Katie Ohe at Esker Foundation, Calgary

By Maeve Hanna

It was a sunny Saturday afternoon when I visited Esker Foundation to see Katie Ohe, a solo-exhibition of the Alberta sculptor’s work. She has been active as an artist, teacher, and mentor for over sixty years, but despite her expansive career and innovative, powerful practice, she is virtually unknown outside the province. This exhibition considers the scope of her work over the course of her career. It encompasses the entire gallery, filling each room with quirky, mischievous, and sensual objects, all of which encourage touch and interaction – that is, before the coronavirus arrived.

Katie Ohe, installation view at Esker Foundation, 2020 (photo: Elyse Bouvier)

In a deft curatorial decision, the sculptures Hill (1985), Mantova Arch (1979-80), Zipper II (1978-79), Oval (1973), Upper Flow (1975-76), and Zipper (1975) are being exhibited together for the first time. These monoliths are incredibly complex as individual artworks. In this new context, they are open to a contemporary forum. The sun poured in from those big blue prairie skies, shimmering and sparkling off the polished chrome surfaces of the six masterfully crafted artworks. As they spun, twisted, and turned, the light danced jewel-like off the walls. Looking into their reflective surfaces viewers can’t help but be drawn in, their reflections wobbling in the moving surfaces and bouncing light.

These striking works epitomize Ohe’s innovation in the field of sculpture. As the artist discusses in the mini-documentary Katie Ohe: a mystical kind of experience, movement and tactility are principles central to her work. The artist speaks to the relationship between sensuality and touch, creating a deep connection between the viewer and a palpable sense of their body in relation to the work. To touch an artwork is a long established taboo, but touch is an intimate act, and to touch a lustrous, glowing surface in an art gallery presents itself as a pleasurable experience, one that is not often fulfilled.

Ohe gives her artwork agency. As some swivel and spin, others bounce and shift, all the while sparkling sumptuously. I am also struck by the agency given to the viewer’s body. The artist has accomplished a magnificent feat: she created a collection of work, often life-sized or bigger in scale, precisely and expertly crafted and continuously perfected, work that engages the viewer in an alternate manner, one that speaks a language of the body. By incorporating the presence of the viewer’s body, the work becomes ever more accessible, critical, and timeless.

Katie Ohe continues until August 29.
Esker Foundation: https://eskerfoundation.com/
This gallery is accessible.

Note: Esker Foundation is now open to the public with safety measures in place. Visitors are requested to pre-book an appointment for their free visit. Only 18 people are permitted to enter at one time. Staff are also on hand to activate the artworks that can no longer be touched.

Maeve Hanna is an art writer and dog walker based in Calgary. She is Akimblog’s Calgary correspondent and can be followed on Instagram @maeve_hanna.