On November 10, 2017, Skidmore students Abigail Fuess ’18 and Sophie Heath ’18 interviewed artist Michael Joo about his work Untitled (DRWN), 2012, from the Tang collection. Untitled (DRWN) was on view in the fall 2017 exhibition Other Side: Art, Object, Self.
This interview was part of a series of interviews with artists conducted by Skidmore students in the Art History course “The Artist Interview,” led by Dayton Director Ian Berry.
The video above shows excerpts from the interview with Joo. A longer, edited transcript of the interview is below.
Abigail Fuess ’18
You have a science background, and both your parents were scientists. Could you talk about growing up in that environment in terms of science versus art experiences?
My mother likes to joke that I grew up in the labs before I was born. My parents were involved in food science and food production. They were from Korea, then came over to the States in the late 1950s/early 1960s. My dad was a cattleman and my mother was in seed science, so the labs I grew up with were hard-science labs as in my mother’s lab, but also farms, ranches, animal husbandry, breeding, things like that. So there was a really practical, pragmatic side to the abstraction in the laboratories.
In many ways, everything was really specific: there was measurement, there was data, there was information. But it was really hard to see what was being pursued; a lot of things were invisible, but it leaped from the very specific to interpreting what’s going on. That might have something to do with how image and specificity and abstraction function in my own work.
Do you find that your scientific background is something that holds your art back or allows you to express yourself in a unique way?
I think of that idea a lot. In some ways, whatever you might call “science” in my work is just part of a language, either a methodology or an attitude, that I grew up with and can’t help. It informs some of the ways that I frame how I look at things. And sometimes it is a lead-in to how I might make sense of something. In grappling with it, I’m very conscious of it as a language, and it’s a language of authority. My art practice is informed to some degree by a certain amount of skepticism and questioning and interrogation of things. So what better thing to turn around and try to dispel or dissect than authoritative language such as in science.
Could you talk about your artistic process with Untitled (DRWN), which is in the Tang collection?
This work, in many ways, is emblematic of a lot of my sculptural practice, which often involves not an image, but a physical, sculptural, or manifested kind of material—in this case, casts of endangered crane species from Africa. Often with sculptures, their material qualities and their material properties are married with the form and don’t, in and of themselves, indicate an end to the life of the work—that is to say, the sculptures themselves don’t stop at the image or they don’t stop at the material. They often are an initiation of the question or an action that’s meant to be rejoined either by myself, the viewer, or maybe by time or space.