A few days ago one of my close friends and colleagues left the city for good. He packed his brushes, his oil paints, a few sketches on the works, his drawing table and his upcoming projects and headed to Florida, leaving me with just these words: “Elizabeth, New York is a monster. We all arrive with our big egos and expectations, thinking we’ve made it -This is it, the capital of the world!…- then time passes by, and no one notices: NY numbs your limbs, your eyes and your soul…until nothing surprises you. The symptoms aren’t many, but its effects spread fast and one day, you are sitting still, a walking dead, worthless as if the muse had never touched you… what could be worse than realizing that art does not marvel you anymore? If this is the case, run! run! run away from here!”.
I wished him well and slowly whispered one of my favorite poems by Kavafis: …This city will always pursue you.You’ll walk the same streets, grow old in the same neighborhoods, turn gray in these same houses.You’ll always end up in this city. And then, headed out to meet the artist who had the guys at the Lab finding 30 volunteers for her upcoming show. Yes, it’s true that New Yorkers have developed an acute lack of amazement. It’s true that in this city, you can find an”artist” under the shadow of every building, and they will assure you that their stuff is the work of the gods. I, too, often find myself absolutely dissappointed after an entire day of Open studios in either Dumbo, Tribeca, Chelsea, Long Island City, and Hell’s Kitchen, trying to remember ONE PIECE that stuck, with no positive results. This is because many artists are focused on their need to be hype, to be popular, to sell, to sell, to sell, to make it… seldom do you find one absolutely married to art, simply because of its magic, because of the need to create, because it has become their only language.
But this isn’t New York’s fault. It’s humanity’s fault. I’m sure it’s happening in London, in Tokyo, in Berlin, in Madrid and in Bogota with equal strength. This whole globalization sickness has led us to think we have seen it all…
Right before knocking on her door, ten minutes late, as usual, I closed my eyes and asked: New York, Please surprise me.
Her name is Morgan O’Hara. She opens the door slowly and thanks me for being late, adding that she was able to rest five minutes more. Organizing an installation of this size and detail really takes its toll. It’s a sincere comment, and we laugh together. Immediatly, I am pulled to her world of lines, to the delicate abstract figures rushing back and forth as desperate shadows would, aiming to find a new dimension.
There’s pencils by the window. Papers of all sizes spread in the many tables accross the room. There is a fistful of butterflies laying on the table, mixed with little stones and grass; Her childish smile brightens up the room, as she explains that she has just returned from Michoacán, Mexico, where she had spent 5 weeks sketching the migration of the butterflies. The Purépecha Indians (the native people populating most of the Michoacán State) believe that these butterflies are the souls of their dead people arriving to enjoy from the altar and ofrenda, and it feels almost magical to imagine her two hands following this sacred ritual of nature. Yes, I said two hands. New York, once again, has managed to surprise me.
An empowering woman of Irish background, Morgan O’Hara was born in LA and raised in a fishing village in Japan until the age of 14. She speaks 5 languages, has 7 years of psychology, and also studies buddhism, geography and music. Her aikido practices led her to finding balance between the right and the left side of her body to the point where she found it necessary to use both hands when drawing. “It was an organic process”, she adds. Morgan O’Hara spends 10 hours a day creating art. I must correct this paragraph – she spends 10 hours a day looking for the most immediate sign of life: movement. She spends 10 hours a day tracking invisible patterns in real time.
ABOUT BACKSTAGE TRANSMISSION, quoted from THE LAB GALLERY:
Morgan O’Hara’s Live Transmission drawings track, in real time, the vital movement of living beings, transcending both figuration and abstraction, executing a direct neural translation from one human action into another. Drawing methodically with multiple razor-sharp pencils and both hands, as time-based performance, O’Hara condenses movement into accumulations of graphite lines which combine the controlled refinement of classical drawing with the unbound sensuality of spontaneous gesture. Time-space coordinates for each drawing are described with great precision in the titles.
The source for this site-specific wall drawing was a pencil drawing done in Japan in 2001. The situation took place in Kid Ailack Hall in Tokyo where 40 performance artists were walking through their performances in a large stage area, identifying places where props were to be placed, where lighting technicians needed to place a spotlight, where and when technicians were to produce sound for each performance. O’Hara sat alone in the audience area and drew the movement of all these proceedings, tracking each person as he or she crossed and re-crossed the stage area. She made one large drawing of all observable movement for four hours in that space.
