Monday, October 19, 2009




noun, plural -phies.
1. the detailed mapping or charting of the features of a relatively small area, district, or locality.
2. the detailed description, esp. by means of surveying, of particular localities, as cities, towns, or estates.
3. the relief features or surface configuration of an area.
4. the features, relations, or configuration of a structural entity.
5. a schema of a structural entity, as of the mind, a field of study, or society, reflecting a division into distinct areas having a specific relation or a specific position relative to one another.

n. pl. to·pog·ra·phies

Detailed, precise description of a place or region.

Graphic representation of the surface features of a place or region on a map, indicating their relative positions and elevations.

A description or an analysis of a structured entity, showing the relations among its components: In the topography of the economy, several depressed areas are revealed.

The surface features of a place or region.

The surface features of an object: The topography of a crystal.

The surveying of the features of a place or region.

I have chosen the word topographies, due to its reference to visual language in photographic and artist measures. Although, it primarily is used in reference to describing the mapping and plotting out the landscape of specific regions and places, the way artists have commandeered the term to focus on how they see the visual landscape of certain specific schema of a group or place really makes me wonder about my own photographic language and how i can expand on what I already know.

Tim Johnson

The Sun. 1994. Acrylic on Canvas. 60 x 96 inches.

Phoenix Hall. 2004. Acrylic on Linen. 76 x 100cm

Julie Ewington and Wayne Tunnicliffe

Tim Johnson is a fascinating Sydney painter who is making a significant contribution to Australian art.

His visionary search for connections between cultures is based in dialogue and respect.

Tim Johnson traces connections that are not limited to the earthly realm. Since the late 1970s spiritual beings have cohabited with living people in his universethe Buddha, Bodhisattvas, Aboriginal artists, Native Americans, Tibetan monks, Vietnamese farmers, extra-terrestrials and Christian figures emerge from fields of dots or float across shimmering colour.

A major retrospective of his work, Painting Ideas: Tim Johnson, is about to go on a tourorganised by the Queensland Art Gallery and the Art Gallery of New South Wales and will feature key Johnson works from 1970 to the present. It focuses on the humanist project underlying Johnson's engagement with Aboriginal culture, belief in collaboration and his search for spiritual meaning.

Johnson began as a painter but soon turned to experimentation and by the mid-1970s developed a form of conceptual painting, that looked beyond European and American art and which was influenced by travels through India, Nepal and South East Asia. Back in Australia, an interest in music and involvement in the punk music scene further fuelled Johnson's cultural eclecticism.

In 1980 Johnson visited Aboriginal artists at Papunya, and he is now best known for his influential and at times controversial paintings of Aboriginal artists and collaborative works made with leading painters such as Clifford Possum Tjapaltjarri. He was given permission to use non-sacred motifs, which have since appeared in many of his paintings, contributing to a sense of space and time which links disparate elements into a harmonious field.

In the 1980s, however, appropriation became controversial and Johnson's eclecticism incited debate about whether artists using Aboriginal motifs were engaged in naïve theft or more meaningful engagements. The issue is complex, but because of his unique artistic vocabulary, his collaboration and his work to promote Aboriginal desert art, Johnson is often viewed as an artist who respectfully engages with Aboriginal culture.

His interests spread wider than Australia, to Buddhism and Asian art. He saw similarities between the art of cultural forms and Aboriginal art, which led to magnificent multi-layered canvases, such as Yuelamu (Queensland Art Galley), where a plethora of events, moments and places occur simultaneously.

The visionary nature of Tim Johnson's art suggests that disparate strands of earthly life, otherworldly manifestations and spiritual imaginings make sense as part of a greater whole. This is a truly generous vision.

The Painting Ideas: Tim Johnson exhibition is supported by the Australian Government's Contemporary Touring Initiative.

The exhibition tours to the Art Gallery of New South Wales 13 March - 17 May 2009;

Queensland Art Gallery 13 June - 11 October 2009; and the Ian Potter Museum of Art, University of Melbourne 11 November 2009 - 14 February 2010.

The co-authors of this article are Julie Ewington, head of Australian art, Queensland Art Gallery/Gallery of Modern Art and Wayne Tunnicliffe, senior curator of contemporary art, Art Gallery of NSW.

Lee Mullican

Space. 1951. Oil on Canvas.

