[March 14 2017]
For 5 weeks artist Terence Koh took up residency inside the rooms of Moran Bondaroff gallery in Los Angeles for his live-in performance and installation “Sleeping in a Beam of Sunlight” which ended March 11th. The artist never left the space for the entire duration of the show, instead visitors were welcome to bring in food and supplies to help sustain Koh’s living experience in the gallery which created a gathering place for visitors and friends alike. His self-sustaining utopian habitat included a rooftop garden above the gallery containing his plantations of herbs, flowers, solar panels, an open-air bathtub, and Koh’s “Bee Chapel” where one can sit inside a cocoon egg shaped doom and meditate to the sound of the bees. Downstairs we saw Terence among his personal treasures and objects, from books, a grand piano, plants, a boat, to his cat Skeleton.What comes across is a sense of tranquility, a meeting of minds and a sense of belonging. Purple contributor Gabriela Forgo documented Terence during his full residency and longtime friend and fellow artist Item Idem sat with Koh for purple Diary to discuss the performance and installation.
Item Idem — When was the last time you ate some steak?
Terence Koh — I don’t even remember, maybe when I was 18 maybe. I am vegan, but I do eat honey and I eat eggs if I know the chickens.
Item Idem — Your lifestyle aligns with your performance. The way you eat, the way the whole show is powered by solar power, refusing to throw away your trash, it’s very much a lifestyle.
Terence Koh — Yes, but I don’t feel like I’m performing, but maybe it’s just embedded in me. Like cooking eggs in the morning, in my underwear about to take a bath.
Item Idem — Is Skeleton vegan?
Terence Koh — He could be. But Skeleton keeps catching canaries in the garden. He caught a mouse here once, near the compost. He brought it to the main room and dropped it off in front of our bed. The mouse was limp so I just assumed he was dead. So I waited until Garrick Gott [Terence’s husband] came back, but by the time he got back, he moved, and the first thing he went towards was the trash mound. I haven’t seen him since. I hope he’s eating apples.
[Terence pauses in excitement, pointing to the slide show being projected on the wall]
Terence Koh — That’s our place in the Catskills; that’s Garrick…there’s Hans Maya, he was suppose to be here, the four of us. Garrick, Skeleton, Hans, and I. He past away before the show.… That’s Alec, he’s coming Thursday, there’s the wooden farmhouse in the Catskills, oh that’s right-you’ve been there before!
Item Idem — Yes. I came when you had just moved to the mountaintop in the Catskills, we planted trees and ate moon cake from the baker. That was when you began to reinvent yourself. I remember you dug a hole into the ground and shouted into it.
Terence Koh — Ah yes, I remember. Marina Abramovic and Anohni from Antony and the Johnsons were there too. We all wandered into the forest. Everyone kept getting lost, but Marina saved everyone.
Item Idem — I got lost to, I kept going further into the woods that night. At one point I started seeing things because it was so dark, it felt like I was in sleepy hallow. That was a great trip. You’ve changed so much since your transformation in the Catskills. Weren’t your previous interviews written in haikus?
Terence Koh — Yes
Item Idem — You used to have this four-story building, in Chinatown, New York. There was a gallery on the first floor, offices on the second, and an apartment on the third. The basement painted in black. You moved from minimalism to absolute maximization. You moved on from a colorless empty lifestyle to a very vibrant one. Most artists stay in their comfort zone, you don’t.
Terence Koh — I have definitely become more politically aware. But also, I’m just trying to have a good time.
Item Idem — Do you miss your minimalist white phase?
Terence Koh — No, truthfully I avoid it. Even white paper napkins, I will purposely find unbleached toilet paper. I couldn’t do white anymore.
Item Idem — That’s impressive, since it used to be such a large part of your previous work. Although I must say…this has to be your best show ever. I was speaking with Shelley Aarons and we both agreed this is your best show ever. Which is kind of impressive since you’ve been doing so many things the past 15 years. I find it interesting how many artists and individuals relate to politics because of the times we live in. I feel like this particular show…the boat makes me think of the migrant crises, of Greece, Syria, and people passing, and yet it does not feel like propaganda, its subtle like poetry. Did you know you were going to push this show this far?
Terence Koh — I had no idea what to expect. I entered here mainly thinking about the Bee Chapel and Hans Maya. Because I knew the Bee Chapel was going to become a permanent piece I put a lot of thought into it.
Item Idem — Since you’ve moved into the gallery, California has had record rainfall, how has that effected the bees?
Terence Koh — There have been a lot of storms during my stay here. One night while sleeping, I could hear the wind blowing. So I went up to the Bee Chapel, and almost slipped and fell while trying to cover the bees. I almost died! When I woke up the next the day, most of the plants in the garden had fallen.
Item Idem — So all the storms have had a heavy impact on the show?
Terence Koh — Oh yes, anytime there has been a storm, it gets a little crazy in here. I made holes in the roof and walls of the gallery, to help me tell time, when the sun shines through. But when it rains the sun does not shine, and the holes in the gallery to tell time go dim. Even the bee’s activity changes with the weather, on warm days they fan themselves to regulate temperature, on rainy days they are quiet.
Item Idem — And the news, how do you stay informed? The Internet and fake news stories are unbelievable. The way truth is becoming an obsolete notion. We live in a time were truth is manipulated every day. It’s McCarthyism.
Terence Koh — That’s why I think its important for us to interact face to face. I get the news from having conversations with people. Everyone who has entered the gallery I have spoken to face to face. Remember the days before cell phones; nightclubs were such a big mesh. Everyone from punk, rich bankers, poets, transgender, students…everyone would interact because there wasn’t any way for people to filter through what they wanted to see. I think we are moving too fast technologically versus who we are spiritually. I’m actually trying to invite as many diverse people as possible for the closing ceremony of the show on Saturday. We are going to sit in a circle and tell stories. Everyone is invited. Yet I’m having a hard time finding undocumented immigrants and Trump supporters to come.
[In the background, Erik Satie’s Gymnopédie No.1 begins to play, the room goes silent for a few minutes.]
Terence Koh — There’s these Tibetan bells that ring in the front, my favorite part of the show is I can see my shadow, I run around spinning apples around, and they never see me. Before they come in I take a peek and I place the rainbow on the boat.
Item Idem — You’re doing a show in Spain soon, no?
Terence Koh — Yes, in Majorca, Spain, maybe we can make shows or exhibitions our home. It wouldn’t be too bad to live in Majorca for four months. [Glances at Garrick]
Item Idem — You haven’t left the gallery in 5 weeks. What’s the first thing you are going to do when you leave here?
Terence Koh — Return to my home in Sonoma, maybe even update my cellular plan at the Apple store.
Item Idem— What about all the elements in the room?
Terence Koh — Some the gallery will keep, others I will take back home.
Item Idem — What about the piano? You’ve gone through so many pianos through out your practice.
Terence Koh — There’s one on top of the Catskills. On that mountain we spoke about earlier. We will bring this piano back to Sonoma. I don’t know how, but we will. The Bee Chapel is too stay.
Item Idem — I’ve had such a good time visiting your show, stopping by every week. It feels-so serene. I’m going to miss hanging out here.
Terence Koh — I think we’ll miss that regularity of having visitors.
Interview Item Idem and photo Gabriela Forgo