Art / It’s a rare moment in gallery culture when the viewer is allowed as equal access to the work on display as to the artist herself, but Harinani Orme and the ii Gallery crew have accomplished this with relative ease. Or, at least, it certainly feels like it. ii Gallery is a relatively small space to showcase art, but Orme’s exhibit, Elements of Change, transforms the space into an expansive overview of her diverse creative inclinations. Organized around the concept of elemental change as a force that constantly shapes and defines us all, Orme’s work is loosely inspired by the physical forces of earth, air, wind, and fire and the connection we have to these elements as ever-evolving social creatures.
Orme sits at a bench on one side of a long worktable covered in tools, artifacts, brainstorming notebooks and works-in-progress. She is the focus of the show, surrounded on all sides by her own work; paintings, drawings, illustrated books, collages, prints, jewelry and mixed media sculptures fill every wall. Orme is well-known as a native Hawaiian artist whose work explores indigenous imagery, mythology and traditions through various mediums, informed by both her worldly travels and her roots on Oahu. Her use of color, expressive lines, Hawaiian faces and figure- and nature-based imagery is highly expressive, illustrative and, in its most successful moments, shows a willingness to play and experiment.
ii Gallery’s main space is flexible, but features work installed on two opposing walls: on one is hung a series of eight framed works on paper, and on the other, small mixed media collages are mounted on wood shaped like houses. In a nook toward the back of the gallery, Orme recreates the environment of her Palolo studio. The small space might initially look like excess storage, but a closer look reveals the cabinet, walls, and boxes to be more than a mass of media–they’re inspiration from which much of her work is informed. The back room of the gallery features more art objects ready for purchase: screen-printed shirts, handmade jewelry, cards and matted prints. Seeing the work in person is further enriched by Orme’s presence; being near the source makes her work far more meaningful when you see her actively creating it, emphasizing the practice, rather than simply the objects resulting from it.
Orme welcomes each visitor, or rather participant, to this space into which she has poured so much of herself, with a warm smile. I placed my bag down on the communal workbench set in front of her, and immediately she responded, in typical local fashion: “I feel like I know you from somewhere.” The truth is we had never officially met, but Orme and I are both local printmakers. We’re also kindred spirits–she earned her BFA in printmaking at the University of Hawaii at Manoa in the late ʻ70s, and I am working on the same degree on the same set of presses today. Printmakers tend to bond over a love for working in a community-based shared studio and the laborious, yet rewarding, processes of printing a piece by hand on a press usually much older than the artist. It’s the notion that art-making is a dialogue between friends, colleagues and everyone else we might engage with that seems to be at the core of Orme’s work.
Orme’s collages embody a craft-project aesthetic that, while potentially unappealing to those seeking more refined disciplines, utilizes objects that engage Hawaii’s not-so-ancient history of colonialism, ethnic identities and tourism in a playful manner. Orme’s stories behind each little assemblage are both heartfelt and fascinating. She exclusively uses found materials she has collected and been given over the years and arranges the objects in each small house to form narratives about a changing world. One house contains an old Hotpoint oven decal Orme salvaged from Liliha Bakery, plastic chili pepper decorations and a miniature carved bust of a hula girl. Another house, entitled Traveling Buddha, features a tiny sitting Buddha figure atop a blue toy truck and a matching stone lotus flower suspended on a gold-painted decorative frame. Seeing Orme work on one of her collages makes me want to dig through my family’s next box of giveaways, visit every garage sale I come across and take just a second longer to think about what I’m buying and what I’m throwing away.
Elements of Change is packed with moments of wonder at a time when instant “art” is available to us at the touch of a screen. Technology allows us to capture our surroundings with a click of a button, immediately upload it to a platform like Instagram, Tumblr or Facebook and broadcast that image to everyone in our networks. Visiting Orme’s show makes the visitor realize that those so-called connections we foster through technology are tenuous, at best, by foregrounding a direct connection with the artist herself and the art-making process. The forming theme of the work is secondary to the experience of the gallery itself, and judging by the last line of her show’s poetic description, Orme realizes this: “Let us, as humble creatures emerging from the slime, make elemental change together.”