Koh’s art—which is usually not quite so bleak—reveals both an analytical intelligence and a lively imagination. In wholly unexpected ways, it renegotiates our understanding of the quotidian, from the natural phenomena that are beyond our control to our daily activities and social interactions. A footpath is blocked by a post; word processing is translated into Morse code smoke signals; tiny ball bearings rain from the ceiling. “I would describe my work as an attempt to pay attention to overlooked, everyday processes that incrementally shape our lives,” Koh has told me. She is adept at finding “residual” meaning in these processes, usually by establishing lines of connection, mediation or causality. Where her early practice was often low-tech and process-based, her recent art employs a sophisticated array of computer technologies, electronic communications and architectural interventions.
The show surveyed one and a half decades of Koh’s career, with a focus on her Fair-weather forces series (2002–08), whose individual works translate outdoor conditions—sunlight, wind speed or seafront water levels—into mechanical or electrical actions within the gallery. As well, viewers were introduced to four new pieces, three of them site-specific. One of them, Guts (2013) is a playful reconfiguring of the gallery’s air-conditioning system that attached absurd lengths of shiny metal ducting to ceiling-height vents. At floor level, the impression was of oversize tangles of shiny metallic viscera, whose open ends blew cold air. As well as analogizing the building to the human body, Guts subverted the gallery’s climate-control system, framing a dialogue about the strangely privileged environment in which art is ordinarily exhibited.
This is a review from the Fall 2013 issue of Canadian Art. To read more from this issue, please visit its table of contents.