LEISURE TOWER – by Selven O’Keef Jarmon
The LEISURE TOWER is a social sculpture project created with refugees living in Houston from 13 different countries. This project, which involved approximately 60 people in the making of it, was funded by The LEVANT FOUNDATION and created in partnership with INTERFAITH MINSTRIES and UNICEF.
The substance of this work rests within the historic notion of migration patterns of people taking the extraordinary step to move their lives from one place to another in search of a “better life”. It is the words “better life” that conjures up a rather subjective image and meaning in one’s mind. As a means of contextualizing this subjective meaning, this work draws into focus the word “LEISURE” with its expansive definition: free time, idle hours, freedom, holiday, breathing space, respite, ease, peace. In this work, the word “LEISURE” and the physical “rocking chairs” are visual objects aimed at giving free mental space to contemplate the subjectivity of our humanity.
In the making of this piece, I felt it important to define a moment where mental and physical space was made available for the true identities of people to shine freely while they collectively engaged in the making of something metaphorically connected to their lives. In hindsight, the space was a personification of the phrase “seeking a better life”.
INTRODUCTION - Leisure Tower Series, (LTS), is being created as a series of social sculptures. The series is based on the historic notion of migration patterns of people around the world, moving from one place to another with a built-in image of the new destination. This progression in thought and action has shaped the very world we live in but not without the effects of government and politics. So much so, it’s difficult in a present-day context to not question why we as humanity continue making the same detrimental mistakes again and again. The Leisure Tower series is symbolic of the mental and interior resting place people seek when they make the extraordinary decision to leave their homes in migration to another. Although leisure itself is a word with great intensity and propensity for conjured image(s), I feel as though the complete range of meaning that exists within the word becomes a change agent when experienced. This experience can be momentary, when imagined as relief for a few hours or for days or months when thinking about it as a vacation or retirement – the benefits are still present regardless of the thought. For many people, reaching the shores or boundary of a distant land after a long migration or travel is relief. It is the subtle nature of this word, “LEISURE” that I am most drawn to, understanding that some of the most extraordinary experiences can happen within such immediate moments.
PROPOSITION - With the Leisure Tower Series, I am proposing to use symbolic mental images conjured up by the word “LEISURE” and match them against my own created images within the scope of a social sculpture. The created images make use of the word “LEISURE” itself and marry it to 7 real life size rocking chairs with elongated backs, towering, 4 ft L X 2 ft. The backs of each chair are created with 23mm acrylic beads each comprising of 1 letter in the word “LEISURE” in contrasting colors. The simple rocking chairs are made of modest varnished wood, (pre-fabricated before the social sculpture component begins). The beaded panels fits into the rocking chairs at slanted angles, abstracting the chairs a bit. The tower-esk beaded back takes the form of a placed sign, transforming it into a rocking sign mimicking a chair. This sculpture series of chairs are then placed in a round, uniformly adjacent to one another or close enough to recognize the word relationship to the piece.
PROCESS - The goal of the workshop entails the completion of 14 beaded 2ft X 2ft panels, ideally being worked on by 2 persons per panel sitting from across one another – that is 28 hands basically. Once the panels are completed, they are secured down with the same thread then mounted to a secured frame and mounted to the rocking chairs. The chairs will already be prefabricated for the beaded components to connect. Everyone beading will have a pattern to relate the beads to their final outcome, which is very easy to follow.
OUTCOME - A viewer wondering upon this piece immediately will see an odd, “almost” rocking chair, beads and a sign that spells “LEISURE” but yet means; welcome, rest, peace.To the participants working on this work, I am hoping to go further in capturing their imagination over a weekend in a way that links them to one another while stringing beads with each other. Perhaps this active experience can be a defining moment in terms of raising their idea of leisure or creating better life images. I am hoping that they will also experience a deep sense of purpose and accomplishment in finishing such a final piece of Art especially when it is also connected to a potentially broader work.
RESIDUAL IMPACT - The broader idea of the Leisure Tower is connected to the next phase of this series wherein I am proposing to actually create a 40 ft LEISURE Tower at the courtyard of Mid Main Lofts on Main St.
SELVEN O’KEEF JARMON – BIO
Selven O’Keef Jarmon is a Houston based artist whose current work embodies the social sculpture practices as a way of including public participation in the process. His approach to art making is built around the idea of using art as a conduit, gateway and bridge to transcend the social and cultural norms when they run contrary to the expected decency of humanity. His recent work includes the 360 Degrees Vanishing Project, a public art piece at the Art League Houston 2019, included the participation of 16 South African beaders and over 600 beaders in making it. Also completed 2019 was the LEISURE TOWER I social sculpture piece created with 60 refugees from 13 different countries, in partnership with InterFaith Ministries, UNICEF and the Levant Foundation.
Selven studied Music at Texas Southern University. His achievements have been frequently documented in numerous articles and periodicals as well as TV and radio media. His work has been included in exhibitions at the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, the Dallas Art Fair, Poissant Gallery, Deborah Colton Gallery, Project Row Houses and is in the permanent collection of the Museum of Fine Arts Houston in collaboration with the Art Guys piece “Suits Make the Man”. Selven was the Ghost Designer for the Houston based Tootsies Boutiques and under his own Label - “Selven O’Keef Jarmon”, he produced two Collections a year, Spring/Summer and Autumn/ Winter, for ten years. In 2003, Selven was inspired to incorporate social consciousness into his work wherein he began working from both the United States and South Africa leading to 7 of years living and working there with several communities throughout South Africa.
Since working in South Africa, his work has taken on a community development aspect that has included being an Advisory Board Member for the Sustainable Skills Development (SSD Project – in East London- funded by the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) and the designing and development of the complete Academic Regalia Aesthetic for the newly formed Walter Sisulu University (WSU) where he incorporated master class training in Academic Gown construction to sewing communities in the Eastern Cape. This development work has also included the creation and implementation of the “New Imaginations for School Uniforms - (NISU)” Project funded by the Nelson Mandela Institute. The work for the NISU Project inspired and informed his development role in his work on the KWANDA TV and development Project wherein he developed the KWANDA Klothing with 5 communities within the scope of this Reality Makeover TV Show. The 13 episode Show aired on prime TV South Africa in 2010. For South Africa World Cup 2010 Selven designed the “My Heart Belongs to South Africa T-Shirt which was a flagship product of South African Tourism. Selven was recently honored in 2014 as the first Profiles in Arts recipient from the Center for the Arts Leadership at University of Houston.