Kai Oh’s creative practice is a curious mix of three worlds: photography, sculpture and digital. Based between Berlin and Seoul – the former where she moved to study back in 2015 and the latter where she grew up – Kai’s distinct practice was birthed through a love of taking photos. An “easy and fun act” for the young Kai to take part in, she knew from then on that the creative life was for her.
Lucky enough to spend a good portion of her spare time traveling, as a youngster, the new places provided Kai with an abundance of photographic material. “All travel gave me such a good chance to take photos,” she tells us, “It is always fascinating to face something for the first time.” When she enrolled in art school however, it was sculpture – the traditional art of working with her hands – that took her fancy. Drawn to the rhythm of making 3D tangible objects and working in a physical space, with her studies, she discerned that “installation is the most powerful way of presenting.”
It goes without saying that working heavily with the body requires a lot of physical strength, and creating large sculptures also demands a lot of physical space to be stored in. When it came to graduating, this was just a couple of issues Kai encountered to continue her work. “Everyone was fighting to own the space,” she says on the matter, “and for me back then, it was very easy to lose the game.” Then, there was the materials to consider. In order to make the work she wanted, Kai wanted to experiment with new materials and processes, something that was difficult to recreate outside the university resources.
In turn, she returned to the digital, a “more flexible and efficient” medium in comparison to sculpture. “It fits me perfectly,” explains Kai, “I feel very free and there’s no guilty feelings behind it.” It wasn’t a conscious decision to come back to photography, it just happened naturally, something that’s evolved with time. Now, layered images, deformed shapes and blurred cut edges, fill Kai’s practice. Her work feels like it is moving though it’s obvious they are stills and she achieves this with a smooth blend of images. She landed on this aesthetic as a response to the “too perfect” output of her Contax T3. It seemed like the camera could not produce anything but a faultless image, and as a reaction to this, Kai had an urge to shake things up.
Walking around her various surroundings, she shoots whatever she comes across; nature and wild life are common subjects that crop up. Above all, it is never staged. “I just go as close as I can to observe the forms, colours, textures and details,” she says on her creative process. Then she manipulates them in Photoshop, making “a plane of complexity that is never too destructive.” The result is an astonishing array of images that form Kai’s archive. The subject matter is recognisable in its original form, but at the same time, she "(softly) destroys the possible symbolic meaning or sign that might exist behind the objects [she] cuts and reassembles. “I don’t mind using the same photo multiple times in different planes,” she continues, “When the same photo works differently, that is more interesting.” A touch of humour is also important to convey, making fun of the work and “laughing things out” at the same time. For Kai, “It has to be fun otherwise it’s so sad.”
As well as making this work for herself, she’s also applied her unique creative approach to commercial settings; posters for example where she also incorporates other peoples’ work. And in a totally different kind of challenge, she’s currently working on the production for a Hollywood film. “What I experience there, especially on set, is astonishing,” she says. As she has little interest in staging scenes, this line of work has thrown up multiple intrigues for Kai. Specifically, “I am now thinking about what I could try out with lighting.” One particular phrase that has stuck with her while working on the film is: “Fuck the natural light”; an alien concept for Kai thus far. But with that in mind, there’s a myriad of interesting creative routes going forwards. She ponders: “Maybe I could make a photo series with the most incorrect lighting.”
GalleryKai Oh, (Copyright © Kai Oh 2020)
About the Author
Jyni became a staff writer in March 2019 having previously joined the team as an editorial assistant in August 2018. She graduated from The Glasgow School of Art with a degree in Communication Design in 2017 and her previous roles include Glasgow Women’s Library designer in residence and The Glasgow School of Art’s Graduate Illustrator.