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A Parade for the Return of Art's Native Son

Absurdist parades and bee chapels mark the triumphant return of Terence Koh.

After a two year "retirement," Terence Koh made his comeback to the art world this past Saturday. Koh spent his time away on a remote patch of land in the Catskill Mountains, which seems to have guided the artist toward an attunement with nature, and helped him shed his infamously deviant artistic tendencies (which included covering his own poop in gold and selling it for half a million dollars).

terence koh: bee chapel, a show with Andrew Edlin, marks the artist’s grand return, and what better way than to celebrate an icon than with a parade? Or, perhaps, a protest. Or, something in between. On the day of the show’s opening, a large procession marched from First Avenue and First Street to the gallery on the Bowery. Dozens of individuals—including Koh’s parents, but not Koh himself—carried protest signs and waved flags emblazoned with the words “NOW” and shouting “What do we want? Now? When do we want it? Now!”

Although their demands were unclear—even the people holding the signs were unsure of the significance— there was a very clear and real sculpture at the helm of the parade. A ceramic individual in an astronaut outfit emblazoned with a menagerie of strange pins and patches lay with its back upon a plank, carried on all sides by four individuals. Amongst the ornaments were a pin of the Dalai Lama placed next to a police patch, another code seemingly impossible to decipher, but then again, the impossibility of meaning seems to be Koh’s favorite artifice.

Once the march reached the gallery, the vast horde of people piled into the tight, but long series of rooms. Along the walls of the first room were a series of dioramic sculptures containing unique combinations of natural elements, human artifacts, and anatomical sculptures. let there bee light, for example, is a mix of earth, vintage photo slides, bees, seeds, and a vintage postcard of the Twin Towers. On the ground near these dioramas was an eerie sculpture of an abandoned, screaming baby in beeswax, with a “Fear Nothing But Fear” pin clamped on its chest.

Behind a curtain lay the next room, covered in soil and nearly pitch-black if not for a red light bulb dangling off of the fallen apple tree that occupies most of the space. Uprooted and taken from where Koh lives in the Catskills, the tree will supposedly be returned and replanted at the show’s conclusion. A series of vibrations reverberates throughout the room. They are amplified soundwaves that originate from every physical interaction that happens with the tree, facilitated by EEG wires. Throughout the exhibition, these sounds will be recorded and sent off via satellite into space, in hopes that extraterrestrial life can experience bee chapel, too.

After crossing another soil-filled room with a two-ended candle illuminating the way, I reached the home of the bee chapel.  Mounds of dirt have been molded into makeshift steps, which lead the viewer up to a rounded yellow structure. In order to enter the chamber, which is smaller than the average human, viewers must take their shoes off and kneel. The interior is entirely empty except for a separated chamber at the top, through which the bees fly in and out. 

Ultimately, there is a strange role-reversal here. bee chapel is a rare example of a man-made creation that elevates nature and natural life above humanity, as hundreds of viewers line-up anxiously to pay homage to the shrine-workplace of bees, rather than carelessly exploiting the products of their labor.

terence koh: bee chapel will be on view in all of its bizarre glory until July 1st at Andrew Edlin Gallery.

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