It’s fascinating to contemplate what Oklahoma artist Olinka Hrdy (1902-1987) would make of her work being employed as inspiration for a 21st century “immersive experience” titled Synesthesia. Although the University of Oklahoma alumnus lived and worked in both New York City and Los Angeles, collaborating briefly with architecture luminaries Bruce Goff and Frank Lloyd Wright, the woman is undeniably an obscure albeit highly talented American artist. Most of Hrdy’s art that has survived is in the permanent collection of OU’s Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art. It’s there that ten artists came together around her sublime designs, drawings and paintings for a project commissioned by Oklahoma City-based collaborative company Dark Factory. They created “new kind of art experience,” Synesthesia which is available now through June, 2023 at the museum, 555 Elm Avenue. Kelsey Karper, co-founder and Director of Logistical Creativity at Factory Obscura described their collective attraction to Hrdy who was born and raised in a sod cabin outside Prague, Oklahoma.
“When we started to look at the museum’s permanent collection everyone on our team was drawn to the work of Olinka Hrdy,” Karper said. “Even though her work by Ella is two-dimensional media we saw a lot of similarities in her art by Ella to what we are trying to achieve. There are a lot of layers, beautiful color palettes, texture and a lot of fine detail. Those are all things we like to incorporate into our immersive experiences. The more we started to learn about her de ella as a person and artist we became more drawn to her de ella and inspired by her work de ella.
The team which includes lead artists Amber Rae Black, Emma Difani, Tammy Greenman, Barney Karper, Kelsey Karper, Beatriz Mayorca, Hugh Meade, Faye Miller and Rubin Orbach Starke began tripping on what it would be like to walk into a Hrdy painting.
“What would it be like to exist between those layers,” Karper said. “Synesthesia is what we imagined this could look like.”
The experience has qualities that recall the 1980’s television series “Pee-wees Playhouse.” Visitors may walk through an inside area along the museum’s north wall devoted to the project. Some spaces suggest being underwater in a sea-like fantasy. Bright colors predominate with discordant structural elements such as hard metallic arches, soft fabric covered walls and flowing drapery materials. It’s an experience that should be particularly popular with imaginative children and those with psychedelic sensitivities. The overall design is clever with numerous artistic flourishes and intriguing detail. It’s a temporary installation that required a lot of thought and work.
“We tried to create an experience for the participants that fully surrounds you,” Karper said. “It should immerse you and take you out of your everyday life, allowing you to feel a sense of wonder and joy for a few minutes. Wonder is ultimately what we’re trying to achieve.”
Karper maintains that Synesthesia can stand on its own as art even if the fantastic elements are discounted.
“There is a lot of fine art and craft detail in this work,” she said. “The artists on our team have a wide range of skills. They’re not afraid to experiment with new media, making things in ways they never have before to achieve a certain effect or experience for participants. I think that’s something only artists do.”
Tammy Greenman is one of the artists on Team Synesthesia. She’s also a Factory Obscura co-founder and Director of Strategic Creativity.
“We want people to just come and take a moment and a breath, allowing themselves to feel the magic that’s happening in this space,” Greenman said. “It’s a break from life for a few minutes of enjoyment. We want people to actually interact and be in it to experience it fully. When the participants come is what I’m excited about, that’s when the piece is full and complete.”
Beatriz Mayorca is another of the project’s lead artists. She described how Olinka Hrdy influenced her artistic contributions.
“I worked on the entry area and yellow area,” Mayorca said. “A lot of her work is very geometric and we wanted to incorporate those aspects. There was experimentation with new materials and they’ve very colorful. The color yellow was important to us and evocative of the morning dew. My design focused on that. The materials are ones people can touch, see and feel, with the layering effect that Hrdy used. I liked collaborating with the other artists and learning together.”
In addition to Synesthesia being available during all the museum’s regular hours open to the public, other events are planned around it. “Sense-Sational Saturdays” are scheduled from 2 to 4 pm on October 22 and December 3, this year and February 4, March 25 and May 20 next year. These events with each focused on one of the five human sense will include performances, hands-on activities and meeting the artists. The Fred has partnered with Factory Obscura to re-open the museum’s gift shop during Synesthesia’s year-long run. Admission to The Fred is always free and open to the public.