructed, they were dipped in a mixture of white glue and resin to solidify them. The shapes that they morphed into as they solidified and dried are a natural property of the malleable fabric, but also reflect the slightly asymmetrical shape that real oxygen masks exhibit when they fall from being held in the fuselage of the plane. After the masks were created, clear bags cut from vinyl fabric were attached with airline tubing. I forewent the image normally printed on real oxygen masks as I felt this took away from the presence of the actual, physical objects.
Was led you to choose oxygen masks as the subject of this installation? Were there any other contending symbols or objects prior to settling on the masks?CO
I chose the object of the oxygen mask, and its symbolic representation, primarily because it is something that I see regularly (not the falling masks though) at my job as a flight attendant. I had experimented with different objects, like political signage and more abstract objects, but they didn’t possess the feeling of urgency and panic that the masks illicit. I have seen first hand how people react when they are accidentally knocked down (from turbulence, people bumping their heads, etc) and the panic (although unnecessary) that incurred. I thought it was a fitting object for our contemporary socio-political landscape.
What’s the next step for your practice?CO
Like I previously mentioned, I am interested in working with processes and materialities concerning the topic of home economics. While I am fully aware that this specific term has fallen out of popularity (although it is still used), I think it fits perfectly with my practice as it directly and indirectly references gender, labour and value. Recently, I have become more interested in food preparation and nutrition, and how this operates within familial tradition and contemporary global trade agreements, and its place within contemporary visual arts.
Candice Okada’s ‘Emergency Situation’ is available to view 24/7 from BAF Gallery’s street-side, until March the 7th.