“Nature has been conducting continuous experiments into processes, and has been doing it for millions of years. The environment has been metamorphosing its materials, to form new existence, in an ever-changing society. My investigation into environmental processing is to explore an understanding of nature’s rhythm in our culture and how we as people interact with it as well. Everyday we hear of tragedies that happen upon our earth and these tragedies bring forth the loss of living elements. With growing concern in environmental issues, the understanding of nature’s rhythm and the recycling of materials have become more important and this has peaked my thoughts in how I work. I respectfully approach this environmental processing by incorporating recycled matter as well as low-valued materials mostly which I have gathered. Gathering and collecting objects / materials are very important parts of my work process. Because I believe my works are the outcome of the collaboration between those objects / materials and I, and that collaboration starts from that moment. In the process I examine nature to understand its language through shape, pattern, color, texture, scale and its changes. My works are produced as a result of conversation between nature and I. Through this process, I want to have my work carry the beauty and the power that I see and feel in nature.”
Kyoung Ae Cho relates to the world and her art through her responses to the environment and nature by using recycled and natural materials. In this way I can relate to her art as well, because I have many of the same views and attitudes about recycling materials and how an artist can use these materials in their work. Also I feel, like Kyoung Ae, that I have a deep connection with nature and was amazed and gratified by the extent to which Kyoung Ae uses natural elements in her work.
I became interested in Kyoung Ae Cho when she gave a lecture in Fall 2007 at UWGB. Much of what I know about her work comes from this presentation. She told us a “Love Story” of an artist and nature—showing us a great number of her artworks through a slide show presentation. She has been a very prolific artist with a clearly driven concept that she has succeeded in articulating clearly through her artwork. Her lecture was very inspiring to me and I was amazed at her attention to detail and the overall coherence and elegance of her work.
Kyoung Ae Cho went to school first in Korea, where she grew up, and later on moved to the United States to finish her education. During the presentation that I attended, I remember her mentioning how everybody in Korea thought her work was very “Western”. But when she got to the States everybody thought her work was very “Eastern”. She said that she never thought of it that way, but that was how other people perceived of her work.
Kyoung Ae’s artwork wasn’t influenced entirely by her education, of course. While growing up she shared a room with her grandmother, who was a talented sewer and taught Kyoung Ae not only how to sew, but also how to respect materials, and most of all, the fact that “If you make anything with your heart the smallest thing can become very special.” Cho goes on to say that, “These lessons still play an important part in my life.”
Cho’s grandmother also collected things and turned them into objects that she gave away as presents. So it was a natural step for Kyoung Ae when she started to collect and work with natural materials during her graduate studies. Cho became fascinated with the concept of a “collaboration with nature” because she thought “That if I could understand a small twig, I would be able to understand branches, and after that I would be able to understand a tree, and eventually I would be able to understand nature itself. Gathering materials is a very important part of my work. It is rather a ceremonial time where I have a conversation with the materials I find.”
Kyoung Ae creates, speaks, and writes effectively and philosophically. I admire that she can communicate her message not only through her artwork alone but also with her speaking and writing about her artwork. Not all artists can do that. Cho’s work also speaks a lot about the consumerist culture that we live in. During her presentation, she spoke of the differences between Korea and the United States. One of her major examples was how much more nature we have here in the States, yet how much more we waste. She felt it is very sad that Americans go out and cut down Christmas trees, killing them, in order to celebrate the birth of Jesus. She decided to collect the branches of the discarded Christmas trees, using the needles in many of her artworks. By doing this, Cho says, “I offer one more chance for us to appreciate nature-I am offering hope.”