Section from the Burlap Plain. 1951. 40 x 50 inches. Oil on Canvas

For over fifty years, Los Angeles-based artist Lee Mullican (1919–1998) created paintings and drawings of great beauty and almost shamanistic power. Drawing on interests and influences including Native American art, Surrealism, Byzantine icons, Paleolithic figures, Zen Buddhism, and Hinduism, Mullican created abstractions that engage the eye, the mind, and the heart. As the artist himself put it, he sought to conjure “invented worlds” through his art.

Born in Oklahoma, Mullican first became interested in art as a child and subsequently studied at the Kansas City Art Institute. During a wartime stint in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Mullican served as a topographical draftsman, working with aerial photographs which, with their dense patterning of vegetation, roads, and rivers, would have an enormous impact on his paintings. In 1957 Mullican moved to San Francisco and showed with the Dynaton Group, which included artists Wolfgang Paalen and Gordon Onslow Ford. Five years later, Mullican relocated to Southern California, where he taught at a number of schools, becoming a pillar of the Los Angeles art community and mentor to a host of younger artists. His painting evolved over the five decades of his career but continued to reflect the same concerns as his work of the 1950s. Ultimately, Mullican forged a unique style and place for himself as an artist. Eschewing the grandeur and heroicism of the Abstract Expressionists, he chose a quieter, more personal and introspective vocabulary to investigate both his inner world and the cosmos.

Lee Mullican: An Abundant Harvest of Sun presents approximately 70 paintings and works on paper as well as several sculptures. Although he has been acknowledged as an exemplar of “the postwar opening of the American mind,” this is the first major presentation in over twenty-five years and his first-ever solo museum show on the East Coast. Lee Mullican is accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue with essays by curator Carol Eliel, Amy Gerstler, and Lari Pittman. The exhibition is made possible in part by The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, the Herta and Paul Amir Art Foundation, and The Judith Rothschild Foundation. Additional support was provided by the Pasadena Art Alliance. The presentation of Lee Mullican at the Grey Art Gallery is made possible in part by the Abby Weed Grey Trust. Public programs are supported by the Grey’s Inter/National Council.

Caryl Davis

Past Pants (#15). 1994. C-print, mounted on aluminum. 9.25 x 14 in.

Dramatic Locale. 2005. terrazzo paving area and a porcelain enamel steel panel. dimensions variable

Flight Patterns was an exhibition I organized for the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles. On view at the museum from November 12, 2000, through February 11, 2001, the exhibition featured work by twenty-three artists from the Pacific region on the theme of the topographic landscape. The artists were Lawrence Aberhart, Doug Aitken, Miles Coolidge, Caryl Davis, Center for Land Use Interpretation, Christina Fernandez, Simryn Gill, Rodney Graham, Anthony Hernandez, Gavin Hipkins, Igloolik Isuma Productions, Tim Johnson, Rachel Khedoori, Roy Kiyooka, David Lamelas, Simon Leung, Tracey Moffatt, Lee Mullican, Paul Outerbridge, Michael Parekowhai, Allan Sekula, Yuk King Tan, and Glen Wilson. The exhibition originated as an investigation of current manifestations of the North American topographic tradition in photography. Seeking to identify artists who had been influenced by the reductive, black-and-white pictures of 1970s photographers such as Lewis Baltz, Robert Adams, Henry Wessel, and others, but whose curren t reworkings included a renewed attention to social subtext and issues of cultural identity, the exhibition was always conceived of as primarily comprising photographic works, film, and video.

When the scope of the project expanded from its focus on West Coast artists to include those working in regions and geographies with a parallel history of landscape-based representation, it evolved to include painting and installation. Similarly, while the bulk of the material presented was new or recent work from the 1990s, the exhibition included three generations of artists and several historical referents that became critical to the project's thesis. Previously unpublished travel photographs taken in 1955 by the California modernist photographer Paul Outerbridge, for example, established Outerbridge as a precursor of topographic photography in his flattened abstractions of construction sites around the Tijuana border region. The presence of his luminous dye transfer pictures in the show, digitally produced for exhibition, also invoked the themes of travel and movement, as well as the translucent light of the California region. In the absence of a topographic photography tradition in New Zealand, the phot ographer Lawrence Aberhart speaks of inventing this kind of austere formal language for himself in his postcolonial representations of the landscape. His luminescent black-and-white pictures of Maori meeting houses, masonic lodges, and striking vistas that belie the contested land's history span thirty years and comprise a timeless portrait of New Zealand's bicultural present. Anthony Hernandez's 1979-83 series of black-and-white photographs titled Public Fishing Areas posits the social in what are otherwise extremely spare, documentary pictures of the always bizarre convergence of the natural and artificial landscape in the Los Angeles region. One of three such bodies of work influenced by the banality of the new topographic subject, Hernandez flatly portrays public spaces of transition and rest, creating a social document of Los Angeles's less glamorous masses.

