MIPCES Exhibition: Tory Hughes, Ola Nyingma

Victoria Hughes, Ola Nyingma, 1997, 14 feet high

peace-pole, prayer-wheel
Approx. 14′ h

In 1996, when Tory Hughes first heard rumors about Michael Grove’s Wall of Polymer, she immediately sensed a creative challenge. I remember the sly smile on her lips, the emphatic quality of her voice when she swore not to be outdone by “the men.” If anybody was going to construct the BIGGEST sculpture in the exhibit, if anybody was going to flex the most MASSIVE artistic muscles in the room, it certainly was going to be a woman, a Tory not a Tony! She laughed when I recently reminded her of that conversation.

In 1997, Tory’s answer to that challenge was Ola Nyingma. Here’s what she had to say more recently, reflecting on that piece:

Where did the idea/inspiration for this piece come from?

From being at Nyingma, a Tibetan Buddhist temple in Berkeley, while living in NM. Tibetan Budhhism is close to my heart both philosophically and esthetically, an intriguing combination… They have a sense of play, as well as rich imagery and materials use.

Also I had this great wire armature I had retrieved from a free artists’ stock pile of discarded but tantalizing materials, at a place I used to teach often; had been looking for a polymer-related use for a 12′ wire structure. Lines in space really interest me.

This piece was my nod to the prayer wheel tradition; that blessings and prayers are carried on the wind. And a peace-pole seemed an obvious corollary. I love the Buddhists, though I am not one (although they might say that makes me one) I wanted to wave hello to them from my own state of mind and being.

Color, light, play, the childlike delight of magical movement in the pin-wheel element at the top: these are all very important creative elements to me. And I wanted to bring personal meaning into this, in a way that is joyous, not heavy. I provided ribbons and pieces of paper for people to write upon, then tie their notes onto the wire armature of the sculpture. When they did exactly that, my heart skipped, and I still get a bit teary-eyed thinking of it.

Victoria Hughes, Ola Nyingma with child, 1997I think interactive art is the highest form of an art project. Jewelry can accomplish this, and that can have great meaning to the wearer. Outdoor interactive art really hits home to me. The community we formed and shared in co-creating Ola Nyingma brought tremendous value and meaning to me, even though I don’t know most of the people who wrote and added onto the piece.That’s why I am so grateful to whoever took that picture with the little kid laughing. Kinda sums the whole thing up for me.

What technical hurdles did you have to conquer in making this piece?

How to move the wire structure around for several years. No seriously; how to attach the various elements together. There is a core PVC pipe onto which all is added somehow: there’s a base into which things are nailed, there’s the wire armature, which sits a couple of inches out from the pipe, and another flat piece at the top to support the lazy-susan element onto which the pinwheel rotational fins rest, to move around. Lots of attachment and weight logistics everywhere. The polymer pieces of course were easy to make and attach. The rest were problematic. I have longer-range plans to make more of these, using different materials and constructed in some sneaky fashion that would make them easy to fabricate and ship. I would love to set them up as public art projects here and there.

What connections do you see to the work you are currently doing?

All is one. Movement, color, translucency, personal meaning, the impact of the unexpected, magic everywhere: all these are ongoing interests. Don’t we all have underlying themes in our work that link all the surface forms (the specific objects) together with our deeper essential intention? I’d call this creative integrity. This piece did free up my approach to scale though, just what I had wanted. I really like to work big.

Was there precedent in your previous work? Can you explain?

As creative entities, our intention is non-local and non-chronological: flows both ways, everywhere. Those themes were there before in my work, in different forms. Bolinas 4

Many of these themes and concepts are either initiated or fully formed in my retreats in Bolinas: I am thinking of a large piece that Pat Lillich and Denise Chedester, a couple of my students, did a few years ago that has all this same resonance.

It was very simple, that’s what was so brilliant.

Bolinas 3

Denise had brought a 500-yard roll of aluminum foil to the retreat (she drives and brings everything she can find) and Pat had the initial idea.

Bolinas 2

Everything about this piece was perfect: the movement, the light reflecting, the sound of the foil rustling in the constant slight breeze (ocean is just behind that last row of trees), the rhythm of this moving with the rhythm of the surf, rolling and crashing below, how they transmuted something so cheap as tinfoil into such a beautiful evocative piece… I could write an essay about this piece. It brought tears to my eyes when I walked up from my cottage to see it, and humbled me as an artist.

I cannot remember a time in my life that I wasn't interested in looking at art, talking about art and the making of art. In 1990 I earned a Phd in art history at the University of Maryland. My first experiences with polymer clay were in 1992, but I consider my real work with the medium to date from 1999.