KR BlogBlog


When I first encountered the work of artist Koo Jeong A I became obsessed with an image of a stack of cigarettes on a shelf that she created. Some of the cigarettes face one direction and some the other, and they kind of cascade up and then down, like a plateau of cigarettes. It’s really beautiful, and when I look at it I feel disgusted, like I can taste and smell all of those cigarettes (their exposed tobacco end and their filtered end). I used it as my desktop image for a while because I couldn’t get over how palpable it was, the image.

A lot of the artist’s work is like this, straightforward in a way that evades ideas I have about minimalism and rich with sensory information. With the perfumer Bruno Jovanovic she invented a scent called Before the Rain, which combines her memories of scents of rain in different cities and is one of several smells she has offered as her artwork. She once collected a very large amount of dust, then made a pile out of it in a gallery years later. She at times allows natural light to shine as an element of a piece. She draws shaky figures with thin lines.

As a writer, I’m additionally interested in Koo’s art not only because all of these forthright works elicit such intense recollections and emotions from me, but because she anchors so much of her practice in “ousss.” Ousss is a word that Koo invented, and it is undefined. She speaks of ousss as a state of existence, or as an aspect of a place. There is oussseux, which is when something has the quality of ousss about it. In many ways, as someone who has spent time with Koo’s work and thinking about its consistencies and evolution, I am tempted to think that the qualities of ousss are the qualities of the strange world she creates, but this would be too simple, probably. Ousss allows every person to invest it with her own meanings, Koo included.

In an interview with pinksummer, Koo is asked about ousss. She says “The relationship with words seems for me is the comfort notion by non understanding of others. It is a violation about not knowing.” Part of what I like about this is that I don’t understand exactly what she means yet– like how I am very certain what it means for me to look at that particular pile of cigarettes and feel a bit ill and find it very beautiful, but I can’t gather any other meaning from it. But more importantly, I think, what I like about it is that the un-knowing of language is a place of comfort. It is not direct communication of objective truth, which we so often place as the end goal of language, that provides comfort. Direct communication of object truth is a lie, or at least impossible. So then, non-understanding of others can be a site of comfort.

It seems counter-intuitive to turn to language and celebrate this, but it’s what I think ousss is. It’s the personalized meaning that I find in ousss, which is reminiscent of the personalized meaning words have given me. When we accept that words allow a non-understanding of others, we can instead move on to other activities, as when Koo fills the corners of an empty gallery with cobwebs. It’s a different project than what we expect, a word invented to be invested with meaning rather than a word given for its meaning already invested. And it’s beautiful, as here our memories come to us so palpably, like the scent from cities where I have not visited, announcing to me that it is about to rain.