Whitehot Magazine

Jae Ko: Drift at Heather Gaudio in New Canaan, Connecticut

Jae Ko creating her site-specific installation out of 60 rolls of recycled adding machine tape. 

Jae Ko: 漂流 Drift
Heather Gaudio Fine Art
66 Elm Street
New Canaan, CT 06840

January 5- February 23, 2019


漂流 Drift,” is Jae Ko’s first solo exhibition at Heather Gaudio Fine Art. Ko created, as a centerpiece, one of her striking oversized wall installations consisting of over 80 reams of adding-machine paper that wind toward gallery ceilings. Other more colorful free-standing and wall-mounted sculpture is showcased on the gallery floors and walls.  The show will run through February 23. Ko’s site-specific installations have most recently been created at the Powerlong Museum in Shanghai with previous incarnations the Phillips Collection and the Hirshhorn Museums and Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C., as well as numerous notable private collections.  

Ko was born in Korea but grew up in Tokyo, where she received her BFA from Wako University.  She moved to the US, earned her MFA from the Maryland Institute College of Art and today lives and works in DC. Early explorations such as submerging utilitarian Kraft paper into ocean-soaked sand led to her positioning the physical properties of paper and against techniques used in Japanese, Korean and Chinese paper traditions. Concentric circles, waves, water rings and ripples in sand create a counterpoint between the human-made and the natural world. Her unique geometry led eventually to rolls of adding machine and cash register paper immersed in black Sumi inks coiled into different forms. Spirals, twists and contours became three-dimensional calligraphic gestures when set with a glue resin.

The addition of saffron and indigo has expanded Ko’s black and white palette into more colorful turf leading to journeys to the American West, Newfoundland and Labrador and then an increase in scale. Monumental site-specific installations were set against the canyons, geological strata or icebergs prominent in surrounding environments and that has led to her work being widely exhibited and included in many public and private collections including Grounds for Sculpture in New Jersey and Facebook Headquarters in Washington, D.C.

I had a chance to converse with Jae Ko before her recent trip to China, just before the holidays.

Mark Bloch: What will you show in China? 

Jae Ko: A white recycled paper roll installation. I will be in Chengdu, China from next week for my installation at the Chengdu Museum of Contemporary Art in two weeks. 

MB: Is it different from what is going to be happening in Connecticut?

JK: Heather Gaudio Fine Art in Connecticut will have several different series of work, wall hung sculpture and a floor installation. And a small-scale version of this white paper installation. 

Artist Jae Ko

MB: Do you prefer the large installation work now that you have done it a few times? What problems does it create that were not there in the smaller works?

JK: I enjoy doing both, the larger installations are obviously harder on me physically.

MB: How long does it take you to make that piece that you will be putting up in China? Tell me about your process.

JK: The Chengdu MOCA installation will take 5 -7 days to install because all of the paper has been already loosely re-rolled.

Each paper roll has to be unrolled and re-rolled loosely because when I have loose rolls, I can control the paper easily. The largest installation took 30 days with 10 assistants. It was about 30 tons of paper. 

Jae Ko, JK437 Red and Yellow, 2018, Rolled paper, colored ink and glue

MB: It must be flattering to be doing such large works and humbling to deal with all the people. How do you enjoy this process?  Do you enjoy working collaboratively? Do you take suggestions?

JK: I enjoy the large projects. They are not collaborations though, I work with art students as assistants.  They do most of the lifting, rolling. I do the placement. I don’t teach but I think it is good way to teach art students in the field.

I don’t take suggestions because everything was prepared before the installation begins. I usually work alone in my studio but when I need help, I have no choice. It can be very stressful working with many assistants, but I think I can handle myself. Each situation is completely different.

MB: I guess the bigger question is – are you doing a completely different kind of work now and how is that?

JK: The process has not changed. The style has not changed. It’s just a scale change.  My site-specific work is getting on a grander scale.

MB: Do you like the controlled, manmade parts of your work more than the natural and experiential? 

JK: Rolled paper is my material. I love it. Manipulating it is thrilling.

Jae Ko, JK785 Black, 2018, Rolled paper, Sumi ink and glue, 59 x 13 x 12 inches, 43 x 43 x 5 inches

MB: How do you navigate the continuum between control and chance in your work? I guess chance is easily surprising. Is control ever surprising? 

JK: In the early stages of development of my work, I learned between control and chance. I don’t know when to use chance. Do you? And I do not like surprises.

MB: In the early 80s you took “blank pieces of white rice paper, crumpling each in (your) hands and then constructing minimal columns stretching from floor to ceiling with the re-flattened but textured sheets.” Are you interested in Gutai? Could you ever make the creation of your work into a public performance?

JK: I think the creation of Gutai is still on-going in the art world since mid 50s. I did many other things including white rice paper installations. The truth is I had no idea what was I doing, I was just doing, or making things without defining what was I doing. I was trying to make something different for myself and it was fun.

MB: How do you see the influence of Minimalism in your work?

