michele oka doner at the art association
Even with Katy Niner’s sumptuous description of Michele Oka Doner’s relief prints, I didn’t understand what viewers were in for until I actually stood in front of the towering figures.
“To create the figures, Oka Doner sculpts organic detritus – roots, grasses, branches – into tangled bodies she then coats with ink and prints on handmade paper. The imprinted shadow fascinates with its textured veins,” Niner wrote in the News&Guide.
When I first entered the gallery on opening night of “Earth Fire Air Water,” I still didn’t get it. I’d seen the postcards of the figurative prints and thought they looked underwhelming. The huge figures at least impressed me with their size looming over viewers at the gallery. But initially I had trouble getting past my initial two-dimensional impression – black ink on rice paper, human forms – so what? Then something magical happened. I’d been milling around the gallery for 20 minutes, chatting with people, and I paused before a print titled “Adam.” Suddenly the image opened up for me. My heart clutched. I’m not a biblical person but I saw a human emerging from organic plant material and it seemed truer and more primal than our typical modern understanding of ourselves. All around me the figures assumed more dimensions, not 3-D, per se, but weight and history, a reminder of origins, a voice from our loamy, elemental past. (The image above is from Oka Doner’s exhibition at the 2011 Miami Biennale.)
The upstairs gallery features Oka Doner’s papermaking creations, with organic materials embedded in a soft abaca paper. I was mesmerized by these pieces, so evident was the care and attention an ancient practice. The natural elements – leaves, bark, plant parts – took on a ghostly quality as if preserved in memoriam to a time when humans were in tune with nature.
” . . .a voice from our loamy, elemental past.”
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