While Flight Patterns was by no means comprehensively international, of particular importance to the Los Angeles audience was the exhibition's curatorial reorientation toward the Pacific and away from the dominant EuroAmerican perspective prevalent in so many large-scale contemporary exhibitions and biennials. Originally titled On the Edge, a reference to the idea of the Edge City, but also a nod to Mike Davis's heavily encumbered, noirish read of Los Angeles in his now highly influential book City of Quartz, the exhibition was also influenced by my own preoccupation with the idea of westward expansion as read through the geography of an exhibition and its intensely local or regionally based concerns. By focusing on the thematic of representations of the land, its relationship to cultural identity, and its spatialization in relationship to urbanism, and our physical experience of dystopic cities such as Los Angeles, the exhibition was intended to be "international" or perhaps have implications toward the glo bal, but cohere around pictures with an extremely specific agenda.

Doug Aitken

Blow Debris. 2000. Video Installation. Dimensions Variable

Blow Debris. 2000. Video Installation. Dimensions Variable

Aitken’s style of art lingers in a realm between popular culture and media art. He has taken the liberty of incorporating video into much of his work, revealing a wealth of intensities. “There is no linear narrative in Aitken’s videos; the story line is disjointed both in terms of the films’ structure and sequence of images, as well as in their prism-like projection.” Grosenick, pg.20

Atkins is not only a videographer, but a photographer as well. He creates photographs influenced by epic road movies, as well as photographs manipulated through the use of a computer. Atkins’ photographs “kaleidoscopically fragment their motifs, thus attempting to translate the principle of his video projections into a single flat surface.” Grosenick, pg. 20

“He belongs to a generation of artist that enriched the presentation of the medium of video. Aitken’s work questions nature and civilization as well as people and their relationship to time and space. Obsessed with the idea of present time, Aitken refers to his films and installations as being pure communication. In the process, he utilizes the vocabulary of Hollywood and advertising films. Alongside his freelance activities as artist and photographer, Doug Aitken is also known for his video clips, completed for artists such as Iggy Pop and Fatboy Slim.” -Media Art Net

Yuk King Tan

Yuk King Tan is one of New Zealand’s best-known young contemporary artists. Exhibiting for the first time in Vietnam in a solo exhibition, she explores perennial human needs and desires in the context of the urgent economic development of industrial cities, through video, photography and a series of ‘drawings’.

The multi-layered works presented in Shelter are created in an extraordinary and unique way. Photographs are first printed onto the paper, which is then ‘smoked’ with candles to create a dark cloudy background – as if an inversion of the tonality of Chinese ‘mountains and mist’ painting or an upset in the cosmology. This surface is then etched back, and exquisite images of human figures, bridges or factories are drawn or painted on. With titles such as Boomtown and Ghosts of Tent City, the artist’s work creates a poignant portrayal of humankind’s desire to forge ahead economically, but at the same time questions the human and environmental costs of this desire. Tan states: “As I make the works I think about diverse ideas about society and social order, cities and the needs of civilization….also city plans and architectural diagrams. Like the dramas of a master-city builder who by day plans the future of a city and by night has hallucinations about its past and present.”

Nevertheless, Tan’s engagement with these issues is by no means geographically specific. Her commentary is quite relevant in the Vietnamese context of rapid economic development which occurs often at the cost of human health and environmental degradation.

Also featured in the exhibition is a video work, I am the light of the world, in which Tan uses firecrackers to create images – a technique that is her signature. Firecrackers are attached to the wall, outlining a portrait of New Zealand missionaries active in China in the 1920s, and are then lit. The image bursts and crackles apart for the next 5 minutes. Shelter has been curated by a little blah blah (albb) – an initiative by two HCMC-based visual artists, Sue Hajdu and Motoko Uda. albb functions as a platform for contemporary art through the organization and curation of a range of art activities such as exhibitions and events. Please visit for more information.

