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b. 1966, South Korea

Koh San Keum Biography

Korean artist Koh San Keum transcribes texts from a broad range of sources into the visual language she has developed over a 30-year career. These texts are written in abstract patterns made from artificial pearls, beads, or fabric, with the linearity and spacing of the individual marks acting as the signifiers of a comprehensible written language. The literary content itself is reduced to coded visual values, and the artist's views and interpretations of the text are conveyed as a purely aesthetic response.

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Koh's interest in the texture and sensory aesthetic of written texts has led to works that are mistakable for Braille. The works stem from the artist experiencing temporary blindness due to stress while studying in New York in the 1990s; in the time before her sight was fully restored, when she would open a book words seemed like groups of shining pearls to her. From a distance, many of the artist's works appear to be aligned columns of written words, but close-up they materialise into abstract patterns, where each letter is an artificial pearl, bead, hole or piece of lacework. Her works deconstruct a range of texts, from lyrics and poetry to famous treatises and classic novels.

While such encoding forms the core methodology of Koh's artwork, she also experiments with and expands her materials and format. The ordered, linear composition and white, paper-like tones that simulate the Korean book form in works such as That Man That Woman (Song by Vibe) (2006) is exchanged for a more imaginative and vibrantly contrasting landscape in works such as Sam Il Po (Excerpt from Park Kyoung Lee novel) (2011). In the 'Memory Board' (2019) series and other artworks from the solo exhibition Infinite Tolerance (Gallery Baton, Seoul, 2019), the artist's references free the pearls from the square, straight structure of writing. Pearls are gathered in clusters that collapse the composition of articulated words into something that predates the text—perhaps sentences unformed in the writer's mind.

Koh has a BFA and MFA from Ewha Womans University, Seoul, and an additional MFA from Pratt Institute, New York. Her solo shows include Infinite Tolerance, Gallery Baton, Seoul (2019); Homage to You, Gallery SUN Contemporary, Seoul (2012); and Mist of signs three, The National Art Studio, Goyang (2007). Group exhibitions include With Weft, With Warp, Seoul Museum of Art (2018); From Trace to Artwork, Seoul National University Museum Of Art (2015); Creation and Parody, Jeju Museum of Art (2011); and The Shape of Time, Yeosu International Art Festival (2010). Her work features in public collections including Seoul Museum of Art and the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Korea. She has also received several awards.

Ocula | 2019

Koh San Keum
featured artworks

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The Sound of Spring (Lee Hae-in) by Koh San Keum contemporary artwork painting, mixed media, textile
Koh San Keum The Sound of Spring (Lee Hae-in), 2023 4mm artificial pearl beads, acrylic paint, fabric on wooden panel
52 x 68 cm
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Prologue (Yun Dong-ju) by Koh San Keum contemporary artwork sculpture
Koh San Keum Prologue (Yun Dong-ju), 2022 4mm artificial pearl beads, embroidery on fabric
145 x 88 cm
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I like you (Cho Yong Pill / Jang Beom June) by Koh San Keum contemporary artwork painting, mixed media
Koh San Keum I like you (Cho Yong Pill / Jang Beom June), 2022 4mm artificial pearl beads, acrylic paint, fabric on wooden panel
34 x 52 cm
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Gallery Baton
A Psalm of Life (Henry Wadsworth Longfellow) by Koh San Keum contemporary artwork installation
Koh San Keum A Psalm of Life (Henry Wadsworth Longfellow), 2022 4mm artificial pearl beads, embroidery on fabric
158 x 101 cm
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Greek Lessons (Han Kang) by Koh San Keum contemporary artwork painting, mixed media
Koh San Keum Greek Lessons (Han Kang), 2021 4mm artificial pearl beads, acrylic, fabric on wooden panel
55 x 135 cm
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Memory Board 4 by Koh San Keum contemporary artwork mixed media
Koh San Keum Memory Board 4, 2019 4mm artificial pearl beads, ballpoint pen on paper
114 x 83 cm (incl frame)
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The Dong-A Ilbo September 20, 1934, Section 9 & 10 by Koh San Keum contemporary artwork painting, works on paper, sculpture
Koh San Keum The Dong-A Ilbo September 20, 1934, Section 9 & 10, 2019 4mm artificial pearl beads, adhesive, acrylic on wooden panel
60 x 87 cm
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Les Miserables 1 (Victor Hugo, Excerpt from Pp.1076-1107) by Koh San Keum contemporary artwork painting, mixed media
Koh San Keum Les Miserables 1 (Victor Hugo, Excerpt from Pp.1076-1107), 2015 4mm artificial pearl beads, adhesive, acrylic on wooden panel
162 x 116 cm
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