Samuel Kho

Samuel W. Kho likes to share his thoughts about contemporary art, and occasionally through writing. As a graduate student in the Art Market at FIT-SUNY, Sam in 2006 curated the very idiosyncratic Breaking the Skin, an exhibition sponsored by International Arts Movement at NCGV.

Sam has had many interesting art-related roles. Once he helped open the first U.S. gallery for a major Asian art firm. More recently, Sam happily co-directed a Los Angeles project space (un)known for launching a young art star or two. Perhaps to him, art, like life, is like cactus: it ought to be thorny just as it could be beautiful. His next mission is to find partners for an art gallery that gathers a dangerously prickly assortment of people, classes, and beliefs.

Vive le Salon!

This piece was first published in 2008. Throwback Friday!

The Art Salon takes the art dialogue away from the exhibitionism of the public square, back to the privacy of personal circles, even the intimacy of the home. Salons first became popular among the nobility of 17th century Europe as a time when the comtesse and her girlfriends got together to hear about things that mattered – in the salon, their equivalent of our living room. Salons became a form of meeting integral to the shape of society – at least one gave rise to the French Revolution in the 18th century. For the trophy wife, the revolutionary, the avant-garde artist, salons have always been about standing up to the status quo.

Recently, I went to one such inspiring salon evening. Ryan Callis, an artist, and Chris Davidson, a poet, just hosted their fifth installment in Seal Beach, California, near Los Angeles. With the blessing of their wives, these two co-workers and neighbors open up the Davidson home every other month to other rabble-rousers and creatives. As the sun was setting, a few dozen friends and strangers milled about the front lawn, porch, and kitchen, and finally settled into the living room. That night, we heard a pair of artists speak, viewed a slideshow of Nokia-sponsored photos of India, listened to a poet recite from her book, and were acoustically serenaded by a rock outfit. Weeks later, I catch up with Ryan Callis via email, and tell him how smart he and his compatriots are for luring the art crowd to their surf and turf.

So is your artist salon REALLY called, “The Society of Interested Persons” ?
Ha, ha, ha, yes sir, it is. I have an affinity for creating titles as a potential for fun word combinations. My MFA show at Claremont, with Evan Roberts, was called The Grand Order of the Salt Dippers. We both surf, so we were “The Grand Order”. I think “The Society of Interested Persons” has a fun ring about it. For a poet, Chris had called it the very un-fun “Second Saturday Salon”. Yawn. I spiced it up.

What kinds of people typically show up to the Salon?
As founders and key inviters, Chris and I look to our friends and families as repeat customers. Next come those that visiting artists and lecturers bring. A few neighbors and an occasional passerby join in. We run in different circles and have a ten-year age difference between us. So we already mix it up with our own crowds. But maybe our crowd can be summed up best as 18-70 years old, poor to rich, Christians and not Christians, G.E.D. to Ph.D.

Do they fight?
It’s awesome because all these folks get together in a somewhat neutral environment, compared to, say, a gallery. Because we have breaks between presenters, I think it is amazing to watch everyone mingle, network, and be able to have topics for conversation.

Are art salons on the endangered list of art world species?
I don’t know. I know that in this day and age, anything without money or drool-inducing entertainment is automatically a rare species. But I observe the art world as more community-based – more potential for interesting community than most other worlds.

What in your opinion makes for a good salon gathering?

One in which quality of presenters and the enthusiasm of the crowd come together! A good salon is just an awesome evening all around; you can just feel it.

I still wanna know what unexpected things have happened.

Drunk, chatty housewives have been the surprise! Lots of inappropriate commentary or questions during presentations, but always innocent enough and funny in hindsight. There was another time when a presenter’s dad came to hear her speak, but thought a college party a few houses down was our salon! He ended up hanging out at that rowdy “salon” for two hours until he wised up. All alcohol-related things I guess.

Tell me something that’s printable about your co-host Chris.

Chris is an awesome poet. He is a man of many ideas and little time to make them happen, which is where I come in handy. He is also a very generous guy and he’s let us invade his house.

Tell me something about what YOU do when not co-hosting the Salon? You’ve got that solo show at the gallery coming up.
Yes. When I am not salon-ing I am painting, surfing, family-ing, and praying. I make art; the salon is a part of that. A less-cool-than-painting part of that. Oh, and I teach university sometimes. The salon is my way of acting out Dada urges.

What’s in store for next time? I missed the drunk housewives last time, I guess.
Next for the salon will be Chris as poet, me as the artist, and a local singer/songwriter named Barrett Johnson. Barrett is awesome, and I did the art for his album. It’s a question mark as to our lecturer, although on my mind is local and surfboard-shaping legend Rich Harbour, or Otis College of Art’s curator, and an interesting gal, Meg Linton. People keep asking for our work to be featured, but we had felt it was too soon, until now. Los Angeles artists Lynne Berman and Steve Roden, as well as LA critic James Scarborough have tentatively committed to the next, next salon. That would blow my mind.

