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Overflow in the Sunroom: An Interview with Tai Hwa Goh

Danni Shen, Curatorial Fellow in Visual Arts, organizes and interprets exhibitions at Wave Hill.

Tai Hwa Goh creates delicately layered installations from printed and cut paper. Her imagery evokes biological forms and landscapes, reflecting the accumulation of memory and experience, and the interior and exterior worlds of the human body. Goh’s Sunroom Project in Wave Hill’s Glyndor Gallery explores the controlled natural environment of greenhouses, contemplating the intersection of organic and human-made realms. She imagines what would happen if attempts to contain nature collapsed and plants began to overwhelm these carefully managed interior spaces. Her installation fills the room and envelops the viewer with an overgrowth of hybrid botanical and industrial forms. With barriers between the untamed and the domestic breached, the artist shows the results to be both frightening and alluring.center-1

In anticipation of Tai Hwa’s artist talk this Saturday March 14 at 2pm in the Sunroom, Danni Shen Curatorial Fellow in Visual Arts sat down with the artist to talk about her work and inspirations.

Danni Shen: Although your work initially appears joyous and celebratory, there’s a darker side that references artificially constructed spaces, overgrowth and references to ecological devastation.

Tai Hwa Goh: Yes, I was looking at Dr. Suess’s The Lorax, which starts as very funny, joyful, tropical and colorful. His work is so whimsically childish and there’s a kind of absurdity to it. So I intentionally wanted to incorporate colors that are very much like artificial candy. Even though there’s green, the green is fluorescent and almost toxic-looking. The plants look very beautiful, but are connected to plastic tubing. I think in all human-to-human, human-to-plant and human-to-animal relationships, the components are dependent on domination and control, where humans are invading the setting in which, for example plants live. So in this way, the greenhouse is a human controlled environment.

DS: Many of our visitors look at this work and don’t necessarily see the more perverse aspects of what you’re addressing. Is that okay for you as an artist?

THG: Yes, and that’s okay! It’s a part of it. When I see plants in the New York Botanical Garden, I feel so sad, but some people’s immediate reaction will be “oh, it’s so beautiful!” And what’s ironic is that sometimes having greenhouses is better for the plants. For example in Seoul, South Korea, where I was born and raised, it’s too industrialized. There just aren’t any good conditions for nature to thrive.

DS: And historically greenhouses originated out of necessity.

THG: Right, so I’m playing with those tensions.

DS: There’s also references to the micro and macro, and to cellular and larger structural bodies. Scale in your work is totally strange!

THG: Yeah, and I’m also interested in the boundaries. When you first see this installation, you might feel comfortable with the scale of these hanging pieces. But then you see the little human figures falling out, the organic shapes but with pipes and tubes, and you might feel something different. Maybe it’s funny, or maybe it’s scary. I’m interested in that conflict or in the crossing over of boundaries.close-up

DS: Are there any particular places that inspire you, or have stood out for you in terms of reference material for your work?

THG: Because I grew up in Seoul, which is a really big city, most people live in apartment complexes. So we are perhaps too accustomed to industrial materials, such as pipes, concrete walls. And so those have probably influenced my work. More recently, the city has been adding or renewing parks, streams and more “natural artificial” spaces. It’s funny that, in many ways, in order to protect the environment we should just stay away from it. When I went to Hawaii, we had to wear a special sunscreen that wouldn’t harm the ocean ecosystem. I was surprised that there were no stores or bathrooms by the beach, which is what you have to do to protect the shore environment! When you go to Korea, there are too many shops everywhere. It’s starting to get better, but there needs to be a lot more done.northern-wall

DS: The materials that you use in your work are very natural and light.

THG: I don’t tend to like hard and heavy things, but I’ve been working with ceramics lately, but I hesitate to make too many. I started print-making when I was in college, so I’ve been working with it for more than 20 years. I love the texture and processes. I don’t want to use things that are too instant or direct. I’m interested in the energies, the labor and the layers that show up through the work. Also, I’m not trying to make works that are too valuable or unique. I don’t want people to think of my art as too precious or untouchable. I want people to touch it and to participate in it.

Pictured above, from the top of the post:
Tai Hwa Goh, Overflow (detail), Sunroom Project Space 2016. Mixed-media prints on hand-waxed paper, dimensions variable. Photo: Wave Hill.
Tai Hwa Goh, Overflow (installation view), Sunroom Project Space 2016. Mixed-media prints on hand-waxed paper, dimensions variable. Photo: Ken Goebel.
Tai Hwa Goh, Overflow (installation view), Sunroom Project Space 2016. Mixed-media prints on hand-waxed paper, dimensions variable. Photo: Ken Goebel.


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