Germaine Koh is an artist whose work restates the ordinary and familiar. The foundation of her work is an examination of the connections between systems, and then to output something that forever changes our perceptions of that system. While “something” hardly speaks in context, a descriptor like “multi-media” does her idea and project-based practice a grave disservice. Koh’s work (often embracing engineering) acts like a lever: one of the simplest tools ever devised, yet generating a powerful mechanical advantage that is capable of moving great mass and exerting considerable force. In a more formal art sense, the simplest gesture makes the deepest mark.
Full disclosure: the author of this bio is her husband, and paradoxically it is easier and more difficult to write of her accomplishments than it is for her. Germaine has just won recognition as a 2023 recipient of the Governor General’s Award for Visual Arts. To make sense of my engineering analogy, she served as the City of Vancouver’s first “Engineering Artist in Residence”, both a testament and recognition of the physicality of her practice and to the City of Vancouver for seeing the marriage of art and engineering. Ongoing projects include Home Made Home, a recontextualization of housing in a colonial and capitalist context, and League, a celebration of participation and play as a form of creative practice. For the coming 2023-24 academic year, Germaine will be a Shadbolt Fellow at Simon Fraser University, following a year or so previously as the Koerner Artist in Residence at the University of British Columbia. Additionally, she has received the Shadbolt Foundation VIVA Award and was a finalist for the Sobey Art Award. And, don’t take her husband’s word, there’s also Wikipedia. As husband, I may bear some responsibility for ending her years of nomadic living, and we’re based on the west coast of British Columbia (the most colonial-named province); the unceded and traditional territories of the Salish first peoples.
-Written by Ian Verchere, husband
Which ’hood are you in?
I used to be nomadic, but in recent years I have settled down on the west coast. I still operate in a fairly untethered way, from a few different locations, working wherever I and my computer are. I live in the Hastings-Sunrise area of East Vancouver, share a studio with another artist in Mount Pleasant, and have also been building a rural artist residency on Saltspring Island.
What do you do?
I am an artist whose work crosses quite a few disciplines, including making objects and public art, building interactive kinetic and electronic pieces, and doing community-based work such as encouraging people to play as a form of creative practice, and building small structures as a way of advocating for D.I.Y. and alternative forms of housing. What brings all these different kinds of work together is wanting to look at the richness of the things that surround us, like commonplace materials, everyday patterns of behaviour, and other mundane details that we share as a community. I’m driven by the experience of learning and creating situations for us to interact and to ponder interesting phenomena. Working as a non-specialist means that much of my work includes connecting with people across different disciplines. That said, the activity of being an artist involves a surprising amount of administrative work.
What are you currently working on?
Because I lead a precarious existence, I usually have a few projects on the go at different stages. Right now, those include working on public art for three skateparks in Laval, Quebec, and collaborating with the artist Cedric Bomford to build a new mobile production space. I’m developing a curriculum to mentor a group of emerging artists in Victoria to produce a temporary public artwork using reclaimed materials, hosted by the Victoria Arts Council I’m doing some studio work using weaving as a technique for upcycling materials — which has extended into trying to grow some flax to see if I can make some linen. I’m also in early stages planning what I could do for community engagement when I begin a year as a visiting scholar in the Shadbolt Fellowship program at Simon Fraser University.
Where can we find your work?
There’s a good record of my previous work on my website, and I use my Instagram as a more informal blog for observations and work in progress. Around Vancouver, people can experience some of my public artwork for example inside the Minoru Centre for Active Living aquatic centre in Richmond; by the bus stop at Main Street at 51st Avenue; outside the Lumina development on Alpha Avenue in Burnaby; and near the Lonsdale Quay SeaBus terminal in North Vancouver.