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“I Am Not A Machine”:
Addressing God in Less-Established Terms

Review: “I Am Not a Machine”, at NYCAMS
Friday, December 12, 2008 – Friday, January 16, 2009

New York, as far as it is understood, is still the reigning capital of the contemporary art world (to those in London, you’re not far off). Aside from its few hundred galleries, one expects to find some of the strongest art being made in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and the other three boroughs. The last significant exhibition held in the city by Christians in the Visual Arts (CIVA), a non-profit, was at the Museum of Biblical Art in 2005. I bought the catalog, but I couldn’t say I was satisfied with “The Next Generation: Contemporary Expressions of Faith.”

Photo: John Silvis

Now, the latest CIVA exhibition, called “I Am Not a Machine”, acts as a fitting follow-up for those curious about Christian belief and new art practices. On view until January 16, 2009 at the gallery of the New York Center for Arts and Media Studies (NYCAMS), this selection of New York-based artists is arguably more “Next Generation” and “Contemporary” than those represented by recent exhibitions of Christian artists. Curated by Christina Beckett, the current show features artists who skew towards their twenties and thirties, and the works suggest Christian expression has more integrity when addressing God in less-established terms.

Resisting the establishment is the tone set by the show’s title, “I Am Not a Machine” (in assertion, not unlike the “I-Am”, as pronounced by the organization which publishes this magazine). A subtitle adds, “This life is not the last painting.” These two declarations recall two possible tropes circulating in Evangelical conversation: dehumanization, and the afterlife. However, seeing the works makes one wonder, “Does the machine and that painting in question actually stand apart from our transcendent identity?”

All the works included in “I Am Not a Machine” reveal the dynamic pivots between material objecthood and immaterial experience. But the most captivating pieces demonstrate a no-holds-barred confrontation, considering the simplest of materials with the most complex of processes.

One work, by Jimmy Miracle, graces the exhibition’s announcement card. In Ascension, Miracle composes a mise-en-scene using what he could find from trash at the beach. The brilliant yellow color of the shirt he pegs up above the pale sea and ring of shells becomes easily seared into the viewer’s memory. For his C-print, A Symbol for Sight and Reality Artist, Jay Henderson scans a simple three-dimensional object and, on Photoshop, repeatedly and flatly describes the solid forms until it recedes into digital oblivion. Jonathan Cowan’s Untitled, a large picture built of (and installed with) clear office tape, embeds an overwhelming assortment of disparate, largely everyday figures surrounding the artist: his wife’s face, reproductive and birth diagrams, talking heads from TV, office memos – including himself hand in hand with a pop-ified Jesus. Its earthy quality is further accentuated by the additional self-portrait of the artist as a contorted, Siamese twin-like face accompanied by open-palmed hands.

Perhaps Christians are better off facing the stuff of this present machine, because it seems immaterial benefits, like the “I Am” so sought after, especially arises out of existing conditions.

Performance and The Odd Lamb

Costumes, wacky songs, a restless crowd. No, this is not about Halloween; on a Thursday evening this past September, I acted as performer-assistant at a show by The Odd Lamb, a name among many under which artist Jonathan Atchley records. For me, having been a visual artist, now a curator and sometime gallerist who maybe harbors rock star fantasies, the realm of performance art is still completely fair game. As a child, I got to be the go-to entertainment guy at family get-togethers. In college, there was my crucified-man bit, captured on video. And a mere five or so years ago, I took the stage at Fuller Theological Seminary and “interacted” with a banner-object labeled with semi-nonsense poetry.

Which leads me to why I decided to take on the role as The Odd Lamb’s assistant. This time, it wouldn’t be me carrying the show; I could merely share the spotlight by coat-tailing under someone else’s vision. But I found out how much fun the role could be. I became co-pilot in Jonathan Atchley’s Odd trip, and I found out there was no such thing as cruise-control in that universe. Veering off to new places is actually mandatory.

Rewind. I already had bought Jonathan’s CD, Multi-Mouth Runner, months before. Our first meeting in New York was funny, but ominous. I went over to shake his hand, and the next thing I know, Jonathan was on the floor with his legs wrapped around my ankles, trying to wrestle me down. Congratulations, I had just been “scissor-kicked”, Jonathan Atchley-style.

Photo: Braedon Flynn

Shenanigans aside, I enjoyed his CD. The cover art contains one of his drawings: black-and-white Cubistic explosions, combined with a riot of collaged eyes, mouths, etc. His visuals reflect the songs inside, which range from discordant (abrupt rhythm changes), to beat-driven and nostalgic (with sample of “Thundercats, ho!”), to endearing (singing children, acoustic guitar).

