by Marta Gnyp for Zoo Magazine #28, June 2010
hello. pleased note that i no longer check email.
i also threw my phone into the east river under a full moon last fridae.
in case of tremendous emergencies pleased contact my studio manager.
This could have been one of the last emails sent by the elusive celebrity and art diva Terence Koh. In search of god, beauty and truth, the Canadian-Chinese, New York-based artist took a vow of silence in June. To complete his all-embracing seclusion, he disposed of all means of communicating with the outside world. Such radical gestures are typical of Koh’s personal recklessness and penchant for artistic provocation. He has manipulated popular media, culture and fashion as the background for his black-and-white art, while dressing them in spiritual clothes. Koh’s ambiguous spirituality, celebration of sexual excess, and exuberant presence intimidate and fascinate. His ability to translate his individual fears into a collective cosmic experience through art is one of his great strengths.
Boy by the Sea, 2008,
I was fortunate enough to get a ‘silent’ interview with Koh just before he cut off all communication. The following conversation, conducted by email, is not only an interesting insight into his life and vision, it is also an exciting textual performance.
Marta Gnyp: Is art a play, a symbol or a celebration?
Terence Koh: art for me is a celebration. it is celebration that we are dooing something that is at peace. art moves the history of the world in positive direction. there is no violence, no agenda, and it is about making us as humans more beautiful.
MG: What is for you the taboo in art?
TK: killing any sentient creatures.
MG: Is your art nostalgic, opportunistic or sacred?
TK: i would think it is scared. society, humans, animals, thoughts, almost everything scares me. art for me is the shield so i can go on living, step out the door, and meet people. that maybe people are just like me, so i wear my art like a mirror that does not reflect but absorb. yoo cannot get cut by the mirror.
These decades that we never sleep, 2/2, 2004,
mixed media sculpture
MG: Your first piece of art was a painting of Michael Jackson. What does your first artwork mean? That you were conscious of yourself as an artist?
TK: i think yoo are born an artist already. yoo are born a wonderful artist, or an amazing artist, or a shy artist, or a quiet artist, or a spectacular artist, or a failing artist. so there is no consciousness because it is already there. the rest is the combat towards laziness.
MG: Who is Terence Koh?
TK: it is me. it is the character, that know does have a certain silence. it is trapped inside this body, but to have controlled it so its trapped in peace. to be happy. to be disciplined a human in a natural way. that is the terence koh that is trying to be.
MG: If not Terence Koh, would you like to be Michael Jackson or Lady GaGa?
TK: i would like to have discipline of the dalai lama or ghandi. singers of course it is easy because most people are touched by them.
but dalai lama, ghandi, it is about meditation and the restructing of human thought. this is more important for me. but the dalai lama needs to be completely vegan!
MG: Good, beauty or truth?
TK: god, beauty and truth.
MG: Why does your art need the context of sexual excess and celebrity cult?
TK: it is not about sexual excess, we doo not have enough and i show the world that in the near future we should be able to have people have orgies on the street and it is just like buying fruit. yoo make it all the same level of privacy and publicity than the world will be better already. then yoo don’t so much have the need of celebrity. In the near future, i hope that everybody is very special, is respected, gets treated respectfully and in thrall. we should always be in thrall for our fellow humans.
MG: You mentioned in an interview that, thanks to new, time-based media and instruments like the Internet, YouTube, iPod etc. we can achieve another level of art experience, similar to shifts produced by Marcel Duchamps and Andy Warhol. Are we about to reach a breaking point in art production and art perception? What does it mean? Can we see it in your art?
TK: i go back and forth. hiding or not hiding. doo i use this as a medium as a ipod or as a paint-tube. usually yoo say yoo poot the paintube inside an ipod, or can yoo make your computer spray out plaster for sculpture. this is the future we need to become. that the flow of energy is equal. i clap my hand yoo hear but its two hands but one sound. so we are breaking sound, we are breaking art. i am breaking art so yes it will break my art and then i hope very soon.
photograph – C print with paint,
ink and glitter in artist frame
MG: How will the new media change us? Does the invention change the intention?
TK: the new media will change us if yoo want it to.. yoo know last fridae i threw my cell phone into the east river under a full moon. why doo i need this think i hope that it is not too negative but when yoo are at a restaurant and people have poot food in their mouth but they are also checking email. and i say why can’t yoo break the cell phone and also eat it with your sandwich or break cell phone and share it with your person eating. or if yoo cannot eat it, break the cell phone and show the different parts to different people in the restaurant. so this way yoo say i have intention of sharing. the new media is not changing, it has made us more selfish. we need to break it more. break more laptops, throw them into the rivers.
MG: Would you like to change the world with your art?
TK: yes of course. art is for changing the world and for me the more people yoo can affect the better. art needs very fast to affect as many people as in music or cinema. why are there no fine artist in the forbes most powerful people? this is sadness. artist have to take over. artist are the most supreme form of intelligence in the world, in the universe. we have ability to rule the universe. we must find the ways, collect our thoughts so that an sculpture or sound artist can be president of the united states or installation artist is the prime minister of india. there is power. there is the world change, we have to start talking. creating actions.
MG: What is your dream project?
TK: to die very quietly and perfectly in a white boat in canada but amongst the forest with my husband at the same time after living for a millennium in total love.
MG: Where is the border between art and fashion?
TK: 0 of course.
MG: Can fashion replace art?
TK: no. fashion, comme des garcon, chanel, givenchy especially, these are all inferior aspects to true art. i cannot explain anymore. these labels and more scare me.
MG: How much time do you spend each day to dress up?
TK: i wear the same clothes everyday so really there is no choice. same shirt, same pants, same jacket. all made in china. all white. for the rest of my life.
MG: Do you have a sixth sense?
TK: i am psychic. i can feel the divinities of course. this afternoon i was having lunch and then i thought, look on the ceiling there are ghost of gay people hanging there. horizontally to the ceiling. they only move slightly. they might be sleeping.
MG: Is logic as important as intuition in your art?
TK: divination. look at carravagio. there is no intuition there. There is the physicality. carravagio, because of that, he has become my favorite artist. he is the circle of light and if i enter into it, I enter the pure white light fires of hell.
MG: Would you make a different kind of art if you lived on a desert island?
TK: obviously i would make sandcastles if the sand is white enough. now that is enough questions. let me hide in my white sandcastle, in a turret. let me look at the waves, at the sky. let me bee a bee inside.