Thursday, August 28, 2008

Interview Extra: Terence Koh on Canada, Oilsands, Punk Anger and More

As arts funding cuts (and related debates) continue their impacts in Canada, it's a strange time to consider the burgeoning biz of private-co arts awards. Yet here we are with the $70,000 Sobey Award finalist exhibition just opened last night at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto.

I'm not clear enough of mind right now to grapple with the ideological contradiction that even though bankers and CEOs clearly value art, our small-c, pro-free-trade conservative prime minister cannot. (And yeah, I know they get a tax write-off, but still.)

What what I can offer is this unedited email exchange with Sobey finalist Terence Koh. The condensed version appeared in today's National Post alongside exchanges with the four other finalists—Tim Lee, Raphaelle de Groot, Daniel Barrow and Mario Doucette. I'll be posting longer excerpts from them throughout the week too. But for now I thought I'd leave it to the oft-praised, oft-reviled, almost always compelling Koh.

Q You are arguably one of the most famous artists worldwide right now. What does it mean to you—if anything—to be nominated for this Canada-only Sobey award?

A I am proud to be Canadian. Even though I am often somewhere else in the world, you know when you feel you are Canadian, you are Canadian. It's not a cliche, I have lived all around the world but where I feel most at home is in Canada cause I really believe Canadians have the warmest hearts in the world. My parents live in Mississauga, Ontario and though that is not my favorite part of Canada, when you get off the plane its like, dont laugh! I feel " Aye! I am now in Canada. Aye!" I always think I have entered a Margaret Atwood novel when I land in Toronto and when I land in Vancouver, lo and behold I am in Jack Hodgins land! I have always said that if I die I want to die in Barnaby Island in a white picket cottage and look up at the sky getting dark in autumn as I plant white double chrysanthemums flowers in my garden with my boyfriend next to me. So yes I am very happy to be doing something in canada.

Q Even though you are no longer working as “asianpunkboy,” your work still manifests a brash, angry punk sensibility. Why does this sentiment continue to appeal to you?

A I don't think I am angry or brash anymore. I admit I felt I used to be. I am generally quite happy and content these days and sit around and hide in my house (wherever that may be) and read books. I want to make stuff that adds beauty to the world. Well I guess all art, every single thought of art adds beauty to the world. But I want my ideal of beauty to be of total freedom and happinesss and love. Hallmark card happy thoughts. My motto after having lived this long, is this conclusion, to have: LOVE FOR ETERNITY.

Q You are showing a few works in this Sobey nominee show in Toronto. What are the origins of each of them?

A I was hoping to produce everything in Canada. I wanted it to be all MADE IN CANADA but reality hit... well the main part of the installation is a gigantic round ball and the surface is completely covered in Canadian oil sand. And then painted all white to hide all that black, that darkness... I have no fear in giving out my thoughts for what it represents. Of course its about our future. The future of canada and in a way a comment on the future of humanity. What is going to be Canada's biggest resource? Our oil sands. I wanted to make a perfect ball out of that and cover it in white. So it becomes neutral. I think I have said more than I should. Thank you.

Caption: Terence Koh My Path to Heaven You are a Blind Bastard GOD 2007


melissa tang said...

a very powerful sculpture and looked at it for quite a bit

still confused though what it might all mean...

Leah Sandals said...

hi melissa...

yeah, meaning is a good question. i was actually really interested that he did something with oilsands; but he's also done sculptures in the past with his own piss and poo, and i wasn't sure if there was some connection intended here between tar sands and "poo of the earth".

at this point you can write me off as a total nutbar if you want, but i think there could be a connection, making both controversial materials "neutral" through art.

of course, there's whatever meaning you bring to it too... what did you think?