The idea behind this collaboration between Galerie Cécile Fakhoury and sculptor Jems Robert Koko Bi came from an encounter. The site, its geography, allows the artist to restore, consolidate, his past in the furrows of his current making. Here he chooses to invest a shared workspace, an open urban wood waste collecting site: a possible round table between men, between materials, at the heart of the city. Far away from his forest in Germany, to which he has got completely accustomed since he arrived there to live and work, Jems Robert Koko Bi is nonetheless here back home.
Out in the open on the lagoon side, a harbour: Plateau.
Piles of timber pieces with different sizes, shapes, traces, cuts, wears and tears, draw the outline of mountains. An unrelenting sound of operating machinery, a smell of gasoline and sawdust immerse us in the actuality of the artist realising his sculptures. In this chaos, labour is the force that binds material and man. There is only this left: wood and what it will become.
This digression in Jems Robert Koko Bi’s workshop-construction site during the preparation of his exhibition No man’s land is essential. Within the time and space of this creative process, the artist, who hasn’t worked in Abidjan for 30 years, revives the complex sensation of having stayed here.
An unfinished head. It was a tree trunk, not a big one. And then, afar, the mechanics of the body operated: slowly but surely, the first gesture of the hand, whilst the arms lifting, carrying to their last ounce of strength, the drawer of thoughts. Jems Robert Koko Bi’s tool and support were a chainsaw and wood. Following multiple deafening swings, a face comes out of the stump. The mechanised, sympathetic, hand drags it out. It has always existed, but it was hidden from the world. The gesture reveals its shape. In rhythm, through gentle touches, the artist seems to caress its surface, which he transforms at each passage. He awakens the element with a mastered intuitive precision: a dance armed with an iron fist in a breath of tenderness.
A barque with 100 figures, “Homeless” carries the mark of fragility and the artist’s commitment to reproducing a boat, recreating the cockpit of a dream. It is a narration, which questions its becoming, in transit, somewhere.
Jems Robert Koko Bi produces a work with multiple identities. Its structure can be dismantled. The masks are staged and gathered together between the planks, as in a group, but different hands sculpted them.
Face to face.Jems Robert Koko Bi relates to his tree trunk, the one that he chose, that he recognised. There is respect and dialogue between the two. Each piece of timber has a story, which inspires, draws, the outline of a shape, and guides his hand. In this intimacy, the artist tells us, reveals to us, the matter of the dead tree. Its new life takes on the appearance of a disproportionate, unbalanced, chair, which imposes its power. With his charred wooden faces, Jems Robert Koko Bi creates a gallery of portraits. Embedded into a wall, they stare at us in a visual racket: the variety of outlines, shapes and expressions that hold on to the same frame.
Retransforming the material, he draws the napes of necks, silhouettes, at the edge of a tree trunk, the centre of which was drilled and excavated. “Troncommun” is a round dance, a barely open circle, just enough for the viewers to see the characters breathe at its core.
No man’s land is a long walk through Jems Robert Koko Bi’s work, a large view of which is offered. It is this land with no aim, without men, a forgotten part of the world that he invites us to cross and maybe recreate. His preoccupations about the past and current history peacefully merge, they make sense together and they are reunited here, in Abidjan, for the first time.
Opening: Friday, February 13, 2015 from 6 to 9pm A performance of the artist in collaboration with the violonist Jean-Philippe Audoli, will happen during the opening. Jems Robert Koko Bi, born in 1966 in Sinfra (Ivory Coast), is an Ivorian sculptor and visual artist who lives and works in Essen (Germany). Former student of INSAAC (National Institute of Arts and Cultural Action) in Abidjan, he joins in 1992 the studio of sculptor Klaus Simon in Abidjan, then in 1997 he won a DAAD scholarship that allows him to go study at Kunstakademie Düsseldorf. Sculptor and performer, Jems Robert Koko Bi mixes influences from the avant-garde and from Africa. In 2000, he integrates a ‘’master class’’ with Klaus Rinke and receives the Prize of the Dakar Biennale. In 2008, he receives the Prize of Francophonie of the Dakar Biennale, with an artwork entitled Mandela, 27 000 pieces of life’s history. He took part to several international exhibitions, especially in the Ivorian Pavillion for 55e Venice Biennale (2013), to the Documenta in Kassel (2012), Bozar Museum in Brussels, Belgium (2010), in Wifredo Lam Contemporary Art Center, La Havane, Cuba (2003). His work was shown at Museum für Moderne Kunst Frankfurt in the collective exhibition: The Divine Comedy: Heaven, Hell, Purgatory revisited by Contemporary African Artists(2014).