James Ostrer explores race, greed and the tribal elite through his solo show at Gazelli Art House – “Johnny Just Came”.
English rising artist James Ostrer presented his new solo exhibition in Dover Street Gazelli Art House earlier this week.
The inspiration for James Ostrer’s Johny Just Came
In 2016, curator Azu Nwagbogu invited James to show his 2014 Wotsit All About series in Lagos, Nigeria. Naturally, Nwagbogu expected Ostrer to come along with his fetishised junk food portraits that had warned the west of over-consumption.
James Ostrer at athe opening of solo exhibition Johnny Just Came
Ostrer’s reaction in his own words was, “instant excitement for an ambition I never knew I had. However, this quickly turned into nervousness and suspicion”. He states, “I experienced perfectly and more clearly than ever before how the pervasive impact of racial cultural conditioning towards otherness affects us in terms of human divide through fear.” Even while aboard the plane to West Africa, the flight attendant amplified this sense of worry, warning him of the dangers of Lagos, explaining that the airline staff only travelled under armed guard.
Ostrer confesses to a “diva” moment on arrival, when he realised Mohammed his pre-arranged driver wasn’t at the airport waiting for him. He demanded that “if someone didn’t come and pick me up that I have already met, I will be on the next plane back to the United Kingdom.”
He arrived as a stranger in a town where he had repeatedly been informed not to take a random taxi from the airport. Did he land out getting a taxi? The answer is yes. Was he ok? The answer is yes. Did James come back to the UK ten days later the same person? The answer is No.
This installation, “Johnny Just Come” is a compendium of provocative art-works, encompassing performance, photography, film, multimedia installations and sculpture, all triggered by his journey for the first time to the continent of Africa.
Within a couple of days, having discovered the city of Lagos freely and without fear, Ostrer found himself walking along the vast stretch of sand know as Lighthouse Beach. He found a single child’s Prada flip-flop washed up on the shore, then another, then realised there were hundreds. At a time when the daily news cycle was dominated by stories of desperate migrants washing-up on the beaches of the Mediterranean and North Africa, Ostrer was struck by a deep sense of human loss as he thought about the narrative behind these scattered items. Powered by the notion that the flip-flops en masse could serve as a compelling visual metaphor, he quickly employed someone to help him collect them. Within 12 hours this had escalated to a number of people.
Normally a left-leaning egalitarian activist, in his quest to acquire more flip-flops, Ostrer saw himself through the wrong end of the telescope. He says, “From a timid ‘Johnny Just Came’, I had turned into a pseudo colonialist chieftain. I used bribes where money didn’t get to those that deserved it, let people work for me in conditions that previously wouldn’t be acceptable to me. In that moment I perfectly epitomised a micro-ecosystem driven by white privilege and greed.”
However, when James attempted to transport these collected flip-flops over to Europe, the locals were reticent to allow James Ostrer leave the country with all these flip flops, presumably thinking that they are items of value to ‘strangers’.
Johnny Just Came Solo Exhibition by James Ostrer
Beginning of Everything
Tulips and Two Lips
End of Everything
Throughout the show Ostrer collages and layers both sculptural and photographic elements of various styles together to create disrupted and often disturbing images.
Within the vast footwear installation are his most recent photographic works from Currentsee ‘series’. For the central protagonist he transforms himself into a ‘dominant tribal leader, a powerful chieftain of all other subjects’. Meanwhile, women are tied-up and restricted in movement, their natural bodies obscured by consumerist debris.
For the first time, Ostrer also presented a trio of sculptures and the unsettling short film “Snuffling for love Truffles”. This moving image work takes the form of self-portrait where Ostrer acts out the role of Piggy, the absolute visual extremity of his own self-loathing and over-consumption. Filmed as a metaphor for self-annihilation, the film shows the piggy endlessly wanting more – and whether it’s about more pizza, chocolate, Rolex watches or wealth – Ostrer is certain that it leads to a cul-de-sac of emotional detachment and a lack of care for others.
Sculptures by James Ostrer at the pre-launch dinner.
He says, “Control of assets now is through data and the corporations are trying to make us more like the piggy in the video. Because if we’re controlled and addicted to what the elite are selling us, we won’t challenge them and the pathways of their power will be greater protected.”
“I thought I would never eat pizza after making this film,” James told Ikon London Magazine at the private dinner before the official launch of the exhibition. “But then I went ahead and ordered a pizza the next day.” In his new solo exhibition, James Ostrersynthesisesthe topics of gluttony and excess from his two previous shows, Wotsit All About and Ego Systems.
The special thanks on the pre-opening night went to James’s father, Paul Ostrer who, we were told, is always there to assist his son. “My dad is my hero and without this man nothing would have happened,” admitted James during his speech.
The exhibition runs until 16th July 2018 at the Gazelli Art House, 39 Dover Street, Mayfair, London.