Don't Trust Me, I'm Homeless
Of course, like all art, it’s open for interpretation; but it’s obvious that the intellectual work behind these pieces has already been done. This is intentional on Nnamdie's part, a response to what he describes as the current shift in pop culture: “Responsibility [shifts] from the producer to the observer,” he explains. “Images no longer enable themselves; they are granted the status of meaning-bearers by their audience.”
Don't trust me, I'm homeless is not just a response to this barrage of meaningless images, but a space where the resistance’s strongest warriors can all call home.
After the craziness of opening night, office sat down with Nnamdie to learn more about the show. Read our interview, below.
Tell me about the title. What does 'Don’t trust me, I’m homeless' mean?
The title is a statement that I know is jarring and was prepared to have a discussion about. Karen from Ed. Varie and I were not interested in poking fun at homelessness or mental health issues—the title is an entry point to a conversation that needs to be had. It’s about giving space to people who you might not think would ever make it. The statement 'Don't trust me, I'm homeless' translates into, “I don't need your trust, ‘cause I’ll be alright anyway.” And the dictionary definition [of homelessness] is broad. It’s about being a thing without a home. I’m hoping to expand that definition to people who have ideas but nowhere to put them—that’s what the show was about.
What was the reaction to the title?
I got a lot of trolling, a lot of DMs. People didn’t understand it. It was quite interesting to talk to these people and let them know that I want to talk about it, but I’m not going to put up with online bullying. I wanted to tell people that it’s okay if you don’t understand, but come by the gallery, anyway—I would love to actually talk about the show. Once you’re inside, you’re hit with the reality of it.
Some words trigger people—words like ‘homeless’—and that can halt conversation; or it can spark it. Sometimes real self-reflection is messy.
Yeah, and they might not even be going beyond surface level which is not interesting. I want to penetrate people, including myself. The title even makes me uncomfortable but as a person of color, I felt it would be important for me to stand, not buckle or waver, and to just speak about what this is as much as I can.
How do you think pop culture has impacted our understanding of art?
I think pop culture has completely shifted so many times—it shifted when I was writing the press release and it’s shifting as we’re having this talk right now. It’s ever evolving. I do feel very strongly that the internet is taking on different forms. So, there are lots of artists that have thousands of followers, but have never had a real show until now. Yet they already have celebrity. It's just so many things. One of our artists, Lizzi Bougatsos, she says shes the joker of the art world—her piece is expired dog excrement encased in a mason jar.
Was that the piece you were guarding?
No, that was by Valentina Vaccarella, an Italian artist born in New York. That piece is really important to me and her. It's about her past careers that had to do with her body, sex work, etc. She casted her body and placed her birth control pills that she didn't want to take anymore, because they were driving her loopy, in the cast—they were embedded in the body.
How did you choose which artists you wanted to include? What connects all of the work in the show?
I didn't know that I was going to have such a wide array of people. Like I said, [the show] has been marinating in my mind for two years, so it went through different phases and titles. I had some artists in mind, though. I always want to show an array of established and emerging artists. Unlike the show I did with Wolfgang Tillmans and Carlos Reyes, which was really specific, this show is more of a celebration of the underdogs, of people we thought might not make it—it's a celebration of us. That's the only connection. It's a unanimous, ‘We did it.’
As far as their practices go, they all have ideas and they all need a home for those ideas. That’s all the show is about. There’s no focus on just one person. Jordan Wolfson’s work is in the show, titled ‘Con Leche 2009,’ and while it is the main audio of the show, it’s not the main focus. Jordan is amazing, for me, because his work operates on so many levels, and so does the exhibition. I’m not interested in being irresponsible with the audience—I wanted to guide them, but I also can't tell them what they should be thinking.
How important is it to have a physical space for work, opposed to visual?
It’s crucial for the work to breath. I’ve been thinking about this show for two years. It wasn't ready to come out to the world at that moment. Now, where we’re at politically, we need to have serious discussions about the future and not be too scared to talk about things that might be painful. The show is all about the artists—I didn't even want to have my name on it. It's about the idea of the show, and the space, and the idea of desperately looking for spaces—that’s what homelessness is: searching for a place to put yourself.
‘Don’t trust me, I’m homeless’ is on view now through February 10 at Ed. Varie Gallery in New York.