Jan Kempenaer

" Spomenik #1" , 2006 , color photograph on alu , 101 cm X 124 cm

"Spomenik #13" , 2007 , color photograph on alu , 101 cm X 124 cm

Jan Kempenaers and the Picturesque
Steven Jacobs

Jan Kempenaers is most known for his large-scale, panoramic and detailed images of industrial and urbanized landscapes in Europe and Japan. Fascinated by today's hybrid landscape in which the differences between center and periphery, city and country, and culture and nature are no longer clearly defined, Kempenaers evokes in several ways the notion of the picturesque, which originated in the eighteenth century. In the aesthetics of the picturesque, the severe geometry of the French garden was exchanged for a predilection for the whimsicalness of natural landscapes contaminated by human interventions and cultural remnants. Furthermore, in the picturesque, nature was approached indirectly, through pictures. On the one hand, nature was perceived as if it was a picture and, on the other, landscapes were carefully created and staged in situ. With his fascination for a particularly soft lighting and non-descript places where nature and city intersect, Kempenaers associates himself with the picturesque's predilection for the pictorial framings of hybrid landscapes.

In a series of more recent works, Kempenaers elaborated on the theme of the picturesque more explicitly by focusing on natural scenery in Scotland, Nordic areas such as Iceland, and the American West - regions that have played an important part in the development of the Romantic imagination of nature in the nineteenth century. In Two Ruins (2006), for instance, the natural and the artificial seem to answer to the same organic laws. Buildings look like plants; they are as irregular and capricious as the green meadows. However, this harmonic unity is transected by two cables, which introduce geometrical order into the image but also emphasize its surface quality. As in his posturban landscapes, Kempenaers demonstrates that photographing natural scenery is always dependent on an act of framing. This is also explicitly the case in stage set-like space of Dead End (2006), which combines contemporary traffic infrastructures with a kind of "grotto" - a prominent icon of the picturesque, and in View (2004), which evokes Romantic landscape painting by its confrontation of small human dorsal figures with the endless vastness of nature. Kempenaers' images of natural scenery, however, are not the result of Romantic nostalgia. They stipulate that natural landscapes are turned into codified spectacles. Strikingly, pictures such as View, Gap (2005), and Niest Point (2006) do not evoke the utopia of a virgin nature. The photographer, after all, arrives at a spot that has already been framed before him. Kempenaers visualizes places that include an entire tourist infrastructure, which marks viewpoints and framings. In this perspective as well, Kempenaers' pictures answer to the logic of the picturesque, which constantly reverses the relation between a picture and its referrent. Kempenaers demonstrates that the contemporary natural landscape has been colonized and domesticized on a global scale thanks to the world-wide proliferation of images, from artworks to all kinds of mediated landscape images in cinema, television, tourism, and so forth.

A second series of photographs focuses on monuments, which have always played an important part in the aesthetics of the picturesque as well. In the context of his "Spomenik: The End of History" project, Kempenaers has photographed monuments erected by the communist regime of former Yugoslavia. Paying attention to their careful integration in the landscape, he demonstrates that landscapes are turned into sites of memory. Commemorating the common traumatic experiences during the Second World War and the partisan battles, these monuments were intended to provide the people of Yugoslavia with a common history and identity that would be productive in its future evolution. However, in the late twentieth century, these landscapes were torn by nationalist and ethnic violence and their monuments are now neglected. The idea of progress has been buried under the weight of history and the monuments, which were once machines of sightseeing and (photographic) image production, have become obsolete and invisible. Notwithstanding their futurist designs and their space age associations, these monuments have become modernist variations of the Romantic ruin - another preeminent icon of the picturesque. The entire Spomenik project will be exhibited in the Braem pavilion of the Antwerp Middelheim Museum at the end of 2007.

Michel Campeau

Untitled, from the series Darkroom 2005–2006. Pigment Print on Paper

Untitled, from the series Darkroom 2005–2006. Pigment Print on Paper

When I multiply 24 by 52, I get a total of 1,248. When I then multiply 1,248 by 21, I get a total of 26,208. That tally of 26,208 is a close estimate of how many hours I have spent in a darkroom over the course of my career. Having spent an average of 24 hours per week printing jobs for money and printing my personal work means that if that was a prison sentence served out under the amber glow of a safelight, then it would last 2.99 years with no time off for good behavior. That number does not include how many hours I spend each year teaching others how to print. That might be what I call my “community service” after parole.

I have loved printmaking since I was first introduced to the process in high school. It wasn’t the magic of watching the image appear in the developer tray that grabbed me like most photographers mention while waxing nostalgic. For me, darkrooms have always been places that served practical solutions for a different set of problems. First and foremost, the darkroom I set up as a teenager in a hidden storage closet in my parent’s house served as a pretense for me and my girlfriend to spend a lot of time in the dark without the chance for sudden interruption. Secondly, during and after four years of art school, darkrooms served as a way for me to make a living without having to work more than two or three days a week. And last in priority, darkrooms allowed me to see what my own photographs looked like.

