Morgan O'Hara Makes Tones Dance on Paper

a portrait

It is unusual for a visual artist to be announced as a soloist at a concert - especially when she doesn't use an instrument as do some of her colleagues - but sticks to her pencils. For New Yorker Morgan O'Hara this is nothing special. For almost ten years she has followed her concept of LIVE TRANSMISSIONS: the live transmission or transmission of life, as the title with its layered meaning implies. Therefore, O'Hara observes the hand movements of people in everyday life activities such as a gesticulating lecturer or an Italian pasta maker. One pencil in each hand, she transmits the subject's hand movements at the very moment of observation - that is, in real time - to paper on which characteristic flows of thin lines are established. One might think of photographic movement studies with long time exposures at first, but the artist follows, not only as does a camera lens, the coordinates in space of the hand movements, but she also keeps track of their energy through variation in thickness and density of line. "I find life and place my finger on the pulse of life," O'Hara explains her approach to her work. Here is a melding together of concept art, drawing filled with tension and scientific documentation.

Because the LIVE TRANSMISSIONS derive from the aura of their genesis - O'Hara keeps precise track of the place-date-and subject of her movement portraits - their creation becomes a performance. What is closer to that than making portraits of artists in live performance situations? Over the years O'Hara has created a body of work of LIVE TRANSMISSIONS performances of contemporary music which she has observed in New York and during her regular trips to Europe. The hand movements of piano or organ players (KEYBOARD STUDIES), oriented to the vertical line of the keyboard, blur into clouds if the musicians tend to make sweeping gestures. Her drawings show both: characteristics of the composition as well as those of the musicians. Margaret Leng Tan establishes a completely different image than that of Hermann Nitsch or Cecil Taylor. During the last year O'Hara took the brave step to the stage and performed as a member of the Anthony Braxton Ensemble and later drew the movements of the Kairos String Quartet in Podewil. To follow more than two hands at the same time is no problem for her; "In principle I have one pencil for each portraited hand, sometimes up to eight at a time. It's not really difficult. I grew up in Japan and I am used to dealing with chopsticks." The concert with the Ensemble Work in Progress takes one step further. Four composers took O'Hara's drawings as point of departure for new works. In September Anthony Braxton performed the New York premiere of his Composition No. 231. Today Johannes Ernst will interpret some of O'Hara's pages as graphical notation with the help of that score. The other three pieces of the concert are premieres by Gerharld Müller-Goldboom, Ushio Torikai and Jakob Ullmann.

Ullmann, who, like O'Hara, sees himself close to John Cage in his aesthetic approach, implemented transparencies of LIVE TRANSMISSIONS of David Tudor performing Rainforest in his score. 19'30" for the Morgan O'Hara Project consists of long sustained tones of the ensemble which are only now and then left for small intervalic variations by single instruments. These variations follow the hand movements of David Tudor performing with his tabletop electonics. Like the visual work that serves as the ground for the musical composition, the artfulness of the transmission into a different medium follows a conceptual procedure and not individualistic expression.

This time Morgan O'Hara will use video projection as a part of the visual presentation of the concert. "The audience should be able to observe the point of contact between artistic concept and physical reality. Therefore I'm going to magnify some points at which the musicians touch their instruments." Since her drawings are on display in the group show In'N Out at the Galerie Rainer Borgemeister from February 13 to March 13 one should take the opportunity to use this concert for profitable research.

Volker Straebel 1.99

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original publication: Volker Straebel, "Morgan O'Hara läßt Töne auf dem Papier tanzen" in: Der Tagesspiegel (Berlin), 23.Jan. 1999
© Volker Straebel kein Abdruck ohne schriftliche Genehmigung des Autors / no reprint without author's written permission