A Contact Tracer Uses Soil and Data to Create A Set of “Mortality Paintings” Which May Be Too Big to Fit Into a Single Exhibition Space

LOS ANGELES, April 9, 2021 /PRNewswire/ — Ayzay Ukwuoma, a Los Angeles-based artist has completed a set of paintings that speak to the human condition of mortality. Sourcing the actual city landscape, Ukwuoma collected soil from various city locations, where deaths occurred one year before the advent of Covid-19. He used that soil to create a collection of landscape paintings, each of which he hopes will serve to construct a space for contemplations on mortality.

Since the Summer of 2020, Ukwuoma has been a contact tracer in constant dialogue with Covid-19 patients. In strict adherence to the comfort and privacy rights of each person spoken with, Ukwuoma never released patients’ stories about the ordeals of sickness and mortality, which had been told to him in confidence. Yet, hearing the testimonials of patients and their contacts; families and friends, made Ukwuoma begin to consider mortality, and how it is revealed and reported in contemporary society. He recalled a Los Angeles Times website, where mortality data was publicly available, a resource which he’d encountered in 2015, upon hearing of a fatal shooting. There, on the LA Times web page, he’d found a large set of data, which related to a particular form of mortality–tragic homicides. 

Ukwuoma recognized that in its online form, this data lacked the substance of physicality, which he believed could bring about a more visceral understanding of what it means to be mortal in the current times that we live. Using data that he’d found on the website as a guide, Ukwuoma visited multiple locations throughout Los Angeles in approximate closeness to points on a map where homicides occurred during March of 2019, one year before Covid-19 lockdowns began.   At these locations, he collected soil, which he later transformed into a painting medium, and applied to the creation of nearly sixty large landscape paintings, which are now complete and ready for display.

According to the artist, “As a material tied to life and death, soil has a very strong sensibility. It is a point of entry and exit. All life rises from it and returns to it in death. Each of us, as mortals are subject to this passage. Yet, when we read reports of mortality in terms of numbers on pages, or data on screens, it is not the same as sharing a physical space with the substance of mortality. I wanted to offer a stronger impression, and was compelled to make a set of paintings that operated as a physical announcement, a kind of non-textual ‘press-release’ that would carry the gravity of life in a space shared with death. That is partly why this collection of mortality paintings are entitled ‘Press Release from a Fatal Landscape’.”

There is an inherent 6-foot distancing within the display that the artist envisions for these paintings. Each of the paintings was created on an equally-sized canvas, fashioned in the shape of a golden rectangle, with ratios proportioned to an average American height of approximately 67 inches, by 41 inches. The paintings are to be exhibited together, each laying flat, while dispersed on the floor of a space through which viewers may walk, physically navigating the subject of mortality.

Currently, without a large exhibition space for public viewing, Ukwuoma resolves that he is considering a number of options for showing the paintings, including a distribution of them across multiple exhibition spaces and galleries, or even placing them in public spaces for them to be seen outdoors, individually.

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Ayzay Ukwuoma




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