Canadian artist Andrew Ooi offers his first local solo outing with the strikingly intricate IOI OOI: NEW PRIMITIVES, at BoxHeart Gallery. In a dozen small to medium-sized works, Ooi unites sculpture and painting using techniques traditionally found in Japanese joinery and origami, employing handmade gampi papers as his canvas in an elaborate and exacting process.
His raw material is precisely cut into minute strips, the number for each work ranging from the hundreds into the thousands. Each diminutive strip is separately painted, then all are joined in a complex assemblage of folds, turns and creases to create one three-dimensional piece, tactile and inviting. Delicate, feathery brush strokes begun on one hexagon continue across its neighbor, on and on. Chains of paper mimicking wool, silk, metal and mesh are woven together to fuse in power and might. The shapes merge to create grids, quilts and ladders whose strength is palpable.
Half of the pieces are anchored directly onto the walls of BoxHeart’s upstairs gallery, the remainder under glass in simple box frames. Unshielded, they feel domestic, warm and intimate, a complement to and almost extension of the everyday functional items whose patterns they reflect — that which is woven, latticed, loomed for strength and durability — possessing beauty but as a side effect. The addition of an enclosure alters the tenor of these pieces significantly. Placed inside of a case meant for display and/or protection, they are then formalized, becoming presentational and exact, infusing them with distinction but also with distance. We assess them as more Valuable but not necessarily more Valued.
Each piece is symmetrical, if not always wholly in color and design, fully so in shape, balanced from one side to the other to fold perfectly into itself. There is one exception: “Adaptation,” a bulbous, vital, organic globule evocative of brain coral and fungus. It breaks the established patterns to creep unchecked outside the boundaries of line and angle. More of this, please, this moving, oozing mass that takes the rigid control necessary for its creation and uses it to fabricate something that feels uncontrollable, a welcome and vivacious balance to the prevailing regimentation. As Ooi works within the confines of geometry, fascinating and impressive as they may be, it’s freeing to see him exit that path, even if for a moment.