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Opening October 20, 2007 at Couturier Gallery, West Hollywod

by Judith Christensen

Elsa Mora, “Second Nature 2”,
2007, mixed media, 18 x 20".

Elsa Mora, “Second Nature 5”,
2007, mixed media.

Elsa Mora, “Tijeras / Scissors 7”,
2001, glazed porcelain.

Elsa Mora, “Perdo do Sentido
(Loss of Feeling)," 1999, C print.

The shapes of Elsa Mora’s art pieces are familiar: dolls, scissors, a twig, a flower, a shell, a piece of coral, a bone, a section of blood vessels. But hers is not a straight-forward representation. Mora alters the form slightly or adds a degree of unfamiliarity with an unexpected use of materials, scale or juxtaposition. It is this slight twist that gives the work its edge, taking it from the realm of the familiar into that of the symbolic. For the most part, the colors are subtle--white, off-white, beige. Still, the pieces deliver a strong emotional charge.

Cuban-born and educated, now living in Los Angeles, Mora is an ardent collector. Anything--object or material--is likely to turn up in her artwork at some point. In addition to found objects, she uses paper clay, polymer clay, laminated and shaped paper, fabric, felt, photography, digital imagery, metal, oil paint, ink and graphite to create her installations, assemblages, sculptures, paintings and drawings. Most pieces are small (under eight inches), giving them an intimate, personal feel. The groupings of objects--between eight and twenty or more in a single 16” x 20” framed box--are arranged in an orderly fashion. Exhibited in this way, as if they are part of an archaeological display, the objects are indeed “Especimenes / Specimens,” as the exhibit’s title indicates.

“Tijeras” (“Scissors”), a series of elegant porcelain pieces, some displayed individually, some in groupings, are suggestive of the tool for which they are named. Whereas the essence of scissors is their functionality, Mora’s pieces are nonfunctional, not just because they are ceramic, but also due to how she has configured them. In one, instead of blades, there are pink tubes twisted together. In another, slightly-folded leaf-like shapes replace the blades. All the “Tijeras” terminate in shapes that are blunt, bulbous or a singular (rather than double-bladed) form. They elicit thoughts of tongs, forceps, gardening tools (clippers and loppers), even backscratchers; they evoke tools used in the kitchen, around the home and in the medical profession; tools used by women and on women, for example, in childbirth. Even the leaf-like, bulbous, or other plant-like shapes, are evocative of life’s cyclical nature.

While scissors and other hand-tools function as an extension of the body, the objects in the “Second Nature” series refer to the body more directly. Again, some of the objects are exhibited individually, others in groups. In each grouping there is at least one figure or portrait—a doll, a drawn image, or a three-dimensional assemblage. There are also references to organs, tissue, muscle, bone, veins and vessels. But because these objects are displayed with other forms that suggest flowers, plants and plant-like parts, and because Mora’s pieces refer to rather than realistically represent the object we think of when viewing the work—whether it is a body part or not—we tend to focus less on an object’s form, i.e. what it resembles, and more on the psychological and emotional implications that the objects and the arrangements elicit. In one of the “Second Nature” groups, the face of a woman directs her gaze towards the figure of a man in military dress. Three elongated objects separate them and a dozen other plant-like and/or body-like forms of various shapes and sizes surround them. It is the separation that we focus on as we construct scenarios, assigning meaning and implication to the various objects, based on our own personal associations and experiences.

When viewing work such as this, I wonder if one becomes an artist because one is a collector, or if one becomes a collector because one is an artist. Like other chicken-and-egg questions, the reward lies not in the answer, but in the process of investigation.