What got me more excited was where the show was to happen – his friend’s place, a skate-surf store called Active Ride Shop in a major Orange County shopping center. Finally, this was my chance to raise hell in the land of Mischa Barton! It was a misfit’s revenge on the Popular Crowd, high art gambit within explicit commercialism! To make it even more tantalizing, the show was inserted as part of store promotions in the middle of Orange County Fashion Week!

Past the glittering runway at Macy’s, along tall palm trees, on the way to California Pizza Kitchen or the Lexus-filled parking lot, unsuspecting teenagers were greeted (or accosted) by bubbly employees of Active Ride Shop. One clerk, a Keanu Reeves look-alike, paced around outside, with a large video screen across his chest. Free juice drinks and skate-brand accoutrements lured curious passerby, holding them captive at the store, if only for a moment. By this time, Jonathan and I had already carried in four armfuls of equipment which plugged into the store’s own PA system. We even had a pleasant sound guy named Luke. There was the scrambling for an extra table (which never materialized) and the nervous wait for showtime. The larger-than-life LRG (fashion brand) logo displayed behind the ceiling-to-floor window was soon carted off and replaced, incredibly enough, by a wall of sheet after sheet of Jonathan’s wacky marker drawings.

Photo: Braedon Flynn

Much of the show can be relived by typing “The Odd Lamb” into YouTube. Jonathan is in a plain white V-neck shirt, playing guitar or at the keyboards, crooning into his mic. And what was my part, you ask? I am seated behind a small table, dressed in a tie; looking the part of a regular office worker, I was armed with a suitcase full (literally) of props. With our run-throughs earlier that day and my two-paged sheet of directions always in front of me, I felt quite ready to make a fool of myself. One of the first songs, Mr. Skir, is a magical paper puppet show. About a boy’s mysterious encounter with a ghost, it easily charms the crowd. But for action buffs, it’s got to be the song I am Beast Bait Boy. Hear Me Get Eaten. In it, I pop out from beneath my table after hearing my cue in that song’s growling noise effects. As the Beast, complete with yarn-covered shirt, nose painted black, black socks for gloves, I proceed to have a somewhat choreographed fight with The Odd Lamb. Very thrilling. And while you’re on YouTube, don’t forget to check one of my favorites, the nicely-paced song Oh Ordained Epistemology.

The more mundane moments of the show had me pulling out tableware from my suitcase, cutting up a paperback copy of Fight Club, eating a small lunch, cutting out girls from GQ Magazine, doing office-looking busy work, and collaging a tree form. Don’t even ask me to interpret how that comes together. All I know was I went home highly fulfilled and happy that night. Jonathan later paid me the big compliment about my “masterful assistantmanship.” Maybe it looked like I knew what I was doing, but much of it was improvised, definitely veering off prepared ideas.

Besides YouTube, visit The Odd Lamb website or his MySpace page. Get on the mailing list, download his songs to your heart’s content, and then drop him some generous change. Upcoming for the artist will be “free-styled” recordings under Neenu Naanu, one of his side projects. Some of that new material will be played live on November 1, part of a one-evening art exhibition I organized at a warehouse (see for details). In the spirit of veering from prepared ideas, here is some additional wisdom from the mouth of Jonathan Atchley.

Photo: Braedon Flynn

Question: What are the biggest influences that went into recording Multi-Mouth Runner?

I had quit making music and art out of anxious frustration, because I was trying too hard to make something “good.” I’d say at that point I started on the path of not MAKING something take place but ALLOWING something to take place.

It’s important to note, too, that I wanted to say some huge things and so I dealt with themes that were in my head– just as much as what came from experiences. It was more experimental and theoretical in that way. Thus the title Multi-Mouth Runner. A lot came out of those explorations.

To have your own music studio is mindblowing! I really feel like I could make any sound I can imagine digitally . . . I was listening to Pinback, Sufjan Stevens, Half-Handed Cloud, Daniel Johnston, Dan Deacon, Animal Collective, Danielson, etc. Books I was reading were mostly the Bible, Fear and Trembling by Soren Kierkegaard, The Conspiracy of Art by Jean Baudrillard, The Philosophy of Andy Warhol by Andy Warhol, among others.

Question: As our nation is caught between negative campaigning and economic woes, may I ask you to name some of your pet peeves?

Sitting too much, bad food I have to eat, dust, when dogs lick me when I don’t want them to, rip-tides when I’m surfing, when I see my shadow while surfing a wave, cuts on top of my hands – that every time I put my hands in my pockets they get re-hurt, getting a piece of popcorn stuck between my gums and teeth, eyelashes that won’t get unstuck from my eyeball . . . that stuff is crappy.