: Germaine Koh
Every element of
the world is profoundly interconnected at every level. We just don't see
the connections. Instead we see fragments that we call meaningless. The
web of hidden internal meanings has been called, by renegade physicist
David Bohm, an "implicate order." In her artwork Germaine Koh has taken
the role of explicating the world's implicate order, so that others can
perceive the chains of connection between the disparaged fragments.
The Latin root
of implicate/explicate is fold/unfold, so another way to say it is that
Koh is involved in a ceaseless task of unfolding imperceptible relationships,
revealing the fabric that joins two disparate points. In the project En
busca del nivel del lago (Looking for lake level), she explicates most
elegantly the relationship between the water people in Mexico City drink
and the water that has disappeared from under the city. To make visible
the sinking of a seventeenth-century church as the city's water table depletes,
Koh filled its sunken nave with plastic water bottles. By virtue of what
complex global flow, she makes us ask, did water disappear from the hidden
aquifer, perhaps sprinkled on the lawns of the rich, to return in bottles
of other countries' water, as though thirst itself were suddenly a commodity?
While she is not exactly a Marxist, her acts of rematerialization explicate
the traffic of money, goods, labour and trash. Unravelling and re-knitting
hundreds of sweaters in the monumental Knitwork, Koh takes a route
back through the materiality of the sweaters similar to Papa Marx's famous
calculation of the amount of labour enfolded in a cloth coat.
Koh makes things
materialize. In Prayers, the daily labours of office workers, in
the form of computer keystrokes, are made manifest as smoke signals emitted
from a vent in the side of the building. She is fundamentally a translator,
for often to make something tangible it is necessary to translate it into
another form from the original. In By the Way, sounds of cars speeding
along a Mexico City highway are translated live into winds, which drivers
can listen to on the radio between traffic reports. The modestly punning
installation Poll consists of a metal pole stuck in the middle of
a busy footpath, so that pedestrians have to choose on which side to divert
their path: a tribute to the daily negotiation between pedestrians and
grass. In both projects, a perhaps heedless passage is gently transformed
into a moment for reflection.
Koh's world is
a sort of Buddhist democracy, into which she circulates objects with an
inquisitive trust in chance and human will. Her web project For You
invites visitors to write fortunes for and receive them from strangers.
Upon us, the surfers, she places the responsibility to intervene in an
unknown person's life in the playful yet volatile form of the fortune cookie.
In the long-term project Sightings, Koh redeems abandoned photographs
- somebody's flash-obscured self-portrait, somebody else's battered snap
of hockey players on a rink - and sends them into circulation as postcards.
Catch up a fold in the fabric of the world, she urges us; take note of
your own implication in the world and, ever so briefly, memorialize it.
Laura U. Marks
Ottawa, juin 2000