When I received an email inviting me to “an immersive listening and visual experience” of the new Zola Jesus album Okovi called “Okovi: Surround – a Sound Experience provided bySonos” a couple of possibilities flashed across my mind. Would this be a IRL gothic world for me to explore, or a cheesy corporate sponsored art piece designed to plug Sonos headphones and Okovi? I had no idea what Zola Jesus was thinking when she (or her team) made the exhibit going in: her rep said she was too busy to comment. I hoped for the best, but it was fashion week here in NYC so I expected the worst. At 8 pm, I found myself in a line of New Yorkers in black outfits waiting to be let inside.
When we rushed in, we were greeted by a chemical smell and sheets of artist statements. A projector shot what looked like tv snow on a wall. Above the projector was a table with vinyl for sale and perfume vials of amber liquid to take. Later in my apartment, I confirmed it was the essence of the same scent in the room.
After walking into the next room where sci-fi alien invasion sounds droned, we looked at trees (no branches) chained to the ceiling. The room was barely lit, with flashes of white light from overhead projectors casting shadows of leaves on the ground. The base of the trees had chains and burlap around them and there was a long line for the bar. That was the whole exhibit. Hardly a whole world to explore.
I took a moment to make sure I wasn’t missing anything, and then sat down to parse through the artist statement, printed below with the same words bolded
OKOVI IS A SLAVIC WORD OF SHACKLES. WE’RE ALL SHACK-
LED TO SOMETHING – TO LIFE, TO DEATH, TO BODIES,
TO MINDS, TO ILLNESS, TO PEOPLE, TO BIRTHRIGHT, TO
DUTY. EACH OF US BORN WITH A UNIQUE DEBT, AND
WE HAVE UNITIL WE DIE TO PAY IT BACK. WITHOUT THIS
COST, WHAT GIVES US THE RIGHT TO LIVE? AND MOREOVER,
WHAT GIVES US THE RIGHT TO DIE? THIS ALBUM IS A SNAPSHOT OF
LOSS, RECONCILIATION, AND A SYMPATHY FOR THE CHAINS THAT
KEEP US ALL GROUNDED TO THE UNFORGIVING LAWS OF NATURE.
In that case, I suppose we were the tree trunks and the shackles were connecting us to death, minds, birthright, etc? The overall effect, especially after 20 mins when the droning changed to the distorted choral moans of “Doma” followed by “Exhumed”, was too on the nose, though still impactful.
Zola Jesus isn’t a subtle artist, and the environment she created was an ideal place to listen to the album. Below her statement, another one explained “this installation echoes the emotional landscape and textures transmitted through the Okovi album in full sensory journey brining together the sense of sight, sound, touch and smell.
The word impressed is taking it a bit far—it was cool, just in a very hot topic middle school kind of way. Does that make sense? Cool despite the cliches.