Michael O’Donnell (1950) studied at the Royal College of Art in London, but has lived in Norway since 1977. He works with sculptural installation, which utilizes a range of materials, as well a photography, text and light.
O’Donnell is associated with a generation of British sculptors born around the 1950’s, who in the eighties established a new approach to the medium of sculpture. He deals with monuments, attitudes to spirituality and the commodity of death.
The usage of materials is one of O’Donnell’s greatest strengths. He mixes the permanent and traditional material of granite with fabricated and impermanent materials like foam rubber and rusty, worn steel plates. He casts cement in modules, and mixes marble-dust and rust, which are cast together to be chiseled and polished. O’Donnell often allows the same sculptures to take part in different exhibitions.
Michael O’Donnell works with monuments, attitudes to spirituality and the commodity of death. For the last decade, He has focused on a long-standing interest in how death is conceptualized and deals specifically the material of wax, converging religious notions of the soul, and testaments to mortality. The “21 gram souls” experiment of Dr. Duncan MacDougall’s search for the material basis of the soul has been of great significance. O’Donnell has done a series of sculptures of focused on the 21 grams of weight loss, measured at the point of death of humans.
Another theme that is frequently repeated in O’Donnell’s artistry, is the politics of death penalty and the psychological effects of the convicted subject. In 2003, the artist stumbled upon restricted transcripts, a series of last statements by convicts before their execution. O’Donnell was immediately taken with the variation of last words. In a series of artworks the viewer can read the sentences “That’s it”, “I can taste it” and “Stay strong”.
Within O’Donnell’s artistic practice, aspects of playfulness and variation are characteristic. He plays with the way our society uses symbols. He likes, in his distanced and ironic way, to disturb our fixed attitudes. As a foreigner, he freely gains an outside view of the culture he lives and works within.
O’Donnell has had a number of international solo exhibitions and published a series of books, which gives a deeper insight to his artistic practice. He has carried out a several of large-scale public commissions in Norway and is currently a professor at the Academy of Fine Art in Oslo.