Art AND: Ara Koh - BmoreArt

You mentioned you’re “a big fan of auras of things”, can you say more about that?

I always love talking about the aura of something. Maybe it’s because it’s so similar to my name! I think about [how I arrange the clay] then it takes away that much of the volume and energy of this space. So it’s an exchange that I reenact with raw clay. When I push in with my shoulder, I give this energy to clay and clay reacts in a visual way that it shows its movement and impression. And then the water moisture evaporates into the air and then I blend that in.

In grad school, I took a Laban movement dance class as an elective. The first class was so interesting, the instructor made us all lie down on the floor and she said, we’re going to breathe for a whole class. I was tired so I was just laying there and she said, think about your diaphragm and now be conscious about how it moves around and think about how you exchange air. That got me thinking, because I work with this visible material, what I always think about is the material itself and how tactile it is. But actually what I’m also working with is the material’s energy and the energy of the negative space as well.

Do you pursue any hobbies? Do you think that these hobbies have any influence or impact on your work or do you view them more as a stress relief or way to unwind?

Ice cream is my passion, it is my everything. It is not healthy, but it is mentally healthy. I love ice cream. It is funny to say that ice cream is a hobby, but I just get too excited for ice cream. My favorite is Dark Chocolate from Cosmic Bliss. It has a rich, dark, nutty chocolate flavor and it is dairy free! I was obsessed with it in grad school.

How much ice cream do you consume regularly? Do you consider it a hobby because you love it so much?

I try to limit myself with how much ice cream I consume, but I go through a pint a week. And that is hard. I also love to cook Korean food. Food is something I can rely on when I am homesick, it takes me to Korea in a few bites. Also who hates food? People who hate food clearly hate life. I love making meals that my grandma used to make me and traveling back to my childhood that way.

I noticed your outfit was from small label designers, would you describe yourself as interested in fashion? What’s your philosophy about dressing yourself? Do you have a small wardrobe or a huge one? Are clothes a way you express yourself? 

So my top, YUNE HO, is actually my mom’s friend’s design. He is now in Seoul, but he used to have his own line based in NYC. I think fashion is a great way to express yourself. The outfits you choose to wear tell a lot about you. I take a lot of time choosing which piece I want to invite into my closet. I think about if each piece reflects my personality, even partially.

Do you have a favorite local restaurant or a go-to order? What is it?

There’s this place called Little Miner Taco near my studio. They have the most amazing shrimp quesadilla I’ve ever had!

What’s the best career advice you received? How about the worst?

Best— always be curious, even with the things you might think you know. Worst— you don’t need sleep in grad school, sleep is for the weak.

You mentioned there were professional development strategies that you didn’t get to learn in undergrad, that you try to give to your students as part of what you teach them, could you say a little more about that?

What I do with them is I try to give them awareness throughout the semester that this is why you need to document your work professionally because you’re gonna do X, Y, and Z and if you have this ready right now, then it’s gonna take you a day or two to document. But if you have to write up a proposal and it’s due in three days, most likely what you’re going to do is just give up. That’s why I tell my students that it’s essential to stay ready because you don’t know when that opportunity is going to come to you and you will need that photo. People say luck is a big thing in life. I think that is true, but in order for that luck to not fly away from you, you need to be ready whenever.

Ara Koh in her studio, photo by Justin Tsucalas