To many it is sad that these spaces are disappearing due to the advances in digital imaging. For the photographer Michel Campeau, I suspect his new book Darkroom from Nazraeli Press and the JGS Foundation serves as a kind of lament to their extinction.

His photographs show the wild and often desperate improvisations that spring from the minds of photographers when constructing or “improving” a work space. Jury rigged fans, safelights and enlargers of all sorts are exposed to the white light of Campeau’s strobes - their brightness exposing all of the flaws that are normally hidden under the amber safelights. Funny thing about darkrooms is that in the white light there is something so cold and almost nauseating about them that miraculously disappears once the safelights take over. This book may be a funeral dirge for a dying craft but the tone generally would cause most to be thankful to sell the entire kit on eBay.

Campeau’s still-lifes describe how darkrooms are often personal spaces and how they become lived in and cluttered with talismans; a taro card, an old test print, notations penciled right onto the wall. (I remember reading a story about Garry Winogrand moving his darkroom and upon unpacking the enlarger he decorated it with several items including an old bow-tie and a string of rosary beads. When asked if these additions helped he simply replied, They can’t hurt).

The book progresses along until the pipes become so corroded and the walls are so filthy with fixer that we no longer want to enter. Or perhaps this is what the next tenant has to look forward to cleaning up. Campeau ends the book with an unappealingly stained work shirt hanging against a field of the darkness that signals all have gone home to the Macintosh to slide arrows along histograms.

This is the first in a series of ten books that are being selected for publication by the British photographer Martin Parr. For starting with a requiem, I hope he has more life affirming subjects ahead.

I love this book but then again I am a printer, and just the first few images bring back a flood of memories: Printing in Helen Buttfield’s ancient darkroom at 212 East 14th street (right above the old Irving Klaw Studio where Betty Page was often photographed) and using GAF paper that had expired in 1968, the same year I was born. Daydreaming and pouring the fixer into the film tank before the developer and clearing 8 rolls of Gilles Peress’s film (from a New Yorker assignment). Printing and chain smoking through the night at Brian Young’s Phototechnika full of self pity and weeping over a recent break-up with a girlfriend. Finding out my cat had used one of my 16X20 trays as a litter box. Improvising a darkroom in my tenement apartment’s bathroom and dropping a 50mm Schneider lens into the toilet. Printing a long afternoon of 11X14’s only to realize afterwards that the client wanted 16X20’s. Watching my teacher Sid Kaplan light up a cigarette in the darkroom, sending all of us students diving to close our paper boxes. Watching my 90 dollar Kodak Type 1 Process Thermometer fall in slow motion to the floor. Traveling 45 minutes to my darkroom, setting up to print and having the last enlarger bulb blow out right when I turn on the focus light. Having my exhaust fan fall out of my window and wind up shattering my downstairs neighbor’s window.

My Gra-Lab timer counting down: 5, 4, 3, 2.…

Jan Banning

Left:Bureaucracy, Bolivia. Rodolfo Villca Flores, supervisor of market and waste department, Betanzos.
Right: Indian bureaucracy. Patna. Sushma Prasad, assistent-clerk at the Cabinet Secretary of Bihar.

Sushma Prasad is an assistant clerk to the Cabinet Secretary of the State of Bihar, India. Her desk is relatively neat, but behind her is a chaotic pile of irretrievable facts buried in hundreds of tattered paper files. Prasad is one of fifty civil servants Jan Banning photographed in Bolivia, France, Yemen, Russia, Liberia, India, China, and Texas. They engage us as individuals, but Banning has titled his series of color portraits after the system in which his subjects labor: Bureaucratics. Whether sitting behind a card table in Liberia or a marble-topped desk in Russia, this array of mostly appointed officials are, according to essayist Will Tinnemans, each a "small clog in the gigantic machinery of the state." Those whose needs have brought them into these offices will find that the person behind the desk may or may not be able or willing to help them.

Compare Banning's project with Paul Shambroom's series Meetings, panoramic images of small town city councils and school boards shot in a variety of American locales. Shambroon's diverse groups are often amusing, but we accept them as decision-makers, a demonstration of democracy at the grassroots level. On the other hand, we assume that Banning's subjects are largely in the business of saying "No." Banning's subjects can be both harder to take seriously and more intimidating, perhaps because we know so little of their actual situations, but perhaps also because they are so familiar. You are not likely to find yourself before Alham Abdulwaze Nuzeli of the Ministry of Tithing and Alms in Al-Mahwit, Yemen, but her portrait will bring to mind all your own encounters with bureaucracy, beginning with the ladies who ran the elementary school lunch line to that Department of Sanitation Code Enforcement officer who just would not listen to reason.

