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Brilliant Ideas Episode #3:
Michael Joo

Enigmatic artist, creating the works through unique interpretation

<Indivisible(Detail)> 2012 Polycarbonate riot shields, plasticine, stainless steel wire 609.6×914.4×762cm Image courtesy by Kukje Gallery

Exploring identity through deconstruction and construction

<Dissembled(Detail)> 2013 Low iron glass, pit fired ceramic Installed dimensions variable Image courtesy by Kukje Gallery

Michael Joo is an artist who freely explores genres of sculpture, performance, video art and installation. His experiences dictate how he approaches diverse topics, with keywords spanning from identity, nature, humanity and even politics. His art radiates from a singular identity to a universal identity, and at times reaches out to something else altogether, making him one of the most enigmatic artists in contemporary art today.

The third episode of “Brilliant Ideas” presented by Bloomberg and Hyundai delves into Joo’s insight and fierce passion for art. It’s a passion that is expressed in layers, just as his works are thick with meaning, and subject to deep and wide array of possible interpretations.

Extended possibilities and infinite potential

Michael Joo

Michael Joo was born in Ithaca, New York, in 1966. He currently lives and works in Red Hook, not far from his birthplace. For an artist, he has an unusual background as a biologist. It is perhaps the reason why he refers to his studio as his laboratory. Commensurate with Joo's reference, his workspace houses an array of objects halfway through the experimental process. His open-minded approach to potential and possibility sometimes leads to unfinished or abandoned objects, but many develop fully into complete works. Imperfected (2010) was made this way. According to Joo, everything that occurs or enters his lab, all objects, interact and coexist. He explains, "I think in many ways my art is about a type of potential and possibility, and perhaps the result is really not the anticipated outcome."

Michael Joo

Nature is a reoccurring motif in Joo’s work. "In nature, nothing can be perfectly balanced, so I edit and rebalance,” he says. Improved Rack (2008) is one such work that features an antler with perfect vertical symmetry. The look was achieved by using racks of moose and elk antlers that he recreated into perfect symmetrical form, placing together segments of antler and metal. Tree (2001), presented at the Korean Pavilion in the 49th Venice Biennale, was created in a similar fashion. It featured a large timber log that was deconstructed, then restructured. His work appears to be not far removed from nature, yet carries an artificial sentiment that encourages reflection on the cyclical and inseparable relationship between man and nature. It provides insight into the artist's world of art.

Joo identifies himself as neither Korean nor American. Rather, he sees himself simply as an artist. He has a layered identity, born to Korean parents in the United States where he was raised. A self-awareness of this plural identity manifests in his work, most notably in Mongoloid-Version B-29 (Miss Megook Decals #1-6) (1993). The fuselage of a B-29 bomber from the Korean War features a nude painting of the artist as a female, with "Miss Megook" stenciled next to it. It tells a story of sexual ambiguity, cultural conflict between the East and the West, and prejudice.

Where you and I and the world rendezvous

Michael Joo

People's perception of the world is an area that Joo is highly interested in, and this curiosity shows in his recurring choice of reflective materials in his work. Locale Inscribed (2014-2015), presented at this year's Sharjah Biennial 12, is a prime example.

Using curved or uneven reflective surfaces, Joo mirrors the world in works that become “kinetic architectures” that encapsulate the surrounding space. Visitors find their images mirrored back at them, distorted and indistinct, encouraging them to reconsider not only the self and the world, but also the very state of existence in this reality. Consequently, the artist breaks out of the one-way transmission of themes and ideas, and ushers in the audience to become part of the artwork.

Locale Inscribed captures the people, the city setting, and even its own temporality. Joo visited several locations to prepare for the Sharjah Biennial, one of which was an irrigation canal. While walking along the canal, he experienced an intimacy to the earth and a certain visceral encounter between the past and present. In order to recreate for the audience the space and time-transcending phenomenon that he himself experienced, Joo created irrigation watercourses into the floor of the exhibition space and coated the far wall in silver nitrate. He hopes visitors who walk along the water will find themselves facing the reflective silver wall and perceive something entirely unique to the self.

Michael Joo

Michael Joo also uses silkscreen. From November of 2014 to January of 2015, Bronx Museum of Art in New York showcased Suture(2014), capturing the regions of upper Manhattan and Bronx which Joo had photographed over four months. To make his works resemble Rorschach(a psychological test in which subjects' perceptions of inkblots are recorded and then analyzed using psychological interpretation), Joo worked with the digital process by repeating and rotating the photographs. The photographs were transferred onto large canvases using a silk-screening process with a solution of silver nitrate, ensuing mirror effect. Suture merges sculpture and photography and blurs the boundary of media and time as a tribute to the Bronx’s unique landscape and perspectives. Through this work Michael Joo expresses an ongoing concern for space and environment and our desire to work with or against them.
Meanwhile in 2006 solo exhibition Joo presented God III(2006), a billboard showing photographs of Trans-Alaska Pipeline. On the top of the billboard ‘0.0273 calories’ is marked, which symbolizes 0.0273 calories burned when one walks 400miles, the total length of the pipeline. The work exemplifies his interest in advertisement, science, commerce and energy.

