Elsa Mora: ‘Misunderstandings’: In touch with reality

Life and art converge in mysterious ways

Flicking through Elsa Mora’s ‘Misunderstandings’ paper art series raises more questions than answers, a sign that it is insightful and communicative art.

paper art
Misunderstandings [8], 2017 Paper and glue 8.5” x 11”
Paper is itself a delicate material, vulnerable to sudden changes in temperature and conditions.  Similarly, the status quo of a person’s life is equally delicate; life can change irrevocably by random and sudden acts of fate.  Mora chose a book on depression to inform the individual elements which comprise the ‘Misunderstandings’ series.  The Depression Cure: The 6-Step Program to Beat Depression Without Drugs.  The respective series in the upcoming Paper Weight exhibition are inspired by the five cognitive faculties which characterise the mind: consciousness, perception, thinking, judgment, and memory.  ‘Misunderstandings’ in particular, is about judgment.

While each work in the series is both carefully thought out and constructed, the forms themselves exhibit a calculated randomness.

When snippets of text are added in, simple explanation’s become more elusive; the text adds a deeper layer of understanding or in fact misunderstanding.  All of the pieces allude to the fragile intersection between everyday life and the ability for a conventional life to be suddenly compromised by external influences leading to confusing and confronting new circumstances.

A wholesome productive existence is in many ways an easily jeopardised position, and many people begin life behind the eight ball.  Furthermore, many societies still need to come to terms with openly discussing depression having swept it under the carpet for the greater part of the 20th century.  The work hints at both the broad forms depression can take and the singular nature of depression (each person’s experience is different).  Mora indicates that communicating about depression can be expressed in unconventional yet beautiful ways to draw attention to it.

paper art
Misunderstandings [3], 2017
Paper and glue 8.5” x 11”
A topical issue for youth in Australia and America at least is schoolyard bullying and cyber-bullying, both subjects which can have the concept of judgement as a common cause, “The reasons for being bullied reported most often by students include physical appearance, race/ethnicity, gender, disability, religion, sexual orientation.”

Until more recently many western societies have been slow to take up the issue of depression,  thankfully that is changing as governments and school boards take corrective action. Institutions were either unable or ill-equipped in a global digital world especially, to both understand and therefore articulate responses to, or open discussions around the extent and foundations of depression.

The intricacies of depression are often misconceived, as are the real causes. 

The suicide rates of teenagers is recently linked to the force of social media and online bullying.  Judgemental attitudes are unhelpful if people are to achieve to the best of their ability within society.  Similarly, making sound judgements can be perplexing and impossible when all around you appears to be in chaos.  ‘Misunderstandings’ turns social and art norms on their head.

Scrolling through the images is mesmerising and continuously referential.  Relevantly, we are presented with what seems like an arcane puzzle that we want to find answers to or understand.  This “puzzle”, like life, continually poses questions rather than arriving at final conclusions.  Irrespective any one event in life does have references (or links) beyond its immediate parameters.

paper sculpture
Misunderstandings [28], 2017
Paper and glue 8.5” x 11”
Connotations will emerge based on the different trails of experience which characterise any one person’s life.  ‘Misunderstandings’ is a complex and yet succinct statement around the delicate convolutions of depression and the myriad ways it can both manifest and be addressed.

Mora uses a personal medium to address broader social and cultural issues.

Although we know we are looking at art objects our human search for meaning must inevitably derive from the unique and multifarious lives we lead.  While Mora offers a varied and topical social issue to engage the viewer of ‘Misunderstandings’, many people will identify with the series on an aesthetic level alone.  Self-evidently, a paper artist works in paper, a malleable, tactile and infinitely variable material.

‘Misunderstandings’ is indicative of the boundless potential of the medium when combined with a powerful creative intellect.

paper art
Misunderstandings [27], 2017
Paper and glue 8.5” x 11”
The individual works in the series are exciting and seducing because the forms we are looking at are not objects we can pin down; as unconventional works of art they intriguingly resist a single interpretation, but capture our imagination with their beauty, frailty and the endless tug of What do they mean for me?

The individual works and the problems they allude to are at once topical and relevant. 

Due to the cabalistic nature of the works in the series they imply references to the long tradition and history of scientific or medical drawings and instruments; formulaic diagrams that describe an unintelligible world.  They appear as mysterious manifestations in a programme of experimentation, the variety alone hints at the exploration of the endless causes, confusion and effects of depression.

Another significant aspect is the importance of time as an emblem of this series. 

In general and self-evidently, the individual components are symbolic of time.  When the vulnerable nature of the medium is considered in combination with the time expended in the execution of the thirty-two pieces, it means a significant process has unfolded.

paper art
Misunderstandings [9], 2017
Paper and glue 8.5” x 11”
The entire series is linked also to time, through the artist having

…started exploring paper in 2007, right when our son Diego was diagnosed with Autism…The gradual discovery of his potential got interconnected with the hidden possibilities of paper. That’s probably how this material became a metaphor for the mind and its malleability to me. Life and art sometimes converge in organic ways, such as in this case. 

In so many ways life and art are subject to the vagaries of time passing and all that entails.  In time judgements will refine and redefine around the nature and management of autism as well as methods for countering bullying in all its forms.

Elsa Mora has demonstrated in ‘Misunderstandings’ that it is possible to engage the viewer on multiple social and cultural levels within a singular work. 

A spectacular and beautiful commentary has been made about an important by-product of society, depression or more generally mental illness.  The artist has shown it is possible to highlight difficult public issues through the singular beauty of the creative process.

Text in italics is drawn from an interview with the artist by Jill Hartz in preparation for ‘Paper Weight’, an exhibition at Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art, Eugene Oregon.

This article published in Art is a Way
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