For me, the hallmarks of singularity in an art object are to be found in certain manifested obsessions, idiosyncratic techniques, and animating tensions. Echiko Ohira’s complexly reductive works declare that singularity by way of a compulsive tropism toward simple, repetitive, labor-intensive techniques. The kind of complexity that concerns her merges a means of fabrication with a structure and image. Were the finished product not so extraordinarily stylish, so simple and elegant, one could identify it as a kind of magpie aesthetic.
It has been said that Ohira’s sculptures mirror nature—such an association, however, is beside the point. Her works are the result of an extraordinarily imaginative act of transference and transformation achieved through a constantly evolving process in interaction with a distinct and varied range of materials. Although Ohira’s objects have the symmetry and lush surface detailing of some flowers and seedpods, they are too severe and too tied to her methods of fabrication to seem “natural.” Perhaps it’s more accurate to call them “chimerical,” because they contain aspects of the mathematical and the biological; anchored in processes of construction, they cannot be reduced to the notion of nature imagery.
Much of Ohira’s practice centers on her near obsessional use of paper, which, like all of the materials she employs, is found or recycled. The majority of her paper sculptures are relatively small scale—many can be held within the grasp of two hands. She will stack, fold, glue, twist, or tear numerous kinds of paper: supermarket bags, blueprint paper, notebook paper, newsprint, cardboard, and receipts. These might retain their natural color, be stained with tea, or painted cadmium red or cobalt blue. She may also form the paper using knotted string, thread, and wire. This material is personally important to Ohira, who explains, “From my childhood, paper has been a part of my daily life. I was born and grew up in an old, traditional wooden house in Japan. Inside, there was so much paper: fusuma screens and shoji screens divided the rooms…Paper is very important in…Japanese culture.”
Though focusing on paper, Ohira employs many identical bits of construction detritus—screws, pieces of wood, salvaged wire—selecting one substance or technique as a kind of conglomerating element. She has said, “I don’t need special materials for my work. I love only ordinary materials from my surroundings, such as found objects and recycled paper.” Although Ohira’s objects compress reused items into a simplified form, she recombines them in a way that surpasses the expected; the works are unrelated to principles of bricolage, Arte Povera, or Surrealism. She reconfigures these Modernist notions into an end product that never conceals the nature of its original components. Ohira’s sculptures are oddly mystifying, riveting objects that speak to a deep longing for intimacy and to all that makes intimacy difficult. They are quietly dramatic, producing the double take of astonishment that can only be generated when an object is entirely absorbing in its affect.