Carved to Flow by Otobong Nkanga


    The word “support” has many meanings. “To support” can be to hold up, carry, brace, reinforce or underpin. It can also be to provide for someone or something – to take care of and look after. Furthermore, it can be to give moral support, to be a source of strength and comfort, to encourage, buoy up, hearten and soothe. In speech and thought, it can be to substantiate, to attest, verify and authenticate.

    As a thing of physical limits, a support can be a pillar or a beam, which through compression transmits the weight of the above to other structural elements below; it can be the place where the overlooking and the looking up meet. Whether small and wooden like a beam, or glassy metal like a post, or duteous marble like a caryatid, the purpose of a structural support is to be strong and unwavering; except of course for when the underpinning’s hidden, then beams and pillars can also be decorative – unconcerned with muscle but robust-looking to the eyes. As pillars compress to transmit weight, or sit still to look as if they are, they are not unlike tissues of plants that are joined together by aspiring horticulturalists to bolster up shared growth. The scion (the upper part of the combined plant) and the rootstock (the lower part) which keep the appearance of separate parts, come together to merge into one another – to permanently intertwine in this new life that is being grafted at the point where the overlooking and the looking up meet, like carrying on the head – human-powered transport – where burdens balance above sight but weigh heavily on the nervous system.
    Supports -the actions, the objects, the metaphors- they move in circles, concentrically expanding and coiling into and onto each other. One support supports another, one grafts into another, one is grafted from another and into another yet, inspiring ontologies of curves and arches – economies in which material flows out and back. Biological nutrients circulate and re-enter the biosphere. Technical nutrients circulate and re-enter the production system. They regenerate and restore, again and again, forming circular economies. And then, there’s that which unnamed, they generate silently for future generations to anatomize and look at.
Carved to Flow is one such circle arching out and back from Athens to Kassel to somewhere else. In Athens it is a laboratory where oils, butters and lye from all around the Mediterranean, Middle East, North and West Africa meet to create a soap. In Kassel it is storage and distribution, breathing stacked in towering blocks of saponaceous lattice, danced around through carrier hands to generate that which will circle back to somewhere else, to take new form – a no-waste product carved to flow.

Documenta 14
Kassel, Germany
Mai - September 2017