A CONVERSATION ABOUT TIME WITH: 

MICHELE OKA DONER

Michele Oka Doner is an internationally renowned artist, perhaps best known for her utterly unique interpretation of the natural world. If you have ever walked through New York City's Herald Square subway station, you may seen the handmade tiles in her work 'Radiant Site', and if you have been to the Miami International Airport your feet have likely walked over her floor inlay piece 'A Walk on the Beach.' To see her art is to understand that she is in daily communication with living forms. As she puts it, the natural world is where she "derives her formal vocabulary". Her body of work includes small and large scale sculpture, furniture, jewelry, functional objects and numerous public works. Photo Credit: Doner Studios. 

 

Name:   Michele Oka Doner

Age:  68

Occupation:  Artist

 

 

1. What are the first five words that come to mind when you think about time?

Not wasting.  Luxuriating. Not wasting – that counts for two, right? (laughs) Speed. Hourglass.

2. Do you have any early memories of time or time measurement?

I actually have a pretty strange one. I was in Miami, and it was pouring rain at the park, and we had to leave, but two seconds later – it couldn’t have been, or it might have been – it wasn’t raining any more. The sun was out. I must have been three or four, and I could not understand what happened. I couldn’t understand any of it at all. And I would actually say that rather than that being a weather related question in my mind, it is truly about time. One minute it is raining cats and dogs, the next minute the sun is shining – what is this continuum?

3. In your daily life, how often do you think about the times of the day?

Often, unfortunately. But what’s interesting is that I’m one of these people that can navigate a day knowing basically what time it is.  For example, if I’m wondering what time it is, I can say it’s about 12:15, and it will be about 12:15. I’ve always wondered about that ability.

Have you always had this ability?

Pretty much. It’s a sense of time, I don’t know what else to call it. I have a sense of time passing, of elements. 

4. How often does your profession require you to measure time or to think about time? 

Well, what I think about as an artist is very connected to timelessness. So the topic is the continuum of time, the great arc of time.  I’m working before recorded time – let’s call that BRT – into an unknown future. That’s how I work; with the raw materials present on this earth since the beginning of time – clay, wood, pigments from iron – elemental things. So maybe working with the elemental things has put me in touch with their origins and their beginnings before recorded time. BRT. Yes, that’s the expression, coined right here this afternoon. (laughs)

But the times of the day, that’s different. I’m very aware of the increments and what things need to by done by when – I’m timely in terms of appointments. I’m very good at what you would call “keeping track of time”. Losing track of time – that does not happen to me very often.

5. So if not in your work, perhaps in your personal life, do you ever lose track of time?

I allow myself to let go of time. When I travel. For example, if I go away to Africa for a month, I don’t need to bring a watch. I can flow. I call it flow with the universe. Or if I’m going to Miami and I have allowed myself the luxury of no appointments and coming in a day early, I can take a walk and I don’t really pay attention to time. But in order to do that, I need to remove myself from the day-to-day life I live here.

So it’s a conscious removal, then?

Yes, I extract myself.

  Life Forms , 2005. Project for the Life Sciences Building at Rutgers University, Piscataway NJ. Wide view of atrium floor. Bronze embedded in terrazzo. 

Life Forms, 2005. Project for the Life Sciences Building at Rutgers University, Piscataway NJ. Wide view of atrium floor. Bronze embedded in terrazzo. 

6Have you ever experienced time as faster or slower than “normal’?

I do think that time is speeding up. I’m not certain, back to the hourglass metaphor, if it’s because as you get older, there is less sand at the top.  In the beginning, an hourglass seems to move very slowly, and then it seems towards the end it’s running. Being so close to a seventh decade, I can hear the footsteps of that running. They’re palpable. You know, when you’re young the school year took so long.

  Volcana,  2004-5. Cast bronze: 62 x 18 x 12 in. Private collection. 

Volcana, 2004-5. Cast bronze: 62 x 18 x 12 in. Private collection. 

  Aphrodite , 2004-5. Cast bronze: 61.5 x 17.5 x 11.5 in. Private collection. 

Aphrodite, 2004-5. Cast bronze: 61.5 x 17.5 x 11.5 in. Private collection. 

  Titan , 2004. Cast bronze: 64 x 24 x 18 in. Courtesy: Marlborough Gallery. 

Titan, 2004. Cast bronze: 64 x 24 x 18 in. Courtesy: Marlborough Gallery. 

  Figure with Long Arms , 2008. Casting wax: 59 x 18 x 10 in. Work in progress. 

Figure with Long Arms, 2008. Casting wax: 59 x 18 x 10 in. Work in progress. 

  Primal Self-Portrait , 2008. Casting wax; 59 x 17 x 14.5 in. Work in progress. 

Primal Self-Portrait, 2008. Casting wax; 59 x 17 x 14.5 in. Work in progress. 

  Adam from Roots , 2007. Relief print from organic material. 48 x 96 in. 

Adam from Roots, 2007. Relief print from organic material. 48 x 96 in. 

  Woman Alive , 2008. Casting Wax: 66.5 x 24 x 21 in. Work in progress. 

Woman Alive, 2008. Casting Wax: 66.5 x 24 x 21 in. Work in progress. 

  Adam , 2007. Relief print from organic material. 48 x 96 in. 

Adam, 2007. Relief print from organic material. 48 x 96 in. 

  Cro-Magnon 2085 , 2008. Casting wax: 55.5 x 23 x 16 in. Work in progress. 

Cro-Magnon 2085, 2008. Casting wax: 55.5 x 23 x 16 in. Work in progress. 

  Lungs , 2007. Relief print; 48 x 48 in. Courtesy: Wildwood Press. 

Lungs, 2007. Relief print; 48 x 48 in. Courtesy: Wildwood Press. 

  Europa , 2004. Cast bronze: 64 x 17.5 x 13.5 in. Private collection. 

Europa, 2004. Cast bronze: 64 x 17.5 x 13.5 in. Private collection. 

  Scanned III , 2005. Rubbing with grease stick, ink and paint: 24.25 x 18.5 in. Collection: Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.  

Scanned III, 2005. Rubbing with grease stick, ink and paint: 24.25 x 18.5 in. Collection: Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.  

7. What would you say is your general relationship with time?

One word: Respect. I have a great respect for time.

8. Do you measure time by counting up, counting down, by not counting at all?

Well, I’m not a counter, so I don’t measure it by counting. I measure it by modules or increments; what I plan to do during a certain given amount of time. For example, can I read a certain section of the New York Times in the next half hour? That’s how I would measure a half-hour. Can I walk to where I’m meeting somebody in the West Village in 20 minutes? If rain is coming this afternoon, do I have all morning to walk?

9. How much do you focus on the past, present and future, respectively? 

I live in the moment - with all due respect to the past.

 

This interview was conducted on June 24, 2013. Any errors in transcription are entirely of the author. All  images, titles and measurements are from micheleokadoner.com. The title portrait was sent from the artist. For more information about Michele and her extraordinary work, visit http://www.micheleokadoner.com/.