Do Ho Suh

Fallen Star. 2008-09. 131 x 145 x 120 inches. Mixed Media Installation

Floor. 1997-2000. 39 3/8 x 39 3/8 x 3 1/8 inches. PVC Figures, glass, plates, phenolic sheets, polyurethane resin. 40 parts.

“Seoul Home/L.A. Home”—
Korea & Displacement
ART:21: What was your training in art in Korea like? What did you study?

SUH: It was a traditional painting technique that I learned there.
Basically ink on rice paper. Mostly black and white, with a very flexible brush. For the first through the second year of college you train how to use your brush well and how to grind your ink well. Very ritual kinds of things. And then once you get comfortable with the brush, in other words, once you reach the point where you can have a really good-quality line, then you can actually paint or draw what you want. So it was a rather boring process. And there were many different classes for example, like calligraphy. I’m really bad at that and I’m probably worse than you. But I was able to sort of get around it. It was senior year, I think, when I was able to do something I wanted. More creative stuff. Teachers didn’t allow us to really explore many different things. That’s something that I really regret. We never had a crit, and it was only one direction—from teacher to the students. There was no exchange or dialogue between the teacher and student. If the teacher says something then you just have to follow that.

So it was very awkward and at the same time interesting when I first came to the United States. One thing was my English, but at the same time I wasn’t really trained to express my feelings or thoughts on art. I was not trained to do that at all. So it took me an entire semester to just say, "I like this work" or "I don’t like this work." And then, gradually, I started to learn how to talk about my art. And ironically, I had never talked about my art in Korean before. Even though my English is not good, I think I feel more comfortable actually talking about my work in English than in Korean. That’s something that I find interesting. So when I give a lecture in Korea, for example, I realize myself actually translating my thoughts in English into Korean. So yeah, it’s a funny thing.

ART:21: Is language the only thing that's been a real challenge for you?

SUH: When I go back to Korea, Seoul is a very crowded city and on the street people bump into each other. And somebody could just hit your shoulder and that’s normal. So nobody complains about it. But I realize that’s different here. And when I go back to Korea, when somebody touches my body I get really annoyed. So I think since I've spent eleven years here in the States, my perception of this personal space, this dimension, has changed. So that’s something that I found quite interesting.

ART:21: And that's related to your evolving work "Seoul Home/L.A. Home..."

SUH: I would say the Korean House project started from this need to fulfill a certain desire when I graduated from RISD. I was in New York for a year before I went to grad school. I was living on 113th Street, near Columbia. And my apartment building was right across the street from the fire station. And it was really, really noisy and I couldn’t sleep well. And I was thinking when it was my last time to have a really good sleep. And that was in a small room back in Korea. And I wanted to bring the house somehow to my New York apartment. So that’s where everything started. So I started to think about the materials and the practicality of that project or the possibility of the project. And the choice of fabric came very naturally. Literally, I was going to install that fabric Korean house in my New York apartment, but apparently my apartment was much smaller so I couldn’t really do it. But it turned out to be a project later. I did do a test because it was a fairly large project for me to tackle at that time. I did the test in my small studio in New York in muslin cloth. And it worked. But I didn’t have time and money to actually do the Korean House project until 1999.

ART:21: What was that experience in your studio about?

SUH: The experience was about transporting space from one place to the other. A way of dealing with cultural displacement. And I don’t really get homesick, but I’ve noticed that I have this longing for this particular space and I want to recreate that space or bring that space wherever I go. So the choice of the material, which was fabric, was for many reasons. I had to make something that’s light and transportable. So something that you can fold and put in a suitcase and bring with you all the time.

That’s actually what happened when I first made that piece, the Korean House project. I brought that piece in my suitcase—two suitcases—to L.A. where I showed that piece for the first time, at the L.A. Korean Culture Center. It was about challenging this notion of site specificity because the piece was made inside the house. Everything was made in that space, so it was a site specific installation. But once you take that piece down from its own site and display and transport it in a different place, this idea of the site specific becomes highly questionable and reputable. And that’s what I was really interested in, because in my mind I think this notion home is something that you can infinitely repeat.

ART:21: What do you mean by that?

