Gilchun Koh: Blind Birds
Gilchun Koh, A Cormorant III, 2023, etching with hand wrapped feather.

Gilchun Koh: Blind Birds

ArtX Contemporary, Seattle, WA - Oct 5 - Nov 25

by Matthew Kangas

For his second solo show at ArtX Contemporary, noted South Korean artist Gilchun Koh brings works he created in a recent residency at the Centrum Foundation in Port Townsend, WA, on the Olympic Peninsula. The 12 etchings in the Blind Birds series depict common birds he saw there, some of which have cloths wrapped around their heads. According to the artist, “birds … cannot wrap cloth around their heads. Only humans can wind it around them … The wrapped cloth around the birds’ heads symbolizes their habitats being reduced and destroyed due to human selfishness.”

Ecology is Koh’s current fixation, and the prints at ArtX Contemporary follow on an interactive piece he created about deforestation on his native Jeju Island, titled Let’s Go Plant the Tree (2020). The artist invited 150 people to plant trees to replace the ones cut down by developers. The participants’ interventions were exhibited together with the artist’s frottage or pencil-rubbings over one stump for every two trees planted by the public.

Since his 2004 US debut in Port Townsend at National American Bank Safe, Koh has expanded his purview considerably, as a guest lecturer in Massachusetts with radical savant Noam Chomsky and as a panelist in New York City with feminist icon Gloria Steinem.

Paralleling another body of work memorializing the April 3, 1948, massacre victims on Jeju Island, Koh made rubbings at Centrum on disused US Army bunkers, now housing cultural, artistic and musical facilities. He draws a correspondence between the historical geographic vulnerability of Jeju Island (desired by China and Japan) and the comparably fraught situation on the Olympic Peninsula, past focus of British, Japanese and Russian military interest. In all cases, Koh combines beautiful nature imagery with sober, serious political content.

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