Exhibition view 2011, Huntington Museum of Art, Huntington, WV
Over the past 20 years, Korean-born , New York -based artist Sook Jin Jo has produced drawings, collages, sculptural assemblages, and installations that reveal two abiding, interconnected thematic concerns. Formally, her works combine a strong, almost minimalist, sense of pure structure with an intensely sensual – even empathic – love of rough-hewn materials. Conceptually, they invite a meditative (and sometimes physical) interaction with asymmetrical balances and unexpected harmonies of color, texture and shape – all meant to induce a state of well-being in the viewer. Form, meaning, and effect are thus united by a single spiritual purpose: reclamation.
People who meet the artist are often startled by the contrast between her refined, modest person and the brute elements of her practice. At the beginning of her career, when she could not afford expensive art materials, the elegant young woman began scouring the city streets looking for discarded objects that she could haul back to her studio and incorporate into her work. Although she professed a desire to create peaceful, engaging artistic environments, her choices were surprisingly crude: broken and discarded furniture, old window frames, weathered planks, worn-out shoes, gnarled branches, etc. Her goal could sound idealistic when put into words: “Since I was a child I had a dream to create beautiful works and environments that inspire people’s creativity, uplift the spirit and heart, and that many people can interact with.” But her visual and psychological instinct drew her to materials that acknowledge the harder experiences of life – sickness, abandonment, aging, neglect – the everyday traumas that make redemption (whether artistic or spiritual) so deeply needed, and so powerful when it comes.
Indeed, many of Jo’s best sculptural pieces, though never forbidding, are relatively austere. The Windows of Heaven Are Open (1995) consists mostly of emptiness, defined by five abutted window frames and two damaged chairs. The wall piece Resurrection II (1996-97) features 46 wooden drawers of various types and sizes, each containing nothing.
Zen Garden (1998), a floor arrangement of rusted solar turbines and old window frames, has the stony restraint of its titular namesake. Tombstone Landscape/ Being Is Born of Non-Being (1998-2000), its distressed wooden slabs thickly jumbled across the wall like the markers of an ancient graveyard, seems to suggest that spiritual life begins with the death of the flesh.
Such works imply that the artist, like any seeker in the Buddhist and Taoist traditions of her childhood, had to go to the depth of solitude before beginning to reach out – in an ever more socially active manner – toward other isolate souls. Meditation Space (2000) signals a transition. Based on an earlier studio work, Space Between/ We Work with Being, but Non-Being Is What We Use (1998-99), the tall latticework wood structure has public elements added – a doorway and bench – and stands in a woodland where it can provide rest to hikers. Chronologically, it follows Jo’s first major public project, Color of Life (1999), a grid of stacked metal barrels that drew myriad participants, young and old, to clamber on the work’s frame and lie contemplatively in the brightly colored tubes. Since then, Jo has collaborated with schoolchildren and local residents in Brazil , India , and the U.S.-Mexico border region, often inviting them to contribute found or homemade items as tokens of their interests and wishes. In short, the Confucianism in her heritage, with its emphasis on familial and civic care, has come progressively to the fore.
Although one can find formal affinities in Jo’s work to that of Eva Hesse, Barry Le Va, Jannis Kounellis and others, she has always created in an extremely personal fashion. Of late, she has made several site-specific variations of an installation that memorializes her brother, who died recently at a tragically young age. The labyrinth of scrap lumber and twigs, where viewers wander, repeatedly finding new routes and new perspectives, reminds one that the lamb lost in the wilderness is a principal metaphor in Jo’s adopted Christianity. It is no surprise, given her longstanding use of salvaged materials, that this artist would be drawn to a strongly redemptive faith – one which holds that the lost can be found, the sinful saved, the physical transcended. In 1998, Jo made We Are Standing in His Presence, a work composed of two table frames and two battered doors, on one of which she scrawled: “None else could/ heal all over soul’s/ diseases . . . / We are standing/ in His presence/ on holy ground.” In that humble sentiment lies the highest aim of her art.
-- Richard Vine, Senior Editor, Art in America
Sook Jin Jo
1960 born in Gwangju, Korea South
Lives and works in New York, United States
Sook Jin Jo has received M.F.A.'s from Hong-Ik University, Korea and from the Pratt Institute, New York. Known primarily for her work with wood, over the past 20 years Sook Jin Jo has produced drawings, collages, photographs, sculptural assemblages, performances and site-specific installations. Whatever the medium, Jo’s works evoke a spiritual, meditative and contemplative response in the viewer’s experience of them.
She has received a Fellowship from IAAB (International Exchange and Studio Program Basel) in Switzerland; National Artist Prize from Hachonghyun Foundation in Korea; Residency Fellowships from the Sacatar Foundation in Brazil; an Artist Fellowship from the Stone Quarry Hill Art Park in New York; an Artist Fellowship from the Socrates Sculpture Park in New York; a Pollock-Krasner Foundation Grant in New York; and a Korea Arts Foundation of America (KAFA) award in California.
Jo has exhibited internationally since 1984, and has been the subject of 27 solo exhibitions in the United States, Europe and Asia, including O.K. Harris Works of Art, New York; “A Mid-Career Survey of the Work of Sook Jin Jo: A 20 Year Encounter with Wood" at the Arko Art Center, Seoul (2007) and over 100 group exhibitions, including the “Lodz Biennale”, Lodz, Poland; the “Gwangju Biennale”, Gwangju, Korea; the Smithsonian Institute, Washington D.C.; and the National Museum of Contemporary Art in Korea, Kwacheon, Korea.
"Wishing Bells/ To Protect & To Serve"
Public Art Commission, Public Plaza at the LA Metro Detention Center, City of Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs Department, Los Angeles
LA Metro Detention Center, Downtown Los Angeles, California
Housatonic Museum of Art, Westport, Connecticut
Erie Museum of Art, Erie, Pennsylvania
Stone Quarry Hill Art Park, Cazenovia, New York
Global Arts Village, Ghitorni, New Delhi, India
Joao Ubaldo Ribeiro School, Itaparica, Bahia, Brazil
Young Un Museum of Contemporary Art, Kyoungki Do, Korea
Girlsclub Collection, Fort Lauderdale, FL
Her work is featured in the publications: The Martin Z. Margulies Collection: Painting and Sculpture , published by the Margulies Foundation in 2008 and A Sculpture Reader: Contemporary Sculpture Since 1980 published by ISC/ University of Washington Press in 2006; and has been published in many newspapers, magazines and books, including Art in America, Art News, Sculpture, The New York Times, Newsday, The Miami Herald,The Washington Post.
Sook Jin Jo has been a lecturer or panelist at numerous universities and art organizations, including The New School/ Parsons School of Design, New York; The Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; “Americans For the Arts” annual convention in Milwaukee, Wisconsin; and The institute of International Education, United States Department of State, Washington D.C.