ciao milano
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Works on paper, Italy, 1998
Artists' House, Tel-Aviv
Opening 28.8.2008
Curator: Hagai Segev
Alejandra Okret, Ciao Milano
 Hagai Segev

Over a decade ago, in the mid-90s, Alejandra Okret studied at the Milan Art Academy. Since returning to Israel, her unique work has developed into a little island of grace and fragility in the stormy art scene of  Israel. Her art idiom has undergone a change in direction and it is now interesting to examine the change through the ways in which her work is expressed.

Few artists endevor and reexamine their work several years after there complition. Artists and audience alike prefer to show their most recent work which represents their current interest in art. Looking into a relatively brief career, not one that requires a retrospective, is usually done only within studio walls. This time we thought it appropriate to present works from past years which have never been shown in Israel to date, and which may constitute a basis for an indepth acquaintance with Okret's work, the most current of which were shown a month ago in a solo exhibition, Japana, in the Janco Dada Museum in Ein Hod.

Ciao Milano is a unified series of some 40 watercolors on little pieces of paper. Like in many of Okret’s works, here too, the pages look as if they were randomly cut from a larger sheet of paper and randomly integrated; squares of paper the size of a postcard, at the center of which is a field of color that is absorbed into the paper. In the center of the format, another geometric or graphic element, offering a specific mode, a focal point for the drawing. The fields of color are reminiscent, whether consciously or subconsciously, of the monumental works of Mark Rothko, one of the fathers of abstract paintings. While Rothko’s works were marked by huge formats that swept the audience into the field that surrounded their entire perspective, Okret prefers a modest format, miniature, intimate, almost vanishing.

The aspect of disappearance is essential to understanding this series of work. Rothko invites the observer on a meditative journey through huge fields and canvases, while creating tension between two shades that comprise the entire work. Okret prefers to work with a uniform range of color on the small page, to create tension in the center of the composition and not in its margins. One can imagine that the certain emphasis she places in the center does not even exist. On the other hand, if this emphasis did not exist, the entire piece would have a fundamentally different direction and meaning.

The graphic element, usually a line, stripe, circle and such, relate to the special works by the Italian Lucio Fontana. Fontana, to whose works Okret got acquainted while in Italy, is the destructive artist of the total abstract. While Rothko builds his own fields, Fontana takes fields of color and rips through the canvas with a knife.

Okret combines two very different approaches and puts the small fields of color through a process of tearing, creating a foreign element that is damaging and destructive. Okret's nature is softer, more delicate and thus the destruction undergoes transformation and refinement that, from a different perspective, offers a proposal of addition, exclusion, decoration – grabbing one’s attention to the simplest element that comprises here world of art and thought.

These opposites exist together on small, fragile pieces of paper and offer the observer a monumental site for meditation which he can take with him anywhere he goes, a kind of mobile space of tranquility.


Alejandra Okret, Ciao Milano
 Audrey Levy

Alejandra Okret’s Ciao Milano is a prayer.  In this work she dispatches an entreaty to the universe.  Venturing on a life change, leaving her world in Milano behind and moving “home” to Israel, was laden with bittersweet emotions for the artist, back in 1998 when she parted ways from the Milanese art world she called home and began her new life in a then, ironically, unfamiliar place.  In a frenzy of passion, she undertook to capture all that was and all that would be on scraps of squarish paper.  Forty times she encapsulated herself, her emotions, her good-byes and her impending hellos in circles within squares.  She had a message to send forth and after forty declarations, she finished, drained and relieved; she had said all there was to say.

Today these forty remnants of that prayer are forever incomplete; only thirty-nine remain. The piece can no longer be intact, as one fragment of the tale was separated from the whole, left as a parting gift alongside soon to be distant, sweet memories. Like a puzzle with a lost piece, the prayer may be somewhat lacking, or is it, for the message that was sent into the cosmos, remains there, in its entirety, for eternity.

Okret controls her message as if in a Vetruvian square/circle. Yet her squares are not particularly squarish and her circles are not quite circular. With her work, the classical proportions are reworked into intuitive relationships, less mathematical and more evocative. Artistic license allows for this in her work, as her classical training merges with her Uruguayan background and her affinity for the Japanese, in their expressive lines and subtle forms. As she strives to express her tremendous anxiety she consciously attempts to contain and calm that disquiet and box her own self into the Vetruvian formula. Blending science and sentiment is what Okret does best.

And blend she does. Passionately, Okret starts with the almost-square and the central form, dot, or line and mixes the watercolors allowing the paint to merge, sometimes more, sometimes less, always leaving an airy, watery, ethereal sensation between the two. She manages to combine this air-like quality with the textured focal point, a distinctive feature of the watercolor-crayons that Okret tenderly douses with water, such that the individual pieces, when joined as a whole, provide a musical rhythm, alternating between pseudo-evaporation and a tactile presence. The viewer is privileged to see, feel and intuit the work simultaneously. The Artist’s prayer flickers like a sublime broadcast, at times lucid and at times vanishing, a frustrating ebb and flow. The accompanying text is like a disjointed message; the viewer unthinkingly understands the jumble of thoughts and emotions but the language is muddled and intermittent. For reasons which are not easily explained, the overall effect is fully comprehensible. Her unorganized thoughts add a conceptual element to her work without detracting in the least from the visual aesthetic.

When combined, today, these thirty-nine pieces form a large work whose outer limits are flexible, undefined. As a whole they are reminiscent, visually, of the color field painters of the New York School. But this association is fleeting, for there is a dynamic in Okret’s work which evolves out of the endless combinations of the internal color stain miniatures. The aforementioned rhythm is at once ephemeral and eternal. Her work is a visual song whose words dissipate, yet succeed in conveying their message.

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