SUH: I mean at some point in your life you have to leave your home. And whenever you go back it’s just not the same home anymore. I think home is something that you carry along with your life. That’s what I mean by it’s something that you can repeat over and over again. I just dealt with that issue visually. In a physically minimum way, it’s this light fabric thing that can recreate this ambiance of a space. I didn’t want to sit down and cry for home. I wanted to more actively deal with these issues of longing. I decided not to be sad about it. I just want to go with it. I just want to carry that with me, you know, all the time.

I think the process of making the Korean project has a really important meaning to it because in order to make that piece you have to measure every inch of the space. And you really get to know the space and you often find little marks that you did when you were a kid and that brings all the memories of your childhood. And when you go through that process, this space becomes part of you and you really feel like you know it. It’s in you and you can actually leave home without any kind of attachments. Does that make sense? I mean, I would say it’s one way of dealing with homesickness.

I had a conversation with a friend of mine the other day: "It seems like it’s a lot of sacrifice for you, that you have to deal with the cultural barrier, language, you know, it’s a kind of constant thing. And at the same time, you have this homesickness." She asked me whether I have homesickness or not. I told her that I don’t have that much homesickness, but if there’s something I miss it’s probably my parents’ house in Korea and my mom’s home cooking. So I decided to learn her recipe, everything, and just practice that recipe with her every time I go back to Korea and then make those recipes mine. And then it becomes my recipe so I don’t really have to miss that because I can make that. And then I decided to make this into some kind of project. I want to make my mom’s cookbook. It’s a very simple thing, but in a way it’s kind of the same project as my Korean House project, but in a different kind of form.

ART:21: And where is home now?

SUH: It’s really a tough question, actually. Like I said before, once you leave home then it’s not the same anymore. I mean, you miss certain things, but whenever you go back it doesn’t meet your expectation because you change and things change over there too. Intrinsically this awkwardness and unfamiliarity, being in different cultures, will remain with me for the rest of my life. But I found every time I come back to New York, I feel like certain things are very comfortable because I’m surrounded by more strangers than in Seoul. Somehow that makes me more comfortable so I can relax more here. I’m telling my friends now that "Oh, New York feels like my home now." Just because of that. So you too can have more quiet time here.

ART:21: Do you think of yourself as an international voyager?

SUH: Well at least I have means to travel. At least I can say I’m living in this era that these means to travel are available. So if I want, I can go back to my home, to my parents' place. It’s not that much of a problem I think. But I wouldn’t say that I’m an international voyager or whatever, not yet I don’t think. But I spend a lot of time on the airplane. And I’m not in one place. Just in between, definitely, that’s how I feel.

ART:21: What prompted you to move to the United States?

SUH: Once my fortune teller told me that I have five horses. Five horses in my fortune, in my life. That means that I travel a lot. I’m destined to leave home and live somewhere else and travel to many places...that’s a story. It’s something that I realized fairly recently, but I think I also wanted to leave home because of my father. He was a successful painter, very successful. I think I was doing really well back there too, but I think somehow I felt that his fame overshadowed me and I wanted to do my own things without any kind of attachment to my family background or my father. So I think that was probably the main reason, but I wasn’t really sure. I didn’t really realize that in Korea, but now I think it was probably the main drive to come here. Like whatever I do, people always connect me to my father and you know this is through village kid and so on and so forth. I think more independently here because whatever I do here, if I fail it’s all my fault. I kind of like that idea. And if I make it, then that means I started from scratch all by myself and I think that’s more meaningful than doing something in Korea. So I think that’s it. And I had other reasons to come, but that was more related to my first marriage. My ex-wife was Korean but born in the States and she was studying here, so it was a pretty natural way to come. Right after we married I came here.

ART:21: Can you talk about the process of making the Korean House project?

SUH: The "Seoul Home/L.A. Home" project is actually the first kind of project that I've collaborated on with so many people. And not just numbers of people, but also people from different fields. My mom helped me to find right fabric. She introduced me to many different fabric manufacturers. So for that piece the fabric was custom-made. I couldn't find the right color, so we produced for that specific color. And also , she knows a lot of seam dressers, old ladies, national treasures. It's kind of an awkward term. I'm just translating literally. In Korea we call people who keep traditional techniques and craftmanship alive national treasures. And those old ladies helped me to make small ornaments on the pieces. And they taught me how to sew certain seams. I mean it's hard to see the difference, but there are many different kinds of sewing. And my main assistant, he studied industrial design at college and he worked with me together at the planning stage. So there were a lot of people involved, always. I do something always totally different each time. And for example, those seam dressers, they only make traditional dresses and had never done these things like this. So at the beginning it was kind of difficult to explain the scope of project. But they catch things so fastly, catch up so fast. And they really got into the project. And I see that all the time, because it's something that they don't do normally so I think they found it interesting. I like that when it happens.

