Date of Transcription 2/4/2016; Date of Interview 2/2/2016
At the Macy Gallery at Teachers College, Columbia University, artists and art educators Jesse Jagtiani and Sohee Koo had a duo art exhibition, “Experiences of (Dis)Connection”. Jagtiani and Koo were interviewed in the Thingspace by Andrew Corpuz regarding their work and the show.
Interview has been edited for flow.
Andrew Corpuz: How did you guys decide to work together on the show and how did you come up with the title?
Jesse Jagtiani: Judy [Burton] asked me if I would like to have a show in the Macy Gallery and of course I did, but I was also a little nervous about having to fill the gallery by myself and going through that whole process by myself. I thought it would be more fun if I shared that experience with somebody who I am close with and whose work I admire, so I asked Sohee if she would join [who had also been asked by Judy Burton]. Sohee said “yes”, and that made me very happy, and that’s how we did the show together. The name of the show was an idea that I had — it reflects how I see my work and it also applied to Sohee’s work. Our work deals with everyday experiences in our lives. There’s often an experience of connection or disconnection [in everyday experiences], or both. A connection can also be a disconnection and the other way around, and so I thought it was a good and engaging title for what we are dealing with in our work.
Sohee Koo: From a realistic side, I knew at some point I would have an exhibition at the Macy Gallery as part of the requirement.
AC: So you felt like it was a good opportunity?
SK: Yeah, so here as a student you know, you don’t have a lot of time to work on your art, even though we’re coming from the arts practice background, and it was a really great chance to have a deadline, and to work on the collaborative work together, and get into the working mode, which is very different from writing or research. The title came naturally; I agreed with the title that Jessie originally came up with. It’s about everyday objects and everyday experience, and connection and disconnection. Some of our work deals with perception, too… illusions…
AC: So talking about your work and working together, what was it like collaborating…? Also, I know you two have different styles. Sohee is more subtle, [Jesse] is more confrontational. How would you say that worked together?
JJ: I think that worked together well. I chose her for a reason because I thought that our work was communicating with each other. And yes, maybe her work is at the first sight more quiet than mine, and this has to do a lot with visual features of our work…. Mine is very colorful… maybe more monumental or something like that… Sohee’s work is subtle and more quiet, but I still think they talk about the same things. I thought that mixing the works worked well together and provided a conversation… and now that it’s hanging, I feel you can see that in the gallery. Sohee and I are friends too, so we have conversations about our work. I always felt when I saw her work or when she was explaining what she is doing, like “oh, there’s a connection to my work.” So I thought the work would communicate and connect with each other, and it did, so I’m really happy about that. working together was nice and fun, but also with difficulties as it always is when you are going through processes like that; you’ll have some disagreements, miscommunications. But that will always happen if you are working with other people together, and it’s like how you deal with it… so we kept the communication open, we left enough room to let each other be stressed out sometimes, and calmed each other down. So it was a good balance and we did well. We came out on the other end, still alive.
SK: I agree. At the beginning, the time was the biggest challenge because we don’t have a lot of time… limited time. The other thing was dealing with technology, it was challenging, but we also learned a lot too with that process. So if something didn’t work out, sometimes we’d panic, but sometimes we’d go over each steps to make sure which didn’t work, so process was the most important aspect in working together… also sometimes getting the materials and deciding upon what to do. When we first began to work on the construction of the basic frame of the “Rise of Art” piece, the collaborative piece, we had a similar drawing, though we didn’t really talk about it. It was very natural, to just start off, “let’s just do it, without thinking too much, we don’t have to agree on each and every thing.” We kind of liked each other’s input as we moved on, so it was great.
AC: So what was it like working in the Thingspace, and how did it influence what you made?
JJ: It definitely influenced what we were able to do. I work in the Myers Media Art Studio (MMAS), and we couldn’t have done what we did, that is making a Mixed Media sculpture We needed both studios to be working on that. We would produce the videos at MMAS, and even sometimes take a computer from there and produce the videos at the Thingspace. The Thingspace made it possible to work at a larger scale, use different kinds of materials, and use the laser cutter. I did the 3D printing at MMAS. Both studios were significant to what we could do and how it worked together. Otherwise, if we just had access to just one of the studios, we wouldn’t have had the flexibility of doing what we were imagining.
