Toolbox: Michele Oka Doner’s Hands

In our weekly feature we ask artists to describe one tool they couldn’t do without. This week Michele Oka Doner discusses the transformative experience of creating art with her bare hands.

As I breathe without effort or thinking, so do I use my hands. This provides sensual joy and a physical connection to the world I dwell within. Human hands have undergone refinements in tandem with the evolutionary development of human consciousness. The resulting fine motor skills we have today overlay the embedded simian muscle memory of our not so distant ancestors.

I carry this awareness with me as I forage in the woods and on the beach and work in the studio. The ubiquitous pencil and paintbrush, common notes in the artist’s song, are relegated to a secondary role. Instead my hands, with their eager digits, take the stage. Evoking neurological pathways lost to dim millennia, these hands have the starring role in our species’ survival (an opposing thumb for instance!) and in our creativity, the underpinnings that have led to our collective artistic magic.

With both hands I plunge into an accumulation of feral materials with unfettered energy, pinching, pulling, stretching, rubbing, sanding, with the delightful accompanying soundtrack of friction. Pressing, pushing and crushing forms together or apart until they create a new language. The physical activity itself releases primal urges. Once again, as has happened since the notion of the mind entered our nascent vocabulary, the wonder of loosely knit fragments of thought, brought to life by hand and raw materials, results in a transformative experience.

Michele Oka Doner, Bringing the Fire

21 March until 25 April 2018, at David Gill Gallery, London

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