Work in Progress: Tai Hwa Goh
I recently sat down with the Work in Progress (WIP) artist for the month of March, Tai Hwa Goh, at Textile Arts Center’s Manhattan studio to discuss her artist process as well as current projects, like her Not Yet Installed DIY kit.
What was your journey like within the arts?
I started my art career when I was a child. I decided to be an artist when I was seven! Then I went to an arts middle school and high school, and in college I majored in painting. After, I realized that I preferred making things. I really enjoyed printmaking classes, so in graduate school I majored in printmaking.
Still, in printmaking there’s a two-dimensional relationship between surface and illusion in the mark making. I was eager to evolve from it. I wanted to work more with artwork that can show layers of the time and labor and process. I started studying sculpture, and to combine sculpture and printmaking together. As a painter and printmaker, I realized that it’s hard to come out from the two dimensional surface.
Maybe two years ago, I had the opportunity to have a show in Wave Hill, the beautiful gardens in the Bronx. At that time, I had a three dimensional approach to my prints, and doing so made it a more dynamic relationship with the audience, the viewer. So I was so happy with that. After that I start making more sculptural pieces.
What process or technique has been most important to your work recently?
I call it a “printstallation.” Printmaking is really an important concept of my work, and pushing the boundaries between printmaking and sculpture. That’s my focus. I extended my prints to outside of the frame and related it to architectural elements, like a pillar, a ceiling, or corners of the wall. Also when I print- I fold the paper, or sometimes cut the paper, flip the paper- not common techniques in the viewpoint of conservative printmaking. I tried to overcome that boundary.
In terms of the disciplines of art, what I’m focusing on is the contrast between two opposite things- that tension. For example, I’m using a very organic shape, but you can also see industrial pipes and cement. Also the dialogue with the space, the installation process, engaging the architectural elements is important to my work.
What is the relationship between how you treat paper and textiles? Do you treat paper as a textile in your work?
That’s the one big thing that has changed for me through this residency. After I began here, I saw workshops happening, a lot of materials, and it opened my mind more about textiles. I thought, oh maybe textiles aren’t just a pattern on the surface, but more integrated with various materials. Paper is layers of the images on surface, but with textile, the material itself is the art form. Material, and how you can integrate it is the more important part. So it’s been very interesting for me, and through this residency I’ve extended my concept.
Do you feel any differences in your work since you began the residency?
I started using raw materials more, and found objects. I just grab the materials from the scraps of fabric, that are already printed by somebody, and already dyed from somebody- that’s very raw material, for me. Before, I was afraid of using raw material in my artwork, but I started to feel very comfortable with that.
Take me through a day in your studio practice.
Depending on what working phase I am in, you will see very different things. As an installation artist, printmaker, and paper sculptor, I don’t do the work all together at once – I divide it into phases. The first three weeks I focus all on printmaking. Three weeks I focus all on cutting the paper. Three weeks I focus on the structuring. If you come visit me in the printmaking phase, I’ll be standing all day, and making hundreds of the screenprints. In the cutting phase, I’m sitting down, and turning on my favorite Korean news channel, hand cutting hundreds of prints filling studio with scraps of paper.
How do you come up with the images you print onto the paper? Do you draw them all?
Yeah, I draw by hand. I refer to a lot of biological forms. I really enjoy looking at the books in the biological, medical, or science section in the library. Then I’ll draw an image based from the books, I may manipulate it on a computer and that’s the starting point.
So what inspires your work? Is there a conceptual thread that is carried through your work in all its phases?
My inspiration is about how we recognize our bodies. My father was ill for a long time, and he passed away several years ago. But I reached into his struggle, and I wondered how we recognize our physical being. That’s the reason I started from the biological images, started to make stories with that, then I extended my concept to the relationship between the human body and nature. I think it’s a very natural process. I’m working in the balance between nature and the industrialized nation, civilization. So that’s why I’m doing organic forms and also incorporate some suburban kind of decayed pipe, or plastic, and combining them together.
How do you choose your materials?
I’m always looking for paper that has strong fiber. And also thin, because it has to be easy to fold and make shapes, and it has to be show the image well in all the layers. Korean mulberry paper was perfect for me of which the fiber is really strong and thin.
Also- an interesting part about my process is that I melt wax onto the paper I use. After the paper has been printed with my image, I place it on top of a sheet of beeswax, and melt it into the paper. It stiffens it and will also make paper translucent. When you make three dimensional things it is important to show the image, backside and frontside. In the waxing phase, I’m waxing all day long- ironing and melting with the fumes and the smell of the wax.
My materials are related to my concept about the body. The thin papers I compare to skin. Wax is very related to my concept because it is very brittle, breaks easily, and gets scratched very easily. But if you iron it again, it’s cured. So it’s kind of recovered, like our body. Our body is very vulnerable, but we are recoverable. Our body and wax are very connected in terms of that.
Your work seems to have a very specific color palette. Can you tell me more about your ideas behind it?
Yeah, it’s very bright and very tropical. But- it’s very artificial. So, you know, I use colors like candy, artificial, very tempting, but very dangerous. Toxic, even. That’s why I use a lot of fluorescent color. My work looks very joyous but I also want people to think about the dark side of my work, you know, why it has to be bright, and then why it has to be very fluorescent. Sometimes when we see something right before it begins to wither, it is at its best, brightest, and then starts decaying.
How would you like people to experience your work?
First, I want people to have a more dynamic engagement with my work, walk into my work, and walk around my work- that’s the reason I’m working three dimensionally, and large scale, usually. Second, I want people to see the dark side of my work. I want them to feel the tension between the very bright side and very dark side. The tension of the contrast, I want people to feel that. My work is both microscopic and macroscopic, very cellular, and very large scale. So I want people to feel the inside and outside, and sometimes confusing and so strange feeling.
Who are some of the artists you look at or who have inspired your work?
Lots of artists. I like Judy Pfaff’s work a lot and admire the freedom in her work. Also Nancy Spero inspired me a lot when I was young. And then, Sue Coe, who made very political prints, metaphors of the animal world. Also, the installation artist Swoon, who is doing installation prints outside of the wall, a mural. Kathy Demansaux is also my favorite. I love the darkness of her work.
Do you have any dream projects?
I want to collaborate with an engineer. I want to make a kinetic artwork. So my work can really bloom or wither, decay.
Do you have any books you would recommend or that have influenced your work?
I enjoy to look at medical books. 16th century or 18th century medical books. There’s a book called Monstrorum Historia, that shows a lot of different people and animals they had thought were monsters. They have it illustrated and show the pictures. I keep looking at it because it makes me think about how differently we recognize our bodies over the history.
Is there anything else you’d like people to know about your work?
Recently I’ve been working on a D.I.Y. installation kit called Not Yet Installed. I want a more dynamic relationship with people. I want to make the elements, art elements, that people can then play with- because they are living in a different space, and they take the installation kit and are free to arrange my artwork in their space. This piece, for example, there is an image you can open totally into a 3D object, but you don’t have to. There are some 2 dimensional pieces, some small pieces you can do whatever you like with, some tools you can use to build them up into 3D, and there’s an instruction sheet that’s like the IKEA instruction sheet. The last image on it is, “if you don’t know how to install it, call Tai Hwa”.
The reason I started this was that one of my friends commissioned work from me, because he wanted me to make an installation in his baby’s room. So maybe people can take my piece, and they can put it somewhere they want, they can take it off, rearrange it, make it totally three dimensional, whatever they want.