Kyoung Ae’s work is somewhat of a paradox in the way it is simple yet complex. An apt description might be minimalist with meaning. A leaf, half eaten by snails, is transformed into fine art that is interesting, makes sense, and has a commanding presence. As Robert Raczka, Professor of Art and Gallery Director at Allegheny College, stated, “The beauty that Kyoung Ae Cho’s work attains is a source of considerable pleasure as well as a locus of attention promoting a feeling of centeredness in the viewer – an experience that continues to be desired by many though it is increasingly rare in a culture spinning with information and spectacle.” It is almost easy or comfortable to focus on Kyoung Ae’s work, in the way that her work is almost un-informative, certainly non-representational, which forces the viewer to focus on the details and meaning. When I was viewing her slide show and was hearing her speak about her work, what kept coming back to me was how precise her work is, how much patience it must have taken to create the work, and how she created and evolved her vision over time to create an amazing body of work.
Cho isn’t involved with any specific movements directly, she works independently, yet her art can be seen in relation to the field of Environmental Art, which includes other artists such as Agnes Denes, Helen and Newton Harrison, and Mel Chin, all who mean to, according to Rackza, “Raise public awareness of and sensitivity toward nature.” Specifically, Rackza says, “Through representing and incorporating nature, Cho is suggesting that an understanding of nature can offer us profound metaphors of stability and change, and of constancy and renewal that can enable us to more fully realize ourselves and our place in the world.”
When I look at all of Cho’s work, I see much consistency. There are several things that Cho keeps as a constant influence besides nature, including line and rhythm. Kyoung Ae is particularly interested in a line that has its “own energy”. Cho has always had long hair since a child, and it is almost like a toy to her. She finds beauty in her own hair and incorporates her hairs into her artworks. She has worked with wire and hair to wrap around gathered branches and stems, for example. Kyoung Ae thinks that maybe her hair is where her “fondness of linear elements comes from.”
Kyoung Ae approaches her work and her life “Hoping to understand its mysterious rhythm and rule that we only understand as chaos.” She is interested in the relationship between order and chaos. Cho says, “As nature is constantly adapting to its environment, it searches to survive.” Cho’s main goal is to transform her art to the “Next level of existence—in the environments where I place them.” She stresses that her artwork has given her four insights which are embedded in her works: Change, Time, Essence, and Rebirth.
I e-mailed Kyoung Ae and asked her specifically about where she thought her work was headed in the future. She informed me that she is currently showing work at the Sixth Annual Fiber Biennial at the Snyderman Gallery in Philadelphia. Among the many interesting works on display, Cho stands out with her minimalist Seeded, which is sea of white silk organza and thread revolving around two relatively small bits of symmetrical corn leaves. Even though many of the elements she uses are small, assembled the work is quite large—54” x 102”. Cho says the idea of this piece was conceived first with a series of sketches, both hand sketches and digital sketches using Photoshop and Illustrator, which she used to arrive at a final design. This work is a continuation of other works in which she used leaves and silk organza to create hand stitched pieces. Kyoung Ae said she will continue to work on this series, as well as her other series with the wood grain pattern orientated pieces and carved wooden forms. Kyoung Ae has also moved in a new direction with a piece she is currently working on utilizing fabric flower petals.
What I most admire about Kyoung Ae is her philosophical and positive attitude toward not only art but her life in general. In her e-mail, she said that she encourages herself “To get inspired and to be open to new ideas and new projects…Main thing is to continue researching and working hoping to figure something out and to be able to share it with each other.” This positive and generous attitude is very admirable and encouraging. Kyoung Ae Cho has much to teach us. Her artwork conveys her message concisely and beautifully.
Cho, Kyoung Ae. Presentation: Love Story University of Wisconsin-Green Bay. Fall 2007.
Cho, Kyoung Ae. Re: Question. E-mail to Sarah Condon. 21 Mar. 2008.
Cho, Kyoung Ae. Website. <http://www.kyoungaecho.com> 2008.
Koumis, Matthew. Art Textiles of the World: USA. Telos, 2000.
Orban, Nancy. Fiberarts Design Book Six. Lark Books, 1999.
Raczka, Robert. Excerpt:Rearrangements. BMOCA Website.
<http://www.bmoca.org/flash/Cho.htm> 17 Mar. 2008.