Artist Loren Naji Takes His ‘Emoh’ on the Road to Address Homelessness, Vacancy & Abandonment

EmohLorenNaji

Fri 9/9 @ 6-9PM

Loren Naji is a fountain of ideas. The Cleveland artist/gallerist always seems to be coming up with something new, whether it’s building one of his own art projects, a new gallery such as the installation gallery Satellite in a house off Waterloo Road, bringing together 38 artists to fabricate a “Moon” cube on Waterloo in the dead of winter, or an idea for a citywide artist competition (not yet come to fruition).

Now he’s come up with perhaps his most ambitious project yet: Emoh. It’s an eight-foot spherical sculpture made up of pieces he’s gleaned from homes being demolished, 192 unique panels that evoke the colors, textures and debris those homes left behind as they vanished. The hollow sphere doubles as an actual living space. It contains a mattress, and Naji intends to take it on the road and live in it.

He’ll launch his road trip Sat 9/10 when he heads for his first stop at the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit. Then he’ll head to Grand Rapids, where he’ll camp out in it for three and a half weeks while he competes for the Grand Rapids ArtPrize 2016, an international competition decided by both a expert jury and a public vote. He’s in the process of setting up stops in cities such as Columbus, Indianapolis, Toronto, Pittsburgh and maybe Chicago.

The night before he leaves he’ll be holding court at a send-off party at Prosperity Social Club in Tremont where there will be a special Emoh cocktail concocted in his honor, a version of the Bon Voyago with round ice balls. A portion of the proceeds with be donated to the St. Augustine Hunger Center just up the street.

Naji says he enjoys making art that’s engaging to look at, as those who have seen his previous spherical sculptures such as the one gracing the W. 25th Street Rapid Station or the hollow percussion sphere, playable from inside and out that he fabricated last year. But the idea of making a bigger statement with his work appeals to him too, and Emoh addresses issues of homelessness, vacancy and the environment.

“I believe we live in a society where the foundation is missing,” he says. “It seems to me if you are a human being and see someone drowning in a lake, you save them. You wouldn’t be human if you let them drown. But we have millionaires and billionaires who have more money than they could ever use. And we have other people with nothing to eat, sleeping in the streets. There’s an imbalance. It’s not right that there’s people sleeping in the streets. Homelessness shouldn’t exist.”

“Our first priority should be the Earth,” he continues, pointing out that like the Earth his work is a sphere. “It’s our only home. Our #2 priority should be our own kind. You should not be allowed to drop a bomb on anyone. Third, nature — dogs, cats, ponds, lakes. And we’re ruining it all.”

About a year ago, he came up with the idea for Emoh, which originally took a very different form. He built the skeleton and covered it with fabric. Then he tore it off because it just wasn’t working for him.

“It had no other layer of meaning,” he says. That’s when he started haunting demolition sites, gleaning wooden panels, pieces of broken furniture, plexiglass and items left behind, ranging from doorbells to golf balls to paint brushes. He assembled them panels without altering any of the raw materials. “All the colors on the sphere are natural colors of the found wood, rotting, peeling. I didn’t paint anything.”

Then, he says, “About six months ago, it occurred to me that I could send another layer of message by sleeping and living in the sphere,” he says. “As I was building it, I did not intend on living in it in the beginning. The last stage was me living in it. I got very excited about it.”

He says that the name — “home” spelled backwards — appealed to him or its cool, goofy sound but also for standing in for “our backwards system, demolishing houses while people are living in the streets.”

“In the process of building our cities, streets, houses, furniture and belongings, we use resources, trees, land and water, simultaneously destroying the Earth, our home,” he says. “Our urban landscape is riddled with vacant homes, abandoned and boarded shut, while the homeless sleep on sidewalks in front of these empty houses slated for demolition and landfills. This spherical sculpture alludes to our houses and living spaces, including the Earth itself. It is organized in graphic-like panels, much like the earth’s surface, covered with rectangular yards, houses, shopping centers, farms, roads and cities.”

While living inside Emoh, Naji will play recordings of houses being demolished, newscasts about vacancy and environmental issues, and the sounds of daily activities you might hear in an ordinary home. In addition, at each location where he parked the sphere, he’ll invite people to put items and messages in its mailbox. He says they’ll go into a time capsule to be opened in Grand Rapids in 10 years.

“I like art to be fun,” he says. “I like art to be understandable to everyone. But I love the idea of art transforming communities.”

 

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