Precious Okoyomon and Quintessa Swindell Are Dangerously Optimistic

Precious Okoyomon, Touching My Lil Tail Till the Sun Notices Me (installation view), 2022. Photography by Yasushi Ichikawa. Image courtesy of the artist, the Okayama Art Summit, and rossogranada.

Quintessa Swindell: Well, well, well. Hello again. I met you a while ago— well, I say that, but it’s been quite some time.

Precious Okoyomon: Hello!

Swindell: My first question for you is in regards to your culinary practice. At what point did the gears begin to turn? What was that key moment for you?

Okoyomon: I love to cook. It’s mostly just a time thing now. Making art can be an intense, involved process for me, and it just doesn’t leave a lot of space for cooking the kinds of meals I would like to. It’s unfortunate, because the idea of feeding people is—and has always been—at the center of what I do as an artist. I might have a secret pop-up in Tokyo this spring though, if you can make it.

Image courtesy of Quintessa Swindell/Instagram.

Swindell: Amazing. I’m curious what allows you to begin again. Is there a particular trigger for you to start crafting, imagining, and testing new work? Can you describe the feeling and how you nurture it?

Okoyomon: These days, it’s mostly space that fuels the work—whatever that means. You visit a place where you’re planning an exhibition, and you’re hit by something. It could be the tenderness of the air, the pulse of the sun through the building’s windows, or the silence of its history that gets inside of you. Then, hopefully, something special comes out of it. I used to spend a lot of time walking around New York speaking into a dictaphone and writing poems from the recordings, which I think is the same kind of process. But back to you. When I was in college, I used to say that it’s hard to care about art when all I care about is people. So, I wanted to ask you a few questions that I’ve adapted from a list by the poet Bhanu Kapil—first, can you describe for me a morning when you woke without fear?

Swindell: Ah yes, good ole Kapil! I think that, given my life experiences, I find it quite difficult to wake up without fear. I experience it quite often, and I greet it like an old friend. Without fear, I don’t think I would know where I’m at or what I’m doing. So, I welcome it. What is your greatest challenge in this period of your life? What do you think is your greatest reward?

Image courtesy of Precious Okoyomon/Instagram.

Okoyomon: It’s a challenge to stay dangerously optimistic. My greatest joy is being changed by encounters with endlessness. What do you think the consequences of your silence would be?

Swindell: I think the world would still turn. What about you?

Okoyomon: That’s a good way to think of it—the world will always turn, constantly spiral. Have you done anything to prepare for your death?

Swindell: Hmm...I don’t know exactly. But by choosing life every day, viewing death as inevitable, and seeing what’s after it, I prepare. What are essential facets to every work you create?

Okoyomon: I guess I think of myself as a poet. Poetry is about a lot of things, but great poems always work durationally—maybe that has something to do with why most poems are so short. That interest in time has sort of leaked into my work as an artist, where I am primarily interested in installation. I just want to make worlds, prayers, rituals, and sacrifices...experiences that you move through, and that move through you. Objects sort of bore me.

Swindell: What are you listening to right now? How does it move you?

Okoyomon: So much Alice Coltrane. Do you know the album Illuminations from 1974 that she made with [Carlos] Santana? It’s a miracle, a rapture. It makes my heart feel a kind of freedom, a love that holds me tight with clarity. Now, back to the work. I think acting is a really interesting medium for self-expression—because, in a superficial sense, it’s not about self- expression at all. How do you find yourself in the roles you take on, and what do you do if you can’t emotionally access the character you’re portraying?

Swindell: I haven’t heard someone say it like that—why do you think acting is not about self-expression?

Okoyomon: Hmm. Well, I wrote and directed a play a couple of years ago—this invocation of the end of the world that I worked on with the curator Claude Adjil at Serpentine Galleries. When we started rehearsing, I realized I had this fear of putting my poems into the bodies of other people. On some level, of course, that’s how writing always functions— but most of the time there’s this amazing unknowable distance between you and the reader. Actually watching actors give their bodies over to my poems sort of scared me. I guess that’s why I ask the question.

Precious Okoyomon, Touching My Lil Tail Till the Sun Notices Me (installation view), 2022. Photography by Yasushi Ichikawa. Image courtesy of the artist, the Okayama Art Summit, and rossogranada.

Swindell: That’s interesting. Because for every project I do, I need to have a personal connection to the character, the environment, or the obstacle central to their story. I find it impossible to perform things I don’t understand, and I think that has forced me to be really selective with what I choose to do. That understanding has also driven me to start creating the things that I feel no one else is talking about.

Okoyomon: That makes a lot of sense.

Swindell: What’s something you’ve seen recently that has inspired you?

Okoyomon: Theaster Gates’s show at the New Museum. His dedication to craft, to material—by which I mean earth—and the care he puts into the work is a form of God.

Swindell: Who do you celebrate and cherish?

Okoyomon: Gravity, my little poodle who holds down my grace. And my mom, who is pretty much an angel.

Swindell: Thoughts on choosing love?

Okoyomon: It’s an everyday act. The consciousness of the world is love—it’s the energy that moves everything. I try to be the best vessel of love that I can be, by searching for the self in others and moving towards it. It’s that kindness.