brilliant 30: Sankeum Koh
Transcribing Text into Pearl Imagery
Sankeum Koh’s Text Painting: A Visual Landscape of Pearl Beads
The visual and literal references in Sankeum Koh’s works are not necessarily made explicit. Koh employs the canvas as a surface for her work - as she would in a painting – then arranges pearl beads and composes a piece in black and white tones from natural light and shadow. On the surface, Koh’s sculptural text may appear to have stemmed from the aesthetics of minimalism or Korean monochrome paintings. Regardless, one thing is clear - Sankeum Koh’s work departs from critical thoughts hinged on an overload of daily data.
The act of transcribing portions of texts into a new semantic form with pearl beads may qualify Koh as a visual polyglot. Koh’s braille art embodies the narratives of individuals or events from newspapers, poems, novels, poems, lyrics from music and even classic books on law. Koh discloses her sentiments on a society devoid of reason and value; at the same time, the pearl beads subtly conceal the artist’s ambiguous partiality beneath codified pearl texts. This practice runs parallel to the artist’s experience of going through a brief period of blindness, then coming back to sight; this has been her way of connecting with the outside world ever since. Sankeum Koh’s transliteration of pearl imagery, which resembles holy teardrops resting on sacred passages, appears to exhibit spiritual attributes not unlike those of religious scripture.
Q. Please describe your work.
A. I place shiny dots - artificial pearls - to represent the text of a selected passage. My work is a visual substitution of its original text while at the same time seeking ineffable transliteration through the aesthetics of beauty. I remember having been an extensive reader ever since I was young. I pored over newspaper articles when I studied in New York, and developed a high regard for the value of liberal arts. Soon after reentering my home country, I indulged in Korean contemporary literature. I am currently enamored with French literature and the European classics. The process of transcribing passages from books may appear rather simple; however the codified language may not be read as easily. My main channel for acquiring information is through television news and daily newspapers; these channels remove information from its context, thwarting mankind in its aim to accurately analyze and reason critically. The complexity of my work lies in its exposure of the transparency and opacity of language, and its tendency to both reveal and conceal meaning.
Q. You majored in painting, but your work is distinguished by its craft-like nature. Is there a particular reason why you chose to work with the medium of pearl beads?
A. I was a graduate student in Brooklyn, New York when I first ran into my main medium, pearl beads. My friends and I would spend our free time reading poems to one another, which became a foundation for my work. But it was a brief period of blindness in New York that brought about a revolution in my life and artwork. Without a clear diagnosis, I spent a lot of time at home. During this time, I connected with the outside world through the sound of television news and the radio. Gradually, my sight reemerged with dots of light bouncing off vague silhouettes, and I returned to my artistic practice to represent this experience.
The seed of your imagination is the daily attempt to see beyond the surface or to perceive my subjects, passages or texts, from a different angle. -Sankeum Koh-
Q. In a sense, your work can be considered a continuation of Korean monochrome aesthetics. Is there a reason why you refrain from using a colorful palette?
A. It is because of my personal repulsion by the color red. I grew up in a residence operated by a provincial hospital, and I was traumatized by the blood red colors I was exposed to daily.
Q. What is the seed of your imagination?
A. It is the daily attempt to see beyond the surface or to perceive my subjects, passages or texts, from a different angle. I have been influenced by the artists Marcel Duchamp and Linda Francis.
Q. What plans do you have for your next project?
A. I have been actively engaged in creative practice for 10 years, so I decided to take a 2-year sabbatical. I resumed work due to multiple exhibitions lined up for me this year. My next projects encompass keywords like “economy” and “anonymity” with an interest in exploring the implications of high-tech information society, identity and personal space. I hope that one day my work can act as an influential social force.
Q. What makes your art brilliant?
A. Life. My priority lies not in my artistic practice, but more on the quality of life. This is a lesson I learnt through trial and error.
Small Code of the Civil Procedure, Excerpt from Pp. 1702-1721. 2012. 4mm pearl beads, adhesive, acrylic on wooden panel, 153 x 97cm
Small Code of the Civil Procedure, Excerpt from Pp. 802-817. 2012. 4mm pearl beads, adhesive, acrylic on wooden panel, 153 x 97cm
Lyrics from Yellow Submarine by Beatles. 2012. 4mm pearl beads, adhesive, acrylic on wooden panel. Dimensions variable.
La Dentelliere (The Lacemaker), Pascal Laine, Excerpt from Pp. 69-107. 2012. 4mm pearl beads, adhesive, acrylic on wooden panel, each piece 45 x 60 cm (panel 135 x 60cm)
La Vie Mode D’emploi (Life User’s Manual), Georges Perec, Excerpt from Ch. 2(Right, Pp. 146-279) edited. 2012. 4mm pearl beads, adhesive, acrylic on wooden panel, each piece 204 x 156 cm (each panel 34 x 26 cm)
Sankeum Koh acquired her BFA and MFA in painting at Ehwa Women’s University, Seoul, Korea. She pursued her second MFA at Pratt Institute in New York, and lived in Brooklyn for 11 years. She returned to Korea and has focused her artistic endeavors on transcribing text into visual imagery. Since her first solo exhibition in 1997 at Second Floor Gallery, New York, she has had numerous solo shows such as <Mist of Sings>(Ssamzie Gallery, Seoul, Korea, 2006), <Mist of Sings> (MMCA Open Studio Gallery, Goyang, Gyeonggi-do, Korea, 2007), <Typography+Transliteration>(Dr. Park Gallery, Gyeonggi-do, Korea, 2011), <Homage to You>(Gallery Sun Contemporary, Seoul, Korea, 2012) and ten more solo exhibits. For group exhibitions, Koh has been involved in <Korean Project>(C5 Art Beijing, Beijing, China, 2007), <Writing Paintings, Painting Words>(SeMA, Seoul, Korea, 2007), <Daily Life in Korea>(Queen’s Gallery, Bangkok, Thailand, 2008), <Dansaekhwa: Korean Monochrome Painting>(MMCA, Gwacheon, Korea, 2012), <White & White>(Borghese Gallery, Rome, Italy, 2013), to name a few.