Canada : 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 


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