Visual Arts

Jae Ko’s Room-Size, Recycled-Paper Sculpture Models the Melting of Planet Earth

Much like a singer who uses his range, artist Jae Ko employs recycled paper to make a point, evoke emotion and blow minds.

“For me, [Ko’s artworks] operate on various levels,” says Valerie Cassel Oliver, senior curator at the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston. “It beautifully marries something aesthetically pleasing with the spectacular, with things that are grounding and things people care about such as the environment and recycling, and the things happening in the northern regions of our planet with the melting of the ice caps. When you see it en masse, it’s really quite spectacular.”

Ko’s site-specific installation at the CAMH’s Zilkha Gallery, titled flow, will visually realize, via a room-encompassing relief sculpture, the melting tundra. The piece, inspired by Ko’s visits to Newfoundland and the northwestern parts of the United States, will be constructed with “one ton of recycled commercial adding machine paper that has been re-spooled and shaped to fit the architecture” of the space.

Oliver, who curated flow, says that she first met the Korean-born artist when they each lived in Washington, D.C. in the late 1980s and early 1990s. At the time, Ko was plugging along as a graphic and commercial designer, a trade she learned at Wako University in Tokyo, but wanted to break out into four-white-walls visual art.

She eventually did, and on a grand scale. Oliver remembers seeing Ko’s first installment of her ongoing Force of Nature series at D.C.’s Phillips Collection, which exhibited from September 2010 through February 2011. In a process she employs today, Ko rolled, cut, glued and manipulated paper into sculptural forms. “It brought it back to the cerebral cortex for me,” says Oliver.

Ko will begin a nine-day-long installation process on Wednesday, and Oliver encourages folks to come check it out because the Maryland and Arlington, Virginia-based artist enjoys interactions and talking shop. “It’s amazing to see a humble material like paper reshape a concrete building,” says Oliver.

flow opens with a public reception from 6:30 to 9 p.m. Friday, June 17, at the CAMH, 5216 Montrose. At 2 p.m. Saturday, June 18, Ko and Oliver will discuss Ko’s piece and career during an artist talk. The exhibition remains on view through September 18. Admission is free. For more information, call 713-284-8250 or go to
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Steve Jansen is a contributing writer for the Houston Press.
Contact: Steve Jansen