SK: Thingspace is newly renovated, so we used the laser cutter and 3d printer. We wanted to combine different modes of fabrication with the video. We’ve always talked about using different fabrications, but when we actually applied it into our work, it made sense. It was very innate. It wasn’t very forceful, it was very natural to use that, and we couldn’t have done the 1000 shapes of hexagons without the laser cutter. So we discovered that it’s very useful…
AC: Could you imagine cutting [laughter]?
SK: No I couldn’t… we wouldn’t, even the folding part.
JJ: Just opening the cuts up, was like so much work already. Just imagining that we first had to cut them all to fold them? No. We were already sitting there and already going crazy folding the pieces.
AC: Yeah, it looks very complex. So as students of the Art and Art Education program, how do you feel like the classes you’ve taken has influenced your work?
JJ: Talking about our collaboration piece, that’s definitely influenced by the work we do here. First, it is influenced by the collaboration between the two studios. I work at the MMAS and Sohee works at the Thingspace. On the other side, process is a big thing in the Art Education world — how do we get to a certain point, how do we use our hands, how do we integrate technology, how do we mix traditional with “new media”. Our piece “Rise of Art” shows all these thoughts and processes that we have in our head and our work anyways. It’s a reflection of what we deal with everyday here and what we explore everyday.
SK: We are artists, but we are also educators. This program is called Art and Art Education, so thinking about that context, we want to show the actual process of how our hands evolved to make “Rise of Art”; we want to make them into the real life. If you go to museums or open studios at other schools, you get to see the results of process, but you don’t get to see the actual process. But we documented all our process, from constructing with wire, to the hanging installation, so it’s also educating to show not only how it’s made but also how the artist’s way of making, thinking, and seeing works. We wanted to put a lot of message into it.
JJ: Same as my other project, “Letting Go.” It’s influenced by the work that I’m doing, such as by the psychology classes that I’m talking which integrate the thought, perception, and experience of spirituality. My work also explores energy, how are we energy, and how do we transmit or receive energy. Project “Letting Go” is about that. It’s also about creating a community and trying to better ourselves in a collective way. I asked people to send me messages of what they want to let go in life, such as memories, stories, desires, feelings, thoughts, and things that don’t have a use in their life anymore. So all these messages were sent to me, and I put these messages in the bottles of the big bottle ball that I built, and also created an online response blog. People also sent me images which are projected behind the ball, and so at the reception, we are going to collectively break apart this ball and then people get to read the messages and get to respond on the online blog to the messages. I also ask them to find a ritual to release these energies. I think if we do this in a group, we generate some kind of feeling of community. There is also [a feeling of] being able to assist each other in letting things go, and I think that’s one of the hardest things in life, to just let things go and let them be. So the work I do here, being an educator, definitely influences project “Letting Go”, because I always have a concern for the well-being of the community that I’m in and I always want to help others and appreciate whenever I am being helped when I am stuck.
AC: Do you guys have anything else to add?
SK: Just working here in the studio, and seeing people make things… A lot of my work involves the materiality, and the boundaries between drawing, sculpture, and installation. Sometimes it’s hard to categorize my work into one thing, but I actually enjoy that. Sometimes I collect scraps such as cut-out wire, leftover forms, or silicones for molding-making. Sometimes they are functionless, but they can be translated into work of art, and I kind of enjoy that process. So I think working here and teaching definitely helps me push these ideas further, thinking about the media and the materiality. This kind of challenges us to see things in different ways, just like Jesse’s work. It’s not a grand scene, but it’s something very humble and pervasive, but it actually invites us to look at things differently, and so I would like to continue these ideas.
JJ: Yeah, we hope our work does create some sort of awareness of how we perceive things, and that we all perceive things in a different way. Just be aware of everyday things and the mundane and to see how we can still learn from those experiences… yeah, our work is inspired by the everyday and very bound by our personal lives.
AC: Yeah, I think that’s a great aspect of some art, to help people see things differently, so I can see how you guys do that through your work. Anything else you want to add or what you plan to do next?
JJ: Well, we plan to get our doctorate succesfully done, to grow everyday as educators and learn with our students. We hope to be great facilitators to our students and to always find the time to make art.
SK: Continuing our art practice is one of the most important activities that we should always do, but sometimes we often have no time to do it. But to be able to have that challenge of limited time actually inspires us to push something a little further. We are not full-time artists, but we are making art, and we are hoping to continue that.
JJ: You can’t be teaching what you’re not practicing.
AC: Great. Thank you.