JK: I am not sure my work is influenced by Minimalism but I could say that when I was in Japan many of my friends and teachers were Mono-ha, but I am not sure which category my work belongs to, but it is not performance.

MB: Do your works evolve on site randomly? What part does a carefully conceived structure play?

JK: No, everything. I make precise models as sketches and even for the installation of my works in a show.

MB: What is your relationship to instruction-based art? Could you ever execute your work from afar like Sol Le Wit with a score or instructions?

JK: I make very accurate models that could someday be scaled up and reproduced by others.

MB: Can you talk about monochromaticism in your work vs. color?

JK: I do make multicolored works as well. The show at HGFA features a work with bright reds and yellow, inspired by traditional dresses worn in Korea. 

Installation view, Jae Ko, 2019, Heather Gaudio Fine Art

MB: What are your thoughts on materials you use? I know you used adding machine paper at one point.

JK: Paper is a most common ordinary, everyday material. When I was in graduate school, we had a project studying “circles”. The adding machine tapes were perfectly circular that I started to deform by cutting and soaking it in the water to see how the paper roll changed its shape. My projects continue to evolve as I continue to experiment with different types of paper in terms of texture, thickness, width, and color.  It becomes a sculptural material.

MB: What physical forces do you deal with and how do you perceive them? Is water your friend? What about gravity?

JK: In my case water is a tool. Obviously, gravity causes the weight. And it helps my installations stay on the wall.

MB: Are you transforming things with the work? Yourself? The audience? The materials? The space?

JK: The more installations I do, the easier they become and the more confident I am. I hope I am transforming the space as well.

Jae Ko, Untitled Red Installation, 2018, Rolled paper, Sumi ink, Dimensions variable

MB: What about calligraphy and the physical act of writing? Do you feel like you are drawing or writing with paper? With nature?

JK: I began experimenting with paper in graduate school.  I burned it, soaked it, threw it in the ocean, and buried it to see the possibilities and what resulted in its exposure to all of these elements.

The calligraphy is meditation. Yes, I do feel like I am drawing with paper, with nature.

MB: You spoke about rolling and un-rolling the paper to make it easier to work with. One of the articles spoke about gluing the paper for stability. What is the experience like of working with your material? Were you physical as a kid, athletic? Does this work require physical stamina?

JK: I was not athletic as a kid, and as I said the installations are exhausting.

The installation does not involve gluing. I have smaller wall hung sculpture that need gluing.  The paper is submerged in Sumi inks, graphites, etc. that are mixed with a glue resin which sets the shapes of the coiled paper.

In the case of the site-specific installations with the white, untreated paper, the reason I unroll and re-roll the paper rolls is because I have to make a very loose roll.  This helps me create the shadows between the layers and helps me manipulate it into the forms I am looking for.

Jae Ko: 漂流 Drift” site-specific installation at Heather Gaudio Fine Art

MB: Is your work physical? What part of the work is beyond the white paper of which it is made? How much is energy and how much is matter?

JK: It’s very physical and requires a lot of energy.  So it is about physicality and the material as well.

MB: At a show last year at the Met Museum in New York, Michelangelo: Divine Draftsman and Designer, there were 133 of his drawings on view. I was struck by the fact that it was packed, and there were people congregating around the 500-year-old pieces of paper and almost fetishizing them.

You are creating a new visual language out of paper. Tell me about the limits and sexiness of paper as a carrier of information and how that effects how you use it as a sculptural material.

JK: I went to Egypt last month and saw paper much older than 500 years. I think those 5000-year-old Egyptian papyri are more interesting.

I began my exploration with paper rolls, books, and cash register rolls among other variations of paper. I exposed large rolls to natural elements in order to see how the paper would transform and what sort of metamorphosis would take place. I used pools of Sumi ink, sea water at the ocean, sand, dirt– by burying stacks of paper for a few months-- and sunlight to affect this transformation. I don’t see paper as a carrier of information so much as it is a medium.  I use the every-day material as the medium, it speaks for itself.

Jae Ko, JK112, 1996/2018, Rolled paper, Sumi ink, glue; 3 panels, 48 x 144 x 3 inches overall

MB: When did you first think you might be an artist? 

JK: My childhood play was with paper and ink, the very delicate craftsmanship I learned from my father. He wasn’t an artist, but he always enjoyed building things. I am not sure when I first thought I might become an artist. All I was interested in my life was creating something different from other artists out there. WM

Mark Bloch

Mark Bloch is a writer, performer, videographer and multi-media artist living in Manhattan. In 1978, this native Ohioan founded the Post(al) Art Network a.k.a. PAN. NYU's Downtown Collection now houses an archive of many of Bloch's papers including a vast collection of mail art and related ephemera. For three decades Bloch has done performance art in the USA and internationally. In addition to his work as a writer and fine artist, he has also worked as a graphic designer for ABCNews.com, The New York Times, Rolling Stone and elsewhere. He can be reached at bloch.mark@gmail.com and PO Box 1500 NYC 10009.



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