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Michele Oka Doner
Epiphytes: Absorbing From Nature, 2006

An overview of the installation

University of South Florida, Sarasota-Manatee
Campus Center Rotunda

Michele Oka Doner’s Epiphytes: Absorbing From Nature, sited in the Rotunda of the USF Sarasota- Manatee Campus Center, serves to both visually welcome the users of the Center and to provide dramatic orientation to the geological / biological conditions and the history of the site on which the Campus is built.

Doner began this project by walking the natural environment adjacent to the commissioned site. She was on a research trip, beginning a collection; she displayed a childlike freshness as she picked up a leaf or a stone, but there was sophistication to her selection process. One item was selected because it relates to the area’s architecture, another for the scientific insight it revealed, and the next because it provoked a memory she had of the place from her childhood. By the end of the walk she had gathered bits and pieces, which took up residence in her studio. There the collection of natural artifacts was studied and probed. She used various lenses to investigate the artifacts: her reference library, a fragment of a conversation with a committee member or the architect, a passage in a book she was reading, her imagination. Through these lenses an image emerged. The concept of the artwork was inspired by the site. The artwork was constructed using materials from the site. The finished artwork is not just designed specifically for the site; it is a visual essay about the site.

Doner’s creative process is unique in both approach and result. She calls to mind the monk who comes to understand the universe by studying a stone, but she shares the result of her study through a visual language that is far removed from the stoic trance of the laconic monk. Her finished form is filled with the same visual awe one witnesses as she makes her selections of natural artifacts, now clarified through the focus of her vision. The viewer sees the essence of beauty, mystery and utility that Doner perceived when she first encountered the leaf that nature had left for her. They see the bark that she selected now interpreted in bronze as a fragment that releases fresh insight regarding its place in the world at a cellular level. Her viewer sees reoccurring forms celebrated in bronze and discovers the same forms in the seashells ground to a fine polish in the surface of the terrazzo floor. Michele Oka Doner elegantly fulfills the obligation of the artist to help the viewer see the world. She brings the ocean or the forest to us and lets us see it as if for the first time.

Artist Statement: Contained within this work of art is the form and structure that compose the diverse natural world of the USF Sarasota- Manatee Campus Center. The vascular structure of a leaf,   abstract segmentation of pine bark, and patterns of fossilized shell that characterize the geologic substructure of Sarasota itself combine in this work to create an enchanted field guide for generations of students who enter the rotunda space and enhance their connection to life around them.

Michele Oka Doner is an internationally renowned artist whose career spans five decades. Her work is fueled by a lifelong study and appreciation of the natural world. The breadth of her artistic production encompasses sculpture, furniture, jewelry, public art, functional objects, video, artist books and costume and set design. She is the author of five books, including “Into the Mysterium” (2016) Regan Arts press. She is well known for creating dozens of public art installations throughout the United States, including “Flight” at Regan International Airport, “Radiant Site,” at the Herald Square MTA station, and the mile and quarter long “A Walk on the Beach,” a bronze and terrazzo concourse at Miami International Airport. Represented by Marlborough Gallery, Oka Doner’s work is found in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum, the Whitney Museum of American Art, The Art Institute of Chicago, Musée des Arts Décoratifs (the Louvre), the Victoria & Albert, Yale University Art Gallery, The Detroit Institute of Arts, among others. She has received numerous awards, including those given by United Nations Society of Writers and Artists, Pratt Institute, New York State Council of the Arts and the Knight Foundation. In 2016 she received an honorary doctorate from The University of Michigan, where she earned her undergraduate and MFA degrees. She has served on the boards of Pratt Institute, The Wolfsonian Museum, and BOMB Magazine.


An overview of the installation with figure

Bronze and shell inlays in floor

Bronze inlays in floor

A detail of three of the bronze inlays

Epiphytes: Absorbing From Nature made possible by Florida's Art in State Buildings Program