Akay and Olabo: where the streets meet the gallery

Wonderland, Akay and Olabo, Mima, Jan 26-April 22 

Pablo Picasso once said ‘learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist’, and Mima’s latest exhibition certainly continues artistic traditions of rule breaking and rebellion as Swedish artists and urban explorers Akay and Olabo present a Wonderland of playful works that interrogate the rules and norms of how we occupy spaces.

Akay and Olabo began their artistic careers as graffiti artists and the attitude of non-conformity, exploration and a playful approach to urban environments, that is often associated with graffiti and street art, pervades Wonderland.

This sense of exploration is emphasised through visitors to the exhibition been encouraged to not only take in the artwork, but to actively take part in it.

For instance, upon entering the exhibition, visitors are greeted with the ‘Panopticon’: a wall of television monitors displaying various views of the museum, including several focusing on those observing the artwork itself. It is immediately tempting to walk around the room, moving closer and further away from the monitors, playing with the cameras, to toy with that which monitors and secures.

Likewise, ‘The Corridor’ asks visitors to interact with a series of doors that don’t conform to expectations with hidden openings, so many handles that opening the door requires and collaborative effort, and secret tunnels and ladders.

Climbing, crawling and discovering spaces: these interactive works transport you back to childhood perspectives when space could be engaged with playfully, and boundaries and rules could be gleefully ignored. This childhood sense of wonder at spaces is also fostered in ‘Nomads’, where a small bedsit is perched precariously on top of a tiny car that can be climbed into much like a tree house. This artwork similarly explores boundary crossing by presenting a surreal domestic space that at once conforms to and is at odds with more conventional approaches to residence.

Graffiti is also an art form that confuses public and private spheres, taking buildings and spaces seen to be the preserve of private companies and institutions, then transforming such spaces into public artworks.

This element of graffiti and street art also finds its way into Wonderland through private property signs, fence wire and security mirror delightfully betraying the original function through several artworks.

The subversion of the private is particularly distilled in Akay and Olabo’s documented entry into and exploration of abandoned, soon to be demolished and soon to be refurbished buildings.

If you’re looking for something that encapsulates the free spirit, exploration and rebellion of graffiti in striking, interactive and thought-provoking art pieces, put on some comfortable clothing and head to Mima – a  wonderful little gallery, just away from the tourist traps of central Brussels, that holds an exhibition sure to leave an impression (in the most literal sense for more clumsy visitors)!


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