February 24, 2013

Student Artist Spotlight: Jung-ho Sohn ’14

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Every day, Cornell students are innovating in the fields of art, fashion, music and design. In Student Artist Spotlight, The Sun takes a closer look at one of these campus innovators, examining the artist’s process, concepts and, most importantly, the way his or her work improves, subverts or re-imagines a given medium.

Wood chips and flakes of white paint litter the hardwood floor. Black wooden beams, each about two-thirds the length of the gallery, are piled like charred firewood at one end of the room. Tools are scattered at random — hammers and hand saws in one corner, drill bits and measuring tape in another. Red yarn zig-zags from floor to opposite ceiling.

The gallery is a mess, but Jung-ho Sohn ’14 doesn’t care. He’s high on a ladder drilling one end of a wooden beam at the juncture where wall meets ceiling. Below, two students help support the beam, which wobbles slightly. Angled approximately 45 degrees from the wall, the beam runs from floor to ceiling, where it forms a neat triangle with another beam angled in the opposite direction. Done drilling, Sohn climbs down the ladder, hops over the red string and sinks back against wall to the floor. That second beam, he tells me, took four hours to install — an improvement over the first, which took six hours. On Saturday, he still had two more to install, two more before his show could open.

Sohn’s first solo art show, Compromise, opened today at Olive Tjaden Gallery and will have a reception at 5 pm. A site-specific sculptural installation, the show features four black wooden beams traversing the white cube gallery. As Sohn noted, this show is a huge departure from Tjaden Gallery’s usual shows, which often feature hung work.“It’s almost as if there’s a set tradition of work having to be on the walls only,” he said. “Only a few of the shows that I’ve seen seem to interact with the open space or just the center of the room, the ceiling, anything like that, so I wanted to do something that would allow the viewer to engage with the space in a different manner.”If the show is a huge departure for Tjaden Gallery, it’s also a huge departure for the artist. Sohn, who grew up in South Korea but attended high school in the United States, began making traditional drawings and paintings of still lives. Until recently, art was always more of a hobby for him, one of his many interests along with engineering. He chose Cornell because he wanted to study multiple fields.“I wanted to have a different background so I could support what I was doing [artistically], and that was why I chose Cornell,” said Sohn, who is pursuing a second degree in computing and information science. “It made me realize the possibilities, the options, of what art can be … the potential of art.”Once at Cornell, Sohn began branching out into different media, including print-making and performance art. He began making what he now calls “aggressive” work, work aimed at disrupting a system. During his freshman year, he wound yarn around the entirety of Tjaden Hall, partly to see how long it would take the administration to respond (The next morning, they asked him to promptly disassemble the piece, claiming it was a fire hazard.) In another piece, he placed prints in the middle of the gallery floor, forcing viewers to step over them to see the rest of the exhibit. Eventually, he began branching into performance. In one performance piece for a digital media critique, he told his classmates he was “superior” to them and would not be submitting a project. In another,  he asked viewers to hold a piece of wood between a balcony and the wall and then let go.“I like the idea of disrupting an existing system, but at some point I realized that that was only one specific way of creating work,” he said, noting its limitations.During his semester in New York City last spring, Sohn was heavily influenced by Cornell Professor John Juray and by the work of Teaching Associate Daren Kendall MFA ‘12. He began making work that was disruptive but less aggressive, edging away from performance art in favor of sculptural installations. Nonetheless, he considers his installations derivative of his earlier performance pieces.“In a performance, due to my physical presence being within the work, I have a direct engagement with the viewer,” he said. “[In my recent work] the sculptures replace my role. They are the ones that exert presence.”The sculptures in Compromise certainly exert a presence. Regarding the dimensions and placements of the beams, Sohn said he considered them “in relation to the body that would be engaging with the piece.” Likewise, Sohn considered this body when painting the beams, allowing the wood grain to show through so that people could be “fully aware of what material they are interacting or engaging with and also fully aware of how devastating this could be.” Although Sohn did not intend the wobbliness of the beams, he said he liked the sense of precariousness they instill, the effect they have on the body as it moves through the space of the gallery.“It makes you more conscious of your own body … When you’re working with a saw, you’re more aware of where your hands are placed,” he said.The relationship between body and work was certainly apparent to the students helping Sohn install his work this weekend — one student who helped Sohn carry in the beams walked away with four splinters. Even after the first two beams were installed, students milled about cautiously. Some hopped over the lower end of the sculpture rather than duck under the higher end for fear it would fall down. An MFA student carried out a ladder, carefully avoiding the red string marking the next two beams.Although he would not mention specifics, he hinted that he wanted to “get out of the gallery” and create public installations in the future. Gallery or not, some things will remain the same:“I like work that creates an experience,” Sohn said. “You just look at it, and you get a feeling from it.”

Original Author: Emily Greenberg