William Parkes
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Flow at Contemporary Arts Museum Houston

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Photo from the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston / Tumblr


Korean born artist Jae Ko is a self proclaimed paper “obsessor.” Pulling off major installations such as Flow in the Zilkha Gallery at the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston would be a nearly insurmountable task if you had no relationship to paper. Paper and it’s behavior forms the basis of Ko’s personal logos — not boiler plate psychedelia, or the abstraction of wind charts, as the viewer may romanticize. If anything, even by coincidence, the title of the exhibition does reflect the element which is central to the divinations of the I Ching, “panta rheia,” which translates to “everything flows”. Not one component more significantly than another, not paper more than rock, nor rock more than scissors. Heraclitus said that “all entities move and nothing remains still.” This would explain why Ko is so reluctant to make any definitive statements concerning the installations’ closeness to cosmological schema. Just plain recycled paper, in whatever playful hue the manufacturer should delve it to her, often in extraordinarily faint tinges of azure or pink. This in itself is a lesson in impermanence as they cannot feasibly be color coordinated after the point that she uncases them. She has a team of about a dozen assistants who tirelessly unroll miles of recycled paper from their neatly wrought packings en masse, to be re-rolled in a way that is unique to each assistant. This ensures that each and every roll maintains it’s own character, it’s own personality to contribute to the immense feeling of singularity in such installations.


Photo from the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston / Tumblr


Where Ko’s humour sets in, though, is when you walk into a space in which there is a complete and utter equity among every part that comprises it. “It” issues every possible way, in every imaginable direction, with a relieving absence of hierarchy. It acts as a sort of semiotic workshop just to spend time with and see the immensity of the material, so densely differentiated within itself. It is like a puzzle with interchangable pieces, which set themselves into motion, almost by their own volition, “falling” into the place that they know they belong in. I use the word fall with some caution because the only real ruse in the visual splendor of such installations is her use of metal L brackets to fasten the rolls directly to the wall (perhaps the installation’s only deficiency). Ko will readily admit to this, as she did in an interview of 2024 in conjunction with her exhibition at Grounds for Sculpture, Force of Nature. She has always made herself understood as an artist of the candid variation, even going as far as to include in the CAMH’s Education Room a three-channel video showing the CAMH’s installation crew rapidly placing bunches of paper and, occasionally, an austere Ko with gloved hands at her hips, dictating, and sometimes what looks like CAMH curatorial staff congregating with coffee around stacks of paper.


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Photo by Justin Terrell


There’s a reason that we are so quick to draw a myriad connections between the convexed shapes and little dripping mounds in Flow and in the configurations of the natural world. Because no one child could be correct about what a cloud really is, what shape it really has. Ko does not model these forms from archipelagos or sea arches. She has the uncanny ability to allow the paper to become what it already is.