Germaine Koh

Germaine Koh is a Canadian visual artist based in Vancouver. Her conceptually-generated work is concerned with the significance of everyday actions, familiar objects and common places.

Knitwork, 1992, increasing length, unravelled used garments, with text and photographic documentation

Begun in February 1992, Knitwork is a life-long piece made by my unraveling used garments and re-knitting the yarn into a single continuously growing object. As it records the ongoing passage of time and effort, the work becomes a monument to the artifacts that comprise it, to mundane activity, and to everyday labour. As a visual record of the passage of time, the details of the piece incidentally register variations in my process, and through these one can retrace a history of decisions. Although the slow accumulation of layers of obsolete goods might recall geological processes, the limits of the piece are actually human; the work will be finished when I cease (to be). It is both sublime and resolutely absurd, both excessive and banal, both rigorous and formless; in other words, it is a practical test of the imagination.

Germaine Koh, Fête, 1997, artist’s hair, ribbon, binding. Project ongoing since 1997.

A growing collection of swags of the artist’s hair, sewn into fringes and hanging on a wall like tinsel celebrating a rite of passage. Each section is discreetly embroidered with a date, referring to the year in which the artist had the haircut resulting in the hair for that section. Ordered chronologically, each section has a different character: more and less healthy, increasingly showing grey. The hair continues to be somewhat organic, hanging differently with atmospheric changes.

Fair-weather forces: wind speed, 2002, found metal turnstile with added electric motor and electronic circuits, anemometer.

A standard metal turnstile is placed, as usual, near the threshold of a room. It rotates at a changing speed related directly to the exterior wind speed as measured by the anemometer. In this way it suggests that it could be regulating the flow of people into the space according to the weather outside:  calm days encourage lazy movements and windy conditions brisk ones.
This was the first in the Fair-weather forces series of architectonic interventions which suggest a reciprocal relationship between human behaviour and natural phenomena.

Germaine Koh, “Watch’ (2000), performance for storefront display window. Toronto presentation at Solo Exhibition, 5-7 February 2001, 10am-6pm daily. Photo: Phil Klygo

“For Watch I spent office hours for several consecutive days in an enclosed storefront display window, actively observing passers-by and the life of the street. Dressed in simple clothing and equipped with only a simple chair, I watched impassively but attentively, neither communicating with nor responding to those who may attempt to interact with me.”

Shell, 2005, situation with aluminum, acrylic and wood structure modifying existing architecture.

Shell was a situation in which part of an existing windowed storefront is physically opened to the public, for use 24 hours a day. An enclosure resembling a transit shelter was built on the inside of the space, attached to the existing glass frontage, a pane of which was removed in order to create free access to the new structure from the street. Now given over to the public sphere, the area inside the shelter became an in-between, layered space. It offered shelter, but uneasily, remaining part of the interior space while serving as a recognizable public form (bus shelter). It also exposes the vulnerability of the private space — not so much for the physical breach (which is only a matter of square metres lent), but more through our recognizing the fragility of our notions of safety, property, and propriety.

Fallow, 2005, soil and plants transplanted from local vacant land. Presentation at Charles H Scott Gallery, 2009.

Instead of displaying a crop of new work, for one exhibition period the space lies fallow. The floor space of the gallery is completely covered with soil and plant matter from nearby vacant land. Plants and seeds in the soil continue to grow over the course of the show, during which time the trade practices and commercial goals usually associated with an exhibition are slowed to processes of waiting and watching. Although withdrawn from “constructive” use, the exhibition space is far from empty, but rather full of richly non-productive time and process.

MAINstREetBUS, 2009, Bus wrap and interior advertising panels of #3 Main Street bus.

The MAINstREetBUS project appears as a photographic reflection of the street that the #3 Main bus travels. The interior advertising panels of one bus form a sort of panoramic photo essay focusing on businesses, sights and locations on Main Street. The bus exterior is completely wrapped in a camouflage pattern of imagery depicting these surroundings. The image create a relationship between the street and the bus, possibly returning bus riders’ attention back to the very surroundings through the bus traverses — surroundings that may be so familiar we tend to overlook them.

SeeSawSeat prototype, 2011, 16 x 96 x 16, anodized aluminm and ipe wood.

SeeSawSeat is a public bench that presents a modest and playful conundrum to those who encounter it. Its seat pivots atop a central fulcrum, becoming a teeter-totter. Uncomfortable when used by only one person, the individuals that encounter it will soon deduce that it is best experienced with another person, so the seat becomes a tool for social exchange.

DIY Field, 2011, Metal posts with interactive LED lights.

DIY Field is an interactive grid of 38 pedestrian-scale light posts on a sloped piece of ground in Winnipeg’s Central Park. In keeping with the themes of play developed throughout the park, each post’s light and colour is controllable by park users, creating a flexible field that is configurable by individuals for emergent game play and other uses.

The poles recall game- and sports equipment such as pylons, slalom markers, goal posts, and signaling devices. They minimally articulate a space that is otherwise left open for the public to animate and invent uses. Besides creating a situation for play by giving users and residents a measure of control over the character and mood of the space, the project also communicates a vision of public space that is shaped by how it is used and negotiated by citizens in real life, as much by how it is planned.