For this site, the 2001 stage-blocking drawing was photographed, downloaded into a computer, printed in sections, copied onto acetate and projected in sections onto the walls of the LAB using an overhead projector. The work progressed from left to right. Thirty volunteers from Fordham University, the School of Visual Arts, artsengine, LAB supporters, and occasional passersby assisted Morgan O’Hara with the painting. The modus operandi was to paint black the spaces between the lines, allowing the lines to emerge on their own from the white walls.
A site-specific wall drawing is a drawing which is done specifically for a particular space. Concept, scale, proportion and architectural elements must all be taken under careful consideration. This particular drawing was selected by O’Hara from among many possibilities as the best one for this particular space. In the nearby theatre district of New York as well as in the many concert halls not far from the Roger Smith Hotel, preparations for performance are taking place every day. It is hoped that this drawing will call attention to the many unnoticed backstage activities which support the performing arts.
The Lab Gallery, April 21st, 2010.
About LIVE TRANSMISSIONS, O’Hara explains that “the best ones occur when the role of observer-participant and participant-observer merge. The drawing on paper remains in life much in the way that a footprint on the beach takes its place. The drawing is a bit more material than a heartbeat but resembles it in its circular flow”.
I am renewed because I see in Morgan the artist that I’m always anxiously looking for. Not the one discussing the latest sold painting for thousands of dollars, nor the celebrity who just began collecting their work. I see passion in her eyes, and the maturity that only a disciplined servant of the muses acquires after years of dedication. For a moment, I understand this is not a coincidence. I have found the time keeper, delicately tracing the foot prints of life on our modern space and time present.
In the wisdom of her lines, the wrinkles of the many characters she researches, are finally tangible. The value of her research goes farther away than modern masterpieces. It is a testimony of the cosmic maps all around us, otherwise impossible to break into. The heavy influence of the Japanese culture reflects in her work so appropriately, that blank spaces become shelters or windows for our eyes to understand the flapping of two tender wings, the movement of a speech, the dance of a shoemaker, or even the reflection of light under water.
O’Hara’s prolific career is not an accident, and she knows it. She speaks of her work with tender respect, as if walking by the hand of a child. She knows it does not belong to her, and the expression of her face as she speaks, tells me that she is alive and willing to be marveled. Morgan O’Hara has been a New Yorker for almost twenty years, traveling back and forth to her studio in Italy. But the babel has won her over, and her upcoming plans include making of New York, her full-time home. Other projects in her agenda, include English national ballet rehearsals and performances in London at the center for Recent Drawing, being artist in residence in Northern Ireland at the University of Ulster, tracking movements at the Roger Albert Hall, traveling to Chile and Argentina, a performance at the Photography Association in Japan, Shukugawa, in Southern Japan, a Life Transmission in Vietnam, and returning to Italy to pack her studio and track the movements of steams and forests.
As if all the reasons listed above were not enough to surprise a New Yorker, Morgan is also linked to the international Jazz and music scene, due to her many collaborations with musicians, including Malcolm Goldstein (violin), Anthony Braxton (reeds), Joe Fonda (bass), Booker T. Williams, Elliott Levin, Ulrich Krieger (saxophones), Lutz Rath (cello), Giuseppe Englert (organ), Maurice de Martin (snare drum), Peter Zummo (trumpet), Dietmar Diesener (trombone), Jon Gibson (clarinet, PVC), Amy Rosen and Armando Cavagnis (mattressmaker).
“Morgan works not simply to forget herself, giving herself completely to the work, but consciously forgetting herself, trusting to her pencil and the lightning-like gesture, procuring from the subconscious the idea and essence of things”.
Former writer and lecturer The Hermitage, Leningrad, The Soviet Union The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
The energy surrounding Morgan O’Hara tells me that the muses are loving her company. There are no limits to the fountain of cosmic inspiration to an artist of this level of engagement with the arts. These capsules of existence that bloom from her pencils, are a magnificent proof that life remains in the particles of every second and millimeter. Now we can see it too, for it is encoded in her artwork. Humanity. Action. Celebration. Dimensional measure and pleasure. Transformation. Awareness. Time traveling. New York. These are all synonyms of Morgan O’Hara.