ART:21: What is the signifigance of the color of the piece?

SUH: The color of "Seoul Home/L.A. Home" is a kind of light jade color, or celadon color. I just picked the color from the ceiling wallpaper in the traditional Korean house. In the traditional house you hang white papers on the wall. And on the ceiling you have this sky blue or jade colored wallpaper. It symbolizes the sky or universe. That house is for the scholar, so when they study in that room the color allows them to think about the universe or a bigger space, things like that. So I used that color for my piece.

ART:21: The scholar's house was the original model for the piece? What was it like visiting that original house?

SUH: Yes, my parent's house was modeled after this civilian style scholar's house which was built in a palace complex in the early 19th Century. And my house project, "Seoul Home/L.A. Home," is the replica of the interior of my parent's house.

I was walking with my mom and that was my first visit since my parents and me and my brother first visited that palace complex in the early seventies. So we're talking about changes. And because it was a very memorable experience for me, we went there to measure the original house in the palace complex with a couple of engineers and architects. We took the entire day to measure it and my mom and I talked about this wild pear tree in the garden. And it was there in seventies and still it was there and so we talked about that. And I told her that the house looked much smaller than I thought. Because I was little, so everything looked probably bigger. And most of the time I was upset because the house wasn't maintained well enough. My mom is involved with renovating that palace complex and she has to face a lot of obstacles. Mostly bureaucratic problems and things like that. And we talked about that. And because my parent's house was just part of that complex, so much smaller, just one section of the house was the master's quarter. So it was interesting to see that segment in the larger context.

Bahc Yiso

We Are Happy. 2004. Billboard. dimensions vary

Your Bright Future. 2002/2009. Electric Lamps, wood, wires, dimensions vary.

Yiso Bahc was born in 1957 in Busan, Korea, and lives and works
in Seoul. He holds a B.F.A. in painting from Hong-ik University in Seoul, and an M.F.A. from Pratt Institute, New York. Previously known as MoBahc, he has exhibited his work throughout Asia and the Americas, including solo shows at the Kumho Museum of Art, Seoul (1995) and the Bronx Museum, New York (1990). His work was included in the 1998 Taipei Biennial, the 1997 Kwang-ju Biennial and the 1994 Havana Biennial. His work was also included in the exhibition Defrost at the Sonje Museum of Contemporary Art in 1998. In 2001 he will participate in the Yokohama Triennial.

Through architectural installation and sculpture, Yiso Bahc is interested in quietly disturbing our perceptions and judgements. With subtle imagery and spatial manipulation, his work questions the complexities of culture and nature, public and private, virtual and real.

Yiso Bahc was selected for ArtPace’s International Artist-in-Residence Program by Sun Jung Kim, Chief Curator of Sonje Museum of Contemporary Art, Korea. Bahc is in residence with New York-based Yangah Ham and San Antonio-based Dario Robleto.


about the project

Yiso Bahc’s project at ArtPace continues the artist’s interest in space and dislocation. In the gallery, Bahc removed a large portion of the newly built wall and placed it on the floor, leaving its rough details—wooden beams and drywall—intact. Bahc then projects live video images from cameras installed on ArtPace’s roof onto the floor-bound wall or “screen.” Multiple projectors create an inverted collage of San Antonio’s horizon and the seemingly endless Texas sky. Bahc deftly shifts perspective so viewers seem to look out as they actually peer down and remain inside.

A second piece presents a more imaginary landscape. Updating the icon of a message in a bottle, the artist has launched into the Gulf of Mexico a bottle containing a Global Positioning System (GPS) tracking device. The GPS, sealed within a modest, plastic bottle, transmits a signal of its precise location as it floats in the sea. Bahc charts a route of an unpredictable, aimless journey by marking the gallery’s wall. The viewer imagines an experience “at sea” and without bearings. The piece is both finite and endless: when the battery in the device dies, the bottle will disappear from our mapping knowledge but not from the earth. With the drifting bottle, Bahc seems to question the limits of our knowledge about existence, future, and fate.

In both pieces, real-time and surveillance are placed in the context of nature, creating a poetic meditation. With the projected sky, the viewer searches, waits for action to appear. Conversely, with the bottle floating in the sea, the sculpture is the action; although it is powerless in its direction, dependent on the current to chart its course. Quiet and open-ended, Bahc’s work reflects on ideas of passage—the flow of time and crossings of boundaries.

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