Without prior knowledge of Terence Kohs multifaceted art practice, no-one peering into The Whole Family (Bigger), his tranquil installation in the 2004 Whitney Biennial, would connect him to his alter-ego, Asianpunkboy (APB) or assume he was the author of his eponymous custom-made books and website.
For the Biennial, Koh crafted a hut covered in white plush panels and filled with cornstarch. Pushing back a furry flap, the viewer was introduced to a pristine serene enclave decorated with idiosyncratic objects painted white, the memorial color for many non-Western cultures. Among the chilly memento-mori was an owl perched upside-down which stared outward with diamond eyes and a switchblade glistening with rhinestones. Like a trip into Narnia, the cool world Koh created was terrifyingly tantalizing and a beautiful, though too brief, escape from the Biennials crowds.
For his books, which came with soiled undies and couture tee-shirts, and his websites Asianpunkbpy.com and kohbunny.com, Koh was included in the top-ten list that A.A. Bronson, founding member of General Idea, complied for the September 2002 issue of Artforum. In print and on-line, Koh mixes sweet doodle-like drawings, coy haikus and images he appropriates from pop and gay porn sites to create a saucy form of bricolage.
Kohs first solo show The Whole Family, held at Los Angeles Peres Projects in May 2003, included 21 images of laddish boys stolen from gay porn sites and printed on lavender paper, masses of flour, two live love-birds, sculptures of a cannon, a white neon light text sculpture that, in the style of Tracey Emin, read Felt, a white silk flag, an engraved mirror, an owl with bombastic diamond eyes, shattered glasses, a rhinestone encrusted switchblade, and many bullets. Ryan McGinley was the DJ at the shows opening.
Koh returns to Peres Projects gallery with do not doubt the dangerousness of my butterfly song, opening on July 3, 2004.
Ana Finel Honigman: Are you engaging the same conceptual meat with your websites Dionysian porn and pop-culture focus and your installations' calming aesthetic or are these wholly separate facets of your artistic personality?
Terence Koh: You see, or cannot, that I am a two headed beast. I am both hairless albino wolf and rabbit with a pink uni-horn. A two-headed beast is harder to kill and has twice the teeth.
AFH: Do rabbits even have teeth?
TK: Oh yes! Bunnies have the sharpest teeth. They need it to bite evil art
AFH: Cute. I guess that makes sense since youve been living in rough places like New York and London but now you are in LA and your current work, with its Zen and cum juxtapositions, has a particularly West Coast sensibility.
TK: Zen and cum esthetic makes it sound like I do work that would entice rich Beverly hill's women who do yoga, practice s/m, decorate their backyards with pretty Japanese stones or phallic water fountains and who also collect art. Actually that pretty much describes my ideal collector. I think my work is particularly well suited to be installed within the backyards of LA.
AFH: How do you define the current LA esthetic in relation to your art?
TK: I've been living in Bel Air for the last two months and LA has a particular shade of hazy light, sunny glamour and how do I define this...a kind of indigenous wacky, flighty air pressure. Perhaps this contributes to the LA esthetic to which you elude but I think it is a phenomenon I myself have not had the luck to encounter or perceive.
AFH: You have collaborated with a number of iconic irreverent artists like
Larry Clark and Bruce la Bruce. Who do you consider to be your mentor or art-world role models?
TK: All of them are dead. I very much cherish the spirit of the dead artist.
My prayers before I go to bed are for the life of Andy Warhol, Fluxus artist
George Maciunass laughter, the sweetness of Felix, the paleness of
Showa-era author Yukio Mishima who performed Seppuku, witty Marcel Duchamp, gentle father and son Gordon Matta-Clark, the breath of cross-gender Surrealist artist Toyen, Mapplethorpe's courage, the nature of Beuys, the mushrooms of Cage, dirty Dieter Roth, film-maker Hiroshi Teshigahara's elegance, the eggs of Marcel Broodthaers, golden Yayoi Kurosawa, the anger of David Wojnarowicz, beautiful Eva Hesse, the sleep of Georges Perec, the reflection of Robert Smithson, quiet Joseph Cornell, the everlasting and ever fabulous spirit of MISS GENERAL IDEA and on and on and on.
AFH: Really? No one else?
TK: Well, you know; past, present and future artists are all the part of the same, forever rolling circle. Oh! Now that I mentioned circles, last week I made a collage of myself in drag; with Yoko Ono on my left and Yayoi Kusama on my right. It sits right above my bed. I call it "My Holy Trinity" and it makes me undoubtedly happy!
AFH: A lot of your work plays with stereotypes of racial, sexual and cultural or sub-cultural identity. How do you think these issues have evolved since when they were at the center of art-world discourse in the nineties?
TK: Because I am part Japanese, Peruvian and I think a wee bit Irish, I guess I am a racial rainbow. But I still find it extremely awkward that my work continues to be labeled as racial. Sexual; yes, cultured; definitely, but I've never intended my art to be racial. In fact, being adopted at an early age by a middle-class, French-Canadian family and raised in the suburbs of Vancouver, Canada I feel distinctively quite white. So the fact that I look Asian and thus might dutifully make art in response to my exotic racial status is a moot point. In terms of the general evolution of the issues of race and sexuality you talk about, I feel that of course these issues still exist today, but I do not think that they have evolved in terms of art. Art does not evolve. Time changes, so art changes. 1977, the year I was born, the film "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" by Steven Spielberg came out and that same year, Blinky Palermo passed away.
AFH: The name "Asianpunkboy" seems to imply a racial component but then again your work is not distinctly "punk" either, except in the DIY sense. The "boy" part is indisputable.
TK: Yes, boys are undisputedly indisputable. I actually haven't used
asianpunkboy for a while now. He died somewhere in a secret park sometime on August 12th last year. I made 8 posters to commemorate the event. The Museum of Modern Model Art in New York bought one, so its the first thing they have of mine; the death of asianpunkboy and the birth of Terence Koh. I think its quite appropriate, don't you think?
AFH: So you are all grown-up and graduated now?
TK: No! I haven't grown up and graduated. Nope. Nope. Nope. I just saw the "Peter Pan" movie, the life actor version and the boy who plays Peter flies around with nothing on but a skimpy leotard made of leafs. So you see a lot of his nipples and pretty much everything. He doesn't even have arm-pit hair! I looked and looked! I'm the new Asian, Peruvian, wee-bit Irish Peter Pan!
ANA FINEL HONIGMAN is assistant editor at Artnet Magazine.