Michael Joo

The artist prefers to keep a vague narrative, and the uncanniness of his visuals provides his works with a sense of mystery, musing humor and glamor. It can also incite philosophical debates and be the subject of critiques. Yet nothing seems to faze the artist or keep him from experimenting with new materials and ideas. Many support his work for its relevancy to the contemporary, particularly its role in starting new discussions and sparking different ways of thought. Joo explains that his unique approach to artwork is just what he enjoys, and that a sculpture cast from a mold is not significantly different in terms of substance from counting the calories expended by a person. In fact, “difference” as he views it, is an issue of perceptions separating individual experiences.

So what does art mean to Joo? He wishes to continue to imbue his works with hidden meanings and intentions, all the while utilizing creative and diverse methods to recreate the world. Almost as if to reassure himself, Joo vows to maintain his broad, yet inclusive approach to present works about his own experiences that resonate with the audience. "I think art is one of the last arenas that defies having a certain kind of specialization," he says. What other tales will there be to tell, in Joo's installations where traditional ideas of artist and audience disappear altogether? ■ with ARTINPOST

  • <Untitled> 2013

    Image courtesy by Kukje Gallery

    <Untitled> 2013 Image courtesy by Kukje Gallery
  • <Untitled> 2013

    Image courtesy by Kukje Gallery

    <Untitled> 2013 Image courtesy by Kukje Gallery
  • <Dissembled(Detail)> 2013

    Low iron glass, pit fired ceramic Installed dimensions variable Image courtesy by Kukje Gallery

    <Dissembled(Detail)> 2013 Low iron glass, pit fired ceramic Installed dimensions variable Image courtesy by Kukje Gallery
  • <Dissembled> 2013

    Low iron glass, pit fired ceramic Installed dimensions variable Image courtesy by Kukje Gallery

    <Dissembled> 2013 Low iron glass, pit fired ceramic Installed dimensions variable Image courtesy by Kukje Gallery
  • <Indivisible> 2012

    Polycarbonate riot shields, plasticine, stainless steel wire 609.6×914.4×762cm Image courtesy by Kukje Gallery

    <Indivisible> 2012 Polycarbonate riot shields, plasticine, stainless steel wire 609.6×914.4×762cm Image courtesy by Kukje Gallery
  • <Indivisible(Detail)> 2012

    Polycarbonate riot shields, plasticine, stainless steel wire 609.6×914.4×762cm Image courtesy by Kukje Gallery

    <Indivisible(Detail)> 2012 Polycarbonate riot shields, plasticine, stainless steel wire 609.6×914.4×762cm Image courtesy by Kukje Gallery
  • <Indivisible(Detail)> 2012

    Polycarbonate riot shields, plasticine, stainless steel wire 609.6×914.4×762cm Image courtesy by Kukje Gallery

    <Indivisible(Detail)> 2012 Polycarbonate riot shields, plasticine, stainless steel wire 609.6×914.4×762cm Image courtesy by Kukje Gallery
  • <Doppelganger(Pink Rocianante)> 2009

    Bronze, enamel paint 195.6×193×111.8cm Image courtesy by Kukje Gallery

    <Doppelganger(Pink Rocianante)> 2009 Bronze, enamel paint 195.6×193×111.8cm Image courtesy by Kukje Gallery
  • <Stubbs(Absorbed)> 2009

    Bronze, patina 186.7×210.8×121.9cm Image courtesy by Kukje Gallery

    <Stubbs(Absorbed)> 2009 Bronze, patina 186.7×210.8×121.9cm Image courtesy by Kukje Gallery
  • Michael Joo <Locale Inscribed (Walking in the desert with Eisa towards the sun looking down)> 2014-2015

    Mixed media dimensions variable Courtesy of the artist. Image provided by Kukje Gallery

    Michael Joo <Locale Inscribed (Walking in the desert with Eisa towards the sun looking down)> 2014-2015 Mixed media dimensions variable Courtesy of the artist. Image provided by Kukje Gallery

Profile

Michael Joo was born in Ithaca, New York in 1966. As a conceptual artist utilizing diverse media, he expresses ideas on nature, man, society, and identity. Joo’s persistent interest in identity manifested early in his works, and soon expanded to exploration in nature and civilization. His current works revolve around bringing heterogenic concepts together into a state of hybridity. The conflicting concepts presented in his works are that of nature, cityscapes etc., which he combines to explore issues of identity and boundaries, often with scientific or philosophical undertones.
Michael Joo received his MFA from Yale School of Art and has participated in numerous solo and group exhibitions, but for many, he is remembered for representing the Korean Pavilion with Doho Suh at the 49th Venice Biennale in 2001. He also presented at Art Basel, and at the 6th (2006) and 9th (2012) Gwangju Biennale. The artist is presently participating in the 2015 Sharjah Biennial 12 and Whitney Museum’s inaugural exhibition. His works are also included in the collection of many prominent institutions, including the Whitney Museum and the Guggenheim Museum.

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