In an effort to raise awareness of homelessness, vacancy and the environment, local artist and infamous gallery owner Loren Naji will spend the next several weeks living inside a large wooden sphere — 8 feet in diameter, weighing 1,000 lbs. — that he built out of reclaimed materials from demolished homes throughout Northeast Ohio, Detroit and Grand Rapids. Following a Sept. 9 bon voyage party at Tremont's Prosperity Social Club, Naji will travel to the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit (mocadetroit.org) and then on to Grand Rapids for the eighth annual ArtPrize (artprize.org), where more than 400,000 attendees will visit 170 venues and vote to award more than half a million dollars in prizes.
Earlier this year, Naji began the project by collecting abandoned materials from foreclosed and demolished homes. Building the sphere's skeleton out of plywood, Naji reinforced the foundation with 2-by-4s. Instead of installing these supports at regular, measured distances, Naji chose to place them intuitively wherever they seemed most needed.
The result resembled a globe with evenly spaced longitude lines but uneven latitude lines, creating 192 irregular quadrilaterals. Naji carefully cut panels for each section, using nearly 200 hand-traced templates. Each section is decorated with reclaimed materials from demolished homes that would otherwise end up in landfills. Naji carefully arranged fragments of these found materials on each board to create unique, painterly compositions, each with colors and shapes that relate to its neighboring sections. Naji drew inspiration from aerial perspectives of Earth — and more specifically, our society's imprint on it.
"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," he says. "I covered my sculpture's surface with repurposed parts of abandoned homes, deteriorated furniture and garbage, crafted items that were once valuable."
Naji also installed "windows," a "mail slot" (made from the faceplate of an old VCR), and a doorbell on the outer structure. The inside of the piece, named "Emoh" (that's "home," backwards) includes photos of Naji's family, a custom-shaped twin size mattress, a light, cell phone charger and even drums for Naji to practice his percussion lessons.
The project's title, "Emoh," represents our society's backwardness. Both metaphorically and literally, Naji gathers the debris of fractured lives and reassembles it into something useful, uplifting and permanent.
You can check it out for yourself at Prosperity Social Club on Sept. 9 from 6 to 9 p.m., during the Walkabout Tremont event. Naji will be on hand to explain his project to guests, who will get a first look before Naji heads to Michigan later that night. In celebration of his journey's kickoff, Prosperity will be mixing up a special Bon Voyage "Emoh" Cocktail, with round ice balls, for $9. Five percent of the proceeds from all food and drink sales that evening will be donated to St. Augustine's Hunger Center on West 14th Street.
"We're honored that Loren wants to 'unveil' his work at Prosperity Social Club," says owner Bonnie Flinner. "We invite everyone to come down and get a 360-degree view of his multi-layered passion project."
Naji will stop in Detroit the following day, Sept. 10, for a meet-and-greet at MOCAD from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. before heading to Grand Rapids for ArtPrize that evening.
ArtPrize begins with a preview week, Sept. 14 to Sept. 20. The first round of public voting takes place from Sept. 21 to Oct. 1; voting for the final 20 will be from Oct 2 to 6. Naji will be living inside his sphere, outside of Kilwin's Chocolates and Ice Cream (146 Monroe Center St., NW), every night throughout his time in Grand Rapids. During his stay, Naji plans to collect letters and objects that represent visitors' concepts of "home."
"My self-imposed temporary housing will make a powerful statement and draw attention to homelessness, vacancy issues and our backwards system that needs revision," Naji says. "I will play recorded audio from inside the sculpture, producing sounds of daily family activities, cooking dinner, babies crying, etc., along with the sounds of houses being demolished and snippets of newscasts covering vacancy and environmental issues.
"This sculpture will also function as a time capsule, touring various cities, where community members will place items and letters in the mailbox," Naji explains. "These contributed items once held value, but are no longer of use and would typically end up in landfills. This sculpture/time capsule will be opened 10 years later on Earth Day in Grand Rapids."
If you're in or traveling to Grand Rapids for ArtPrize, you can vote for Naji using the code 62624 (Time Based Category), and if you're heading to Prosperity next Friday, be sure to bring a letter